A case for baring your ankles in a world of loud socks
Words: Buntu Ngcuka | Photograph: Mandy Nash
Close your eyes. Picture a man wearing a crisp, tailored suit on a summer's day - double-breasted, white shirt, floral tie, pocket square and all. I'm talking magazine cover looks here. You scan his outfit down to his feet and see a pair of shiny Monkstrap shoes, which impress you. Then you realise he isn't wearing any socks and his ankles are out for the world to see.
If you were on the streets of Florence, this wouldn't be a foreign concept. The Italians have adopted easy tailoring as their signature take on style, and thanks to the effects of social media, as well as every street style gallery of every Pitti Uomo ever, this relaxed approach to dressing up has been embraced by men all over the world willing to go without socks. I'm a proud advocate of going sockless, especially in summer. But what I thought was a practical means of avoiding unnecessary heat without sacrificing on style, is actually a bit of a controversial topic. I've been in situations where I've had to defend my ankle-baring choices, and while I'm not about to bash anyone who prefers patterned socks, I can understand why people ask the questions they do.
Firstly, ashiness is real – the plight of men of colour and their dry skin is well-known. The ankles, elbows and the V-shape between your thumb and forefinger are the first places to go grey and dry – I'm sure a lot of us share the common pain of being yelled at as kids for looking unkempt. This can easily be solved with some lotion, but it does nothing for the fear of it striking again at any time.
Secondly, the current state of SA menswear is, for the most part, still safe. A lot of us feel pressurised to stick to dress codes and prescribed lists of items we're instructed to buy. The every-man isn't encouraged to dabble in bright colours, oversized fits and fresh-from-Hypebeast styling trends. (For those who are interested in doing more, here's how to wear designer).
Whether you like to experiment or keep it simple, I still believe there's no crime in looking your best – whatever that means to you. For me, it means a neutral T-shirt, minimalist sneakers and pair of black or navy chinos - always rolled up and, during the warmer months, my ankles exposed.
I can't point out exactly when not wearing socks became appealing but I do remember, days into my first internship, wanting to look like a working grown up while still dressed realistically for Cape Town's humid weather. Socks were out of the question and the only logical solution was to go without them. I decided to roll up my chinos instead of having the hem sit on my shoes and it's been my style ever since.
How have I pulled it off, summer after summer? Well, when you go sockless, you're still actually wearing socks. While your ankles are naked, your soles sit in secret socks. Invest in high-quality designs, and pairs that have extra grip so that they don't slip off as you're going on about your day.
The second thing that's key is your choice of trousers. Whatever you wear should be cropped or rolled up. How far up you go is a matter of personal preference but keep the rest of your ensemble in mind: wearing an oversized shirt for a day of city strolling? A few rolls up is fine. Wearing a suit or something for a formal set-up? Make sure the hem hits just above your ankle. Your height is also a determining factor – I'm 1.81m, so I tend to keep things just above my ankle for my everyday looks.
When it comes to the fit, make sure to stay within slim-fit territory. If your pants are too skinny, you'll resemble an 80s club kid in leggings. Go for something super wide and you'll probably drown in the excess fabric. Slim-fit chinos and jeans are flattering on all body types and look great with pretty much anything. If you want to channel the skater aesthetic or want to experiment with the current oversized trend, then a straight cut is for you.
And finally, the shoes. Your shoe game should always be on point anyway, but when you're showing some ankle, your footwear essentially becomes your outfit's hero piece. It also only works with low-top sneakers, so no ankle-high Jordans or boots. My go-to is a white leather sneaker – the Stan Smith or mono leather Chuck Taylor, for example. Black kicks work just as well if you're afraid of the maintenance that goes into white shoes. This is only for casual and smart-casual codes though – if the event is black tie, then look the part in formal shoes.
For something slightly edgier, try a shoe with an athletic silhouette. Dad shoes like New Balances and retro sneakers like Air Max 95s make a statement, especially if you're wearing straight pants with pleats – they'll amplify the throwback vibe. Put on an oversized patterned shirt and you've nailed the straight-outta-the-90s aesthetic that's big among the Braam Lords.
If you're yet to be converted or simply aren't allowed to enjoy a comfortable life in sneakers, your favourite pair of loafers or leather lace-ups will top off your look with just as much panache. But beware: leather shoes often have leather soles. Secret socks are a must and if possible, wear extra thick ones. Leather is more prone to damage from water, and high temperatures mean more sweat. Take extra care of your shoes when you're not wearing them: invest in moisture-absorbing sheets or air-dry them.
And last, but certainly not least, don't forget to wash your secret socks. Summer's lazy days are no reason to slack on your hygiene.
Now go forth, bare your ankles and prosper.