Don’t sweat the short stuff. Follow these dress rules, and you’ll survive
Don’t sweat the short stuff. Follow these deeply thought out dress rules, and you’ll survive
Don’t sweat the short stuff. Follow these deeply thought out dress rules, and you’ll survive
The Year is 2020. The great Repression. Machines have taken over the world. But once all hope seems lost, The One arises from the ghetto of the unknown to answer man’s big questions. Questions that have perplexed man ever since Adam replaced the fig leaf with more modest attire; like whether to wear or not wear socks with loafers, or what to do with armpit hair. The author thinks it’s time to second-guess The One already—for the sake of your survival, dear reader. That the exercise addresses some of his own dilemmas is purely incidental. But before we start, a clarification: the male eyebrow has been left out on purpose. If Kajol can be a star with a uni-brow, there’s no reason a man can’t. For other big issues, it’s time to knuckle that chin. Here goes:
THE GREAT LOAFERS AND SOCKS PROBLEM
Somewhere out in the Norwegian countryside, an affable old dairy farmer breaks into tears over a copy of Vogue. In his hands is a picture of 4-inch high Christian Louboutin loafers. A good 67 years after Scandinavian dairy farmers trudged around in this footwear, it is at the very heart of one of the greater fashion fringes of all time—the question of whether to wear them with socks. Should you? If yes, then what should the socks match? If not, would anyone want to stick around when you take them off?
Well, there is a dispute. Loafers have traditionally been associated with temperate climates and Miami Vice’s Don Johnson, whose bare ankles in loafers under linen pants redefined being macho. Loafers were what you wore when lounging or wandering along the Mediterranean or to and from your yacht on the Riviera.
The fashion fringe, though, made it big in the 1980s when wearing loafers with socks became very popular. Ironically, this was around the same time that Don Johnson made loafers without socks popular. So what is the way forward? Designer Arjun Khanna is unapologetic about panning the socks-and-loafers combo. “If it’s the famous Timberlands, it has to be without socks… you just can’t wear them with socks,” he says. Designer Narendra Kumar is a tad more charitable, “Loafers were meant to be worn on sunny days—they could not be worn with socks unless it was a very thin cotton sock, because it becomes too heavy to wear anything else. It’s better to wear them barefoot, but in muggy climate you will sweat too much and the leather can go bad quite easily; and will stink.” Kumar suggests that if socks are to be worn with shoes, they match the trousers you are wearing them with. “The socks should be an extension of the trousers,” he says. And linen trousers and suits are quite the thing—you will spot many including Arjun Khanna sockless at the hottest brunches around. At the same time, everyone has at least one uncle who wears black loafers, grey trousers and formal shirts to work. I know I do.
Unresolved, but if you don’t look like Don Johnson and aren’t a pin-up boy of the 80s or a fashion designer, stick to socks with loafers. Just match them with your pants, and not your shoes. PS: sandals and Oxfords with socks are bound to remain a fashion untouchable. Now if only we could persuade some of the PYTs to stop wearing their floaters that way.
To pierce one or both? If one, which one? If you looked at this and said “men from good homes don’t get their ears pierced”, you’re just plain wrong. A fair share of college kids show off pierced ears, and those who don’t are lining up for their date with a piece of hot silver—it’s both fashionable and heralds a seeming return to the retrosexual with rustic undertones (paired with a beard). The question arose when a colleague fresh out of college showed up in office with his right ear pierced. The question was—wasn’t a single pierced ear a signal, of er…uhm, a certain sort of sexuality? (For the record, Open is fully supportive of alternative sexuality). Guess what, Google disagrees. It threw up a no.
Again, our designers are unhelpful on this one. “I think I am neutral to pierced ears—I had them, but I don’t have them anymore. I do think the left ear and right ear is bullshit,” Khanna shoots off. “Both ears look smarter and more balanced. As far as one ear piercing is concerned, I think only someone from the gay community will be able to help you out with that. One pierced ear as a statement, though, is a little more than a relic of the past,” Kumar says. Single ear piercings are also very 80s, and the decade is currently mounting an assault on contemporary fashion. But then, so is the rustic touch—so there are those like yours truly who got two to go with the beard.
Unresolved, but we think two piercings are the way to go—with either just studs or a thin loop, and personally speaking, silver works way better than gold.
TO TUCK OR NOT TO TUCK
And if to tuck, how much? Billowing on the sides? Straight?
