Suits You, Sir!

Five impeccable dressers with unique style teach us about presentation without preening

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Andile Buka

It’s sweltering and our location is a glass box on top of a building in the middle of town. Three half-hearted fans circulate the air and if there’s an air conditioner in here then it needs replacing. To make matters even more heated, the room is filled with people, the majority of whom are sweating. It’s the five men who aren’t sweating who are the focus of our story. Men who when asked to put together ensembles employing our new formal wear remain unflappable in an extra layer or a button up shirt. These arbiters of taste know about things like proportion, silhouette, attention to detail, form and fit, but more importantly - they know themselves. Which is perhaps the most important factor when determining whether you wear the suit or it wears you. You won’t find the same age-old rules here, nor will you find the bold new look, instead we’re celebrating staying true to who you are and how you can use the building blocks of great taste to come up with your own bulletproof outfit.

Arriving in faded blue jeans, Jesus sandals, a black cap and a black T-shirt that he’s cut the sleeves off of, it’s clear that Mr. Mavuso Mbutuma marches to a beat that’s all his own. As a freelance stylist who also does visual merchandising for Woolworths, Mr. Mbutuma has a finely trained eye that’s earned him his living for a decade now. As a man who loathes mediocrity and playing it safe, he pillages the rails in studio to come up with a look that’s as maverick as he is.

“You have to look like an African dictator. It has to be complicated. I also wanted to pick stuff I wouldn’t normally wear. Like I thought I’d go camouflage instead of wearing black and white.” 

The last time Mr. Mbutuma wore a suit was to a wedding, and never one to blend in, he finished it off with a turban. 

“What I like about what we’re doing now is that this isn’t the conventional way of wearing a suit. You can mix it up. You can choose to not wear a tie. You can wear a mandarin collar or different pants. You’re supposed to break rules. I’ve been breaking the rules for years.”

Comparing a man in a suit to a woman brandishing her Birkin bag as a shield, Mr. Mbutuma believes that dressing properly is like putting on armour. Saying that if you look good then nothing can touch you. That said, he insists that men should have more fun with fashion and try not stick to what they’ve come to accept as convention.

“There are so many rules and they all make me bored. People are bringing in bits of everything now. Like an 80s Dries Van Noten boxy top and weird palazzo pants - have fun."

Never boring, always fun, if you want to know what you’ll be wearing in three years time then take a look at what Mr. Mbutuma is doing right now.

Our tip: Your headwear is imperative and whether you opt for a bucket hat or a turban, what you finish your outfit off with speaks volumes as to who you are. 

Recently commissioned to dress Mr. Gabriel Macht for a DSTV campaign, Mr. Nico Nigrini obviously knows his way around a suit. There’s a term they use in the TV business ‘continuity’ which means that for the aforementioned shoot Mr. Nigrini had to get Mr. Macht to look as similar to the character he plays on Suits as possible.

“I had to match him up and get him looking like he does in the series. Harvey Specter's got a tie knot that always looks a certain way, so before getting Gabriel dressed I practiced different tie knots around my leg, just to see what matched up to the still I had of him."

In case you’re wondering, the knot was a Double Windsor. When Mr. Nigrini isn’t busy dressing TV stars he’s working on his menswear label, Stiebeuel. This very clean line that’s not quite workwear and not quite streetwear is an exercise in restraint and these basics are anything but. Even though dressier items aren’t part of the Stiebuel ethos, Mr. Nigrini emphasizes that every man should own a suit.

“You have to own a suit. Even if it’s just one. Even if you don’t know when you’ll ever wear it, buy it and keep it in your cupboard until the first court case comes up, because it will, and you don’t want to be the guy who has to rent a suit.”

Having undergone several style transformations growing up, Mr. Nigrini has settled on a style that’s clean, functional and a lot less maintenance than his hair-rock days when he fronted the punk band Damn Right. Dressed in nondescript grey sneakers, selvedge denim, a loose fitting T-shirt and round frame tortoiseshell sunglasses, he’s obviously laidback. Thing is, Mr. Nigrini maintains the same chilled demeanor even after he’s dressed up in the outfit that he's put together for us.

“A man has to appreciate a suit, own up to it, and then interpret it as he sees fit. I was on a Norwegian job for a large men’s fashion house that does the whole of Scandinavia, and they were throwing in the sneaker with all their suits. So you got to dress the suit down. You got to look at what’s comfortable. Which for me is sneakers, a shirt and no tie.”

When you're the go-to-guy tasked with tying ties for a man famous for wearing a tie on TV, we can appreciate wanting to skip the tie on your own time. 

Our tip: Cross-trainers, running shoes and high-tops are great, but if you’re not ready to rock these with a suit then opt for something simple and classic, like Stan Smiths. If these still don't feel right then swtich out your black lace-ups with a pair in brown. 

At 6’4 Mr. Max Mogale has grown used to standing out wherever he goes, and it’s because of this that he prefers to dress in the photographer’s uniform of all black everything. This is what he shows up to our shoot in, save for the bright red Nikes. 

“I always have one colour that I match. If you’re tall you don’t want too much going on. You’re already going to stand out. And being a photographer I want to blend in so that I can sneak in and out of places without being noticed. I do like really dope kicks though, and that’s the one place where I try express myself. My sock and sneaker game is strong.”

