At the Emmy Awards last week, Oscar winner Mahershala Ali of Moonlight fame was dressed in the customary tuxedo with a slight difference; his trousers revealed a sliver of naked ankle and in keeping with the trend these days, the no-show sock. Imagine a man in a formal shirt, a sharp jacket, slim fitting pants and then — an inexplicable gap of skin and bone visible between the cuff and the shoe. To someone unaware of the latest in men’s fashion, it simply looked like Ali had forgotten to wear his socks or was heading somewhere that had a flood alert.
It’s unclear why somebody would willingly wear pants that distort the proportion of their legs but Ali is far from being the only offender among men who favour cropped trousers and invisible socks. Ranveer Singh and Hrithik Roshan have been photographed exposing the bare ankle in all its glory, one of the current icky fads in menswear, right up there in appaling-ness with socks paired with sandals, or shorts with long socks. The first time I saw a guy wearing jeans that ended a few inches under his knees, I thought, like my son, he’s outgrown them and hasn’t bothered to buy new ones. Till I noticed an alarming number of men sporting the same look. This public display of ankles, or as the term goes — mankles — is a reminder that progress is not always positive. What passes off as sartorial progress, especially, may be disastrous.
Last year, England’s Royal Ascot, a huge fashion event in its own right, took note of the trend of mankle flashing and warned that all gentlemen must wear socks, or they would be unceremoniously tossed out. The Ascot, possibly the last remaining bastion of old world traditions functions on the premise that the public lacks an innate sense of style and must be saved from themselves by a dress code. What a man should or shouldn’t wear has never been more confusing, since pants of weird length are favoured by fashion icons like Jude Law and Idris Alba. Crazy shoes are acceptable at the Oscars and socks have all but disappeared. I am of the opinion that if a shoe has a lace, it should have a sock.
Despite the fashion world’s best efforts to be flamboyantly nonconformist, even the most emancipated among us have very set ideas on what men and women should wear. (Or at least, definitely not be wearing.) In India, especially, several generations of men have been encouraged to cultivate a stern, monochromatic dress code because of a misplaced cultural notion that anything cool or colourful denotes frivolity; or far worse, homosexuality. This stereotype is unapologetically peddled by Bollywood. In Dostana, the usually macho John Abraham is kitted out in powder blue and his alleged gay partner in baby pink. So for decades, menswear has been dictated by staid and dour shades like navy blue, steel gray, faun, boring checks and wallflower stripes. In offices across the country, men are dressed to blend in, wearing clothes that shun individualism.
It’s a good thing that an element of fun has entered men’s clothing — H & M sells men’s socks with cute sushi and avocado designs and Zara sells hot pink pants for men. Still, we’re a long way off from when, say, a man working in a government office would dare to make a strong statement vis a vis his attire. The brouhaha last year around Bastar DM Amit Kataria, who was pulled up for greeting the PM wearing Ray Ban sunglasses in the hot mid-day sun, comes to mind. The unwritten rules of etiquette in India require an adherence to convention, perhaps, also appropriate for someone whose duties involve field visits where people are toiling in the sun, without eye protection.
What makes the mankle, or the sunglasses offensive — if it must be spelt out — is only context. The time, place, occasion and weather should ultimately define what we wear. Regardless of what’s trendy, that reveals who we really are.