Well, since we aren’t talking about tummy tucks here, let’s begin with David Beckham. The ace footballer always tucks his shirt in with the right short tail hanging out. Most male tuckers believe the way to tuck in a shirt is to leave a slight fluff out from all sides equally—much like a muffin—which is expected to make the beer belly miraculously disappear. Well, it doesn’t; it’s still there, as one friendly poke would jiggle the truth out for everyone.
The problem in all of this, though, is that it is very difficult to tuck straight into your pants and not look like you are giving yourself a wedgie. So, that’s the deal. It’s your personal choice because let’s face it—tucking isn’t a science and Newton didn’t formulate a law on it.
If you wear a suit, the shirt goes straight, fluffless, into your trousers. As for untucked shirts, they are a no-no unless you are 6 ft or above. If you have the expansive-tummy syndrome and insist on the arms-up rule, doing which leaves just a bit looping out, go ahead. Just take care you don’t end up looking like an ice cream cone—which got you the paunch in the first place.
HOW TO ASSUME A FORMAL SEATED POSTURE
Is any way a good way? Really? To put it simply, no. Here’s a riddle. What does a dog do on three legs, a woman seated, and a man standing? Shaking hands, that’s what. If you’re rolling on the floor with laughter, you need a new sense of humour. For the rest, here’s the problem. Sitting with your knees apart in a formal setting tends to look slightly obscene at times, while ankle-on-the-knee can look disrespectful because the sole—which could be dirty even if you get hauled around in a Beamer and wear only Italian leather—would catch attention.
The knee-over-the-knee creates its own sexuality conflict, and the ankle on ankle is just too demure lady like. So the question is—if you are a man, how exactly do you sit? Well, going by the joke, the man wasn’t supposed to sit in the first place, but since gender equality is in the air and just standing wouldn’t do, some solution has to be found.
Ravi Bajaj agrees this one is a “bit of a grey area”, as he puts it. “It really depends,” he expounds, “but sitting with your crotch ‘open’ to the audience is kind of obnoxious.” Arjun Khanna agrees and insists that ankle-on-knee works just fine. “If you are worried about the sole, then sit with the sole facing away… whatever you do, don’t sit with your knees apart like Lalu,” he laughs. Narendra Kumar, however, has a different take on the etiquette of sitting. “I think situations dictate how you should be sitting. I think a general position is straight flat, knees not too wide, and hands on the legs or on the arm rests,” he says, “One ankle on the knee and the hand on the knee sends a message that you are too relaxed—that’s why even in court you aren’t allowed to sit like that.”
Unresolved. Personally I have come up with another way to beat the confusion—sit with your right or your left foot under your bottom. It will leave your posterior a little dirty, your foot will often fall asleep, but hey, that’s one way to say ‘none of the above’.
TO BUTTON OR NOT
Button-down collars can be left unbuttoned, but should we? Honest confession—this is a fashion fringe precariously close to my heart. The question is, if you wear a shirt with button-down collars without a tie, should you still button those collars down? Sure, say our designers. “They should remain buttoned,” Bajaj says. Collars neatly pinned to your collarbones can look nice and dignified, and nerdism is slowly aching its way back into fashion’s sycophancy, so it’s trendy as well. But it’s just not casual, is it?
It’s not unthinkable to leave your button-down collars neglectfully open, and though it would take a fair lot of courage to wear your shirt like Tom Ford—open till the waist—keeping one button open does offer more breathing space. But coming back to the collar, Arjun Khanna is insistent that this is a classic either/or question, and keeping the collars unbuttoned makes them look sloppy. Kumar, likewise, rules out any negotiation on the issue, but throws in a practical reason as well. “Keep them buttoned because the edge of the collar tends to dog ear with every wash if you don’t,” he says.
Confusion. Though here’s a way out: if it’s a formal striped shirt, then button the collars down, but if it’s a solid black shirt for a cool night out, leaving them open works just as well, maybe even better.
IF SHORTS CAN BE WORN WITH UNSPORTY SHOES
If yes, should you wear socks with these shoes?
Ideally, shorts shouldn’t be worn with shoes that aren’t designed for sports, but you must never, ever, ever pull up your socks to your ears. The problem is compounded by the fact that those of us who play football are used to pulling up our long socks to keep the shin guards in place. Sure, there are people walking, running, skipping and playing baddy with their socks stretched up like a 30-year-old blonde in a school play—but it’s just as wrong as a 30-year-old blonde playing a co-ed. And, while your bedroom habits are not the subject of philosophical enquiry here, your fashion fringes are. It’s about man’s search for meaning.