And while some of his sneakers are bright, they’re never oversized, a point Mr. Mogale is keen to stress: "I'm proportional! No gorilla arms or big ass feet.” Still, shopping isn’t always a simple walk in the mall.

“Being a tall dude it’s difficult finding pants that fit right. Either the waist is right but it’s weird at the bottom or the legs fit right but the waist is wrong… So what I do is tie up my pants at the bottom with a tight roll that my ex-girlfriend taught me. The leg tapers and makes the silhouette so much better.”

Along with crafty ex-girlfriends Mr. Mogale’s style is courtesy of the art of tailoring.

“Suits shouldn’t be disrespected. If you’re going to suit up then commit to that shit like the suit-up guy, Barney. I always have my suits tailored because I’m very particular about my shape. Have your suit tailored and you will look so much better and you’ll be much more comfortable. And if you’re comfortable then you’re confident. And if you’re confident, well, the world is yours.”

Continuing with the travel project that took him to India, Mr. Mogale has Madagascar in his sights as well as a trip to Tokyo later this year. 

Our tip: Every man is built differently, so after you’ve bought a suit in your correct size you should still take it to a tailor. Pants need shortening, jackets need to be brought in, sleeves need to be narrowed… Tailoring is the difference between dressing appropriately and dressing with style.

Men working in information technology get a bad wrap, and for good reason, they’re wired to a different operating system where most feel that they needn’t complicate their lives with something as trivial as the clothing they choose to cover themselves with. A sweeping generalization, sure, and definitely not the case when it comes to Mr. Daneel Malgas. 

Dressed in a black Kylie Minogue T-shirt that he’s customized himself, black shorts that used to be long, black socks, black Swatch watch and black Nikes, the self-confessed “mall kid” admits to out-shopping girlfriends and has had a love for trying on different outfits ever since the days when his mom would take him shopping with her. 

“I’m pretty bad. Like, I’d sit on Tumblr and then want to dress up my girlfriend like a real life Barbie doll. That relationship didn’t work. I was trying to change her too much.”

This gets us talking about school and how for most of us it’s a 12-year sentence with a blazer and tie replacing institutional orange. No wonder as soon as we leave we attempt to grow wispy mustaches and dreadlock our hair. However, things eventually do go full circle where you start smartening up again - this time on your own terms.

“I’m morphing from a sneakers and T-shirt guy into something smarter. What you wear needs to be suitable to what you’re doing. Nice dinner? Then dress the part. It all depends on the situation. An outfit has to be practical. You wouldn’t play football without football boots.”

Something Mr. Malgas has learned from programming is that the more you learn the more you realise how much you still have to learn. So right now he’s busy trying to do as many things as possible and is busy with a syllabus that comprises writing short science-fiction stories, playing Dungeons and Dragons, Djing, Vjing and generally just trying to find as many different ways to not sit at his desk and play Counterstrike.

So now that he’s smartening up will he get himself a short-back-and-sides, too?

“Nah, I like that juxtaposition of looking like a bit of a skomgat, but then knowing how to dress well and carry myself properly. You can dress like a gentleman and still be a doos. You need a combination of both manners and clothes. Then everything works together.” 

Our tip: Your clothing should never announce who you are before you do. Make your formal wear work around you. Put your personality at the centre of every outfit and everything you do.

Hailing all the way from Nigeria, Mr. Seun Logan was in Cape Town for the South African Menswear Week, which saw him walking as a model and now has him in the enviable position of getting to choose which local agency he signs with. At 17-years old and having just finished school, Mr. Logan should be embedding himself in those scruffy years that take up the last few years of teenage life, but instead he’s dressed in a well fitted blue T-shirt, tailored joggers and black loafers. 

“I love what I do. I love fashion. If you’re a model you have to know about fashion. They go together hand in hand. Sometimes you have to dress to please the occasion. You can’t wear a T-shirt to a wedding.” 

For his Superbalist outfit Mr. Logan selects a navy blue shirt, a tan blazer, sweatpants and a pair of Nike Airmax sneakers in a camel print. On paper that sounds like a mess but take a look at his photo again. The arrogance of youth has a way of making things that shouldn’t work come together quite beautifully. 

Although he admits that he’s more of “a chilled shorts, sweatpants and jeans type of guy” Mr. Logan has learned a thing or two from his big brother, who is the designer behind T.I Nathan. The Nigerian fashion brand often has to style celebrities, and last year brought in young Mr. Logan to assist on a job where he had to dress a Big Brother Africa star. 

Is it difficult dressing someone else? 

“When you dress someone else you don’t think about what you’d wear. You look at them, see what they’re into, edgy or laidback or whatever, and then after doing your research you can make them a better version of themselves.”

We like that, and that should be the goal whenever dressing up - to be a better version of yourself. And a final tip to end our piece on?

“Just dress to please no one. Can I swear? F**k everybody! Dress for yourself.”

Our tip: Dressing up isn’t an older man’s game and it’s never too early to dabble in dressier outfits. Formal attire shouldn't be seen as dressing up as someone else, but dressing up as a better version of yourself.