When it comes to experimenting with trendy dressing for work, Indian men are excruciatingly conservative with a colour palette that runs from black to blue. Of course, international trends—pairing a suit with sneakers or wearing a double- breasted jacket—are a blip on their workwear radar.
Do Indian men not care enough about the latest trends? Or, are they short on options and advice? Is it that Indian men find it difficult to veer off course? The answer lies somewhere in the middle.
We’ve listed some international workwear trends that have been adopted by men in other Asian countries, but are yet to find large-scale acceptance in India. Here’s how Indian men can integrate these trends in their work life.
Sneakers with suits
A few years ago, wearing a suit with anything but formal lace-ups would have been considered corporate blasphemy. But from being just a trend, sneakers with suits are almost mainstream, internationally. Of course, there are rules. If you work as a banker or a lawyer you should strictly stay away from this look, unless you’re heading to a bar after work and have the enthusiasm to change your footwear.
However, if you work at a place that allows business casual dressing, this look is perfect to make things interesting (though for days you have formal meetings, stick to Oxfords) by keeping a few things in mind. Your suit (or trousers if you plan to ditch the jacket) should be solid coloured and not pinstriped. They should be perfectly tailored and the pants should be slim cut with no-breaks (the pants should not have any fabric fold, not even the traditional break at the ankles).
As much as you love your running shoes, not all sneakers can be worn with a suit. White or black sneakers with the same coloured laces look the best. The shoes should have a classic shape (for example, Adidas Stan Smith) and should not be chunky otherwise, you’ll tumble down geek territory...and not in a good way.
Working with colour
If pastel suits were the summer favourite in Europe, bright pops as ties and accessories have been doing the rounds for many seasons, internationally. But the colour wheel in India seems a bit rusty. There are multiple reasons for this. For starters, most men don’t know where to begin. “I’ve often thought about wearing different coloured shirts. But I find myself going back to the tried-and-tested shades because I don’t know what colour will be acceptable at work. Also, most stores I shop at don’t have styling advisers," says Saurabh Ahuja, manager (legal) at Future Consumer Ltd, Mumbai, the food and personal care arm of Future Group.
The easiest way to introduce colour (and some fun) to your work wardrobe is via subtle accessories. Wear a fun tie or some quirky socks to inject some colour. The lightest pinks are also a great way to explore new territory. A word of caution—don’t try everything at once.
This one’s the easiest to adopt but, surprisingly, hard to find in action. Men in India still rely on the awful looking backpacks that they probably first bought in college (even college kids have traded up). This is, especially, odd since well-designed backpacks are rather easily available at brands like Da Milano, Nappa Dori and Tod’s. They also cover the entire spectrum of prices. “Indian men just don’t care. It’s frustrating. They think that getting a good secure job is enough. They don’t realize that looking sharp and well-turned-out can go a long way in creating the right impression and making them feel confident too," says Neha Rakheja, a Delhi-based corporate stylist and founder of UrStyleCoach, a company that provides styling solutions for men.
In repeated workshops, Rakheja guides men on how to up their power dressing game, and an important part is the bag they carry. “We have great cross-body and shoulder bags that are easy to pull off. They go with your existing wardrobe," