Has the mankle trend gone too far? Jimi Famurewa wades into the debate
A couple of weeks ago one of my closest friends got married and among the usual bubbling cauldron of pre-wedding anxiety – a best man speech in need of a careful obscenity edit, impotent weather panic, baby nap-time logistics as complex as the Large Hadron Collider – there was something new. “Do you think,” I asked my wife, “it’d be weird if I didn’t wear any socks to the wedding?” “Yes,” came her swift, conclusive reply. “It’s too… showy.”
Now, this is revealing in a couple of ways that don’t include that unsolicited snapshot of the wild, unhinged hedonism of home life in your thirties. Firstly, there’s the fact that I was even asking this question. I am, I should point out, just the sort of person who frets about ill-advised wardrobe flourishes (see The Misguided Cravat Period of 2008), but I’m hardly some meticulous Bateman-esque maniac, taking a tape measure to his exposed shirt cuffs. Nor am I a Pharrell-ish trailblazer, ready to face stifled giggles and pointing in a bit of fashion-forward millinery. I’m a normal guy and yet this was an honest style conundrum. The age of men simply dragging an ill-fitting navy suit to the dry cleaners before a big do is over.
Secondly, there was my wife’s (frighteningly on the money) verdict. Showing up like some ludicrous lounge lizard would be the equivalent of a bridesmaid arriving at the church in something off-white, clingy and plunging. I was in ‘male Pippa’ territory. But I don’t think I can be blamed at the moment. Look around you, glance down a bit, and you’ll see that something very, very strange is happening to the male trouser leg. Men are showing more ankle than a hitchhiking Victorian harlot.
That said, the ‘mankle’ – because, of course, every male fashion trend now needs to be issued with an annoying portmanteau – isn’t a new phenomenon. For the best part of three years, there have been sarky newspaper articles and fashion week round-ups about it, illustrated by pictures of Ryan Gosling or Tinie Tempah, resplendent in luxury loafers and what the nation’s playground bullies used to call ‘ankle swingers’.
But this summer the look has properly gone overground. A recent New York Magazine piece talked about “the sensual siren song… of a well-shaped mankle”, slip-on shoes are clogging the high-street shelves and chinos and jeans are all being either frantically rolled-up or tailored to stop about four inches above the top of New Balances, espadrilles or, perhaps most contentiously, dress shoes. Peak beard? Pah. We are now ensconced in the (literal) age of peak trouser leg. And plenty have had enough of it already.
“Prada started it and made a real statement with the way its suits were cut,” says ShortList’s style director Adrian Clark. “But it’s gone too far now. It’s become something certain stuffy suit brands do when they’re trying to modernise. They get a stylist in to shorten their trouser legs to try to look edgy and cool.”
This fluffed bid for just-stepped-off-a-yacht swagger is a familiar complaint among the anti-mankle detractors. In fact, when I first suggested writing something about this, things got heated in the office. One male colleague decried it as the stupidest, most irritating male trend ever. And although he conceded that with a soft shoe “it’s probably all right”, he rightly pointed out that the connected rise of the stench-saving ‘invisi-sock’ or sportswear footliner instantly kills the casual, thrown-together vibe you’re going for. Fair point. It’s hard to channel louche continental cool when you’re a stray pom-pom away from resembling a schoolgirl off to play Year 7 netball.
Dare to Bare
So why are some of us doing it? There’s a theory that the male ankle has become an unlikely seduction tool, unleashed as soon as the temperature rises to lure women. But a highly unscientific poll of the female members of the team proved that they’re at best ambivalent (“It’s OK, I suppose”) and at worst repulsed (“It makes me feel a bit sick”) when it comes to the springtime emergence of our manky tufts of leg hair.
No, I think it’s another example of a new brand of male display that’s really more about competitive personal expression than female approval. Lustrous beard, glistening gym-sculpted clavicles, flash of bare leg; men, perhaps more than they ever have, are experimenting with feminine and masculine warm weather styling, baring flesh and gleefully shrugging off the drab workwear of an endless Westerosi winter. And they’re not really arsed whether you’re into it or not.
Turning up your trousers has become shorthand for a kind of indomitable ‘I know what I’m doing’ confidence. Not something that’s always been the case with men and summer dressing. So whether you’re for it or against it, you can’t argue with the fact that what the dawn of the mankle represents is A Good Thing. Unless you’re a sock-maker.