Turns out that after 23 odd years of pulling up my socks (most friends still do it), the way to wear them is how girls did in school by letting them half disappear into their shoes. And to think we thought they did it as a spectator sport. According to Arjun Khanna, the way to wear shorts is usually not to wear them with shoes, unless you wear keds. “If you are wearing keds and socks, wear ankle length socks to make sure you don’t end up looking like a kid or a UPS messenger boy (in the US of course!),” laughs Khanna.
Resolved. Walking on the beach, wear shorts with flip flops. Running along a beach (or anywhere else), use ankle length socks. You could try pulling down your regular socks, but it may look like you’re in leg warmers, and that’s never going to be cool even after the next four ice ages.
CAN NEHRU JACKETS BE WORN WITH COLLARED SHIRTS
In regular jackets, should your shirt collars be inside or out? What about the bundgala?
Well, this is a tough one. We’ve seen people all over pulling their collars over an informal jacket; even some of our actors pull out their shirt collars over the lapels of a nice designer jacket. There is no question about it—the only fringe here is between common fashion following and fashion rules. “You should wear shirts with their collars in, always, unless you’re a 1940s gangster or work in Bollywood,” quips Khanna. It’s especially important when wearing dinner jackets that you don’t take the casual to ridiculous Govinda extremes. The shirt collar, thus, will always remain in, even if you wear it with a Nehru jacket (like a particular BJP psephologist does on TV). Taking the collar out looks like you’re about to break into a rain dance at the sound of a clapboard.
As far as the bundgala goes, there is a good old-fashioned Mexican standoff. According to Khanna, some senior menswear designers are propagating a trend that is just plain wrong. “They are trying to sell the bundgala-collared and French cuffed shirt look,” he complains, “but it just doesn’t work.” However, Kumar had a couple of open versions of the bundgala jacket in his collection which can be worn just as well with a collared shirt that he insists is both “more formal, younger and more fashionable” than pan-collared shirts. Bajaj too is of the opinion that while a collared shirt can be worn with a bundgala, the collars have to remain inside at all times. “And yes, you can wear the Nehru jacket with a tie, but that might just turn Panditji in heaven a little,” says Bajaj of the latest attempt to spice up the bundgala. “But you need to have proportions like Karl Lagerfeld to carry off the look,” adds Kumar.
Resolved. Shirt collars remain inside the jacket, unless you’re looking for a role in a Hindi remake of That 70s Show, in which case you shouldn’t be reading this anyway. There is no harm wearing the bundgala with a crisp white-collared shirt. Just lay off the tie.
TO GROOM, TRIM OR BRAID
Armpit hair, we mean. You are a guy—you have armpit hair. The question is what to do with it. Most women you have known, dated or both would have been confused about male armpit hair. I have a friend who insists that “boys need to trim cobwebs” before going into other unprintable details. Then we’ve all dated at least one girl who insists shaving your armpit hair is too girly for words, and trimming the growth will do just fine. And then, there are those like Khanna who insist that armpit fuzz should be left how it is. “Leave it,” he advises, “Just make sure you have some good deo. I don’t agree with shaving armpit hair one bit. If it’s really long, plait it.”
Almost resolved. Leave those strands alone, unless you were born with a sweet-spot for wife beaters and sleeveless muscle T-shirts. Maintain good hygiene and if you start looking like a circus freak, go ahead, trim the fuzz.
PLEATS OR STRAIGHT FRONTS
This is for formal trousers. And if pleats, double pleats?
Well, the thing is, most suits available in the market, and a significant number of trousers, would have light pleats in front. While flat fronts have been at the head of the only fashion revolution in the male closet for a decade now, pleats look set to stage a comeback. Also, your father always wore pants with pleats, and everything else in your cupboard aside from your denims and boxers have pleats—so it’s easy to fall into the trap. But please don’t. Not after reading this.
Kumar advises against pleats, “They have a very slouchy feel to them. We are moving to an age of a smarter, younger dressing. Everyone wants to look younger, and pleats, especially double pleats, have a very relaxed feel with an element of slowness attached to them. They were used to roll over a paunch. Flat fronts convey a more active demeanour,” he finishes.
Resolved. If your father wants to wear double pleats and is fit enough to fight for them, let him have them. He’s probably done being cool. For you, though, flat fronts or light pleats have been the way to go for a while now. Wear them that way, and you’ll never be over-taxed trying to get your fringes in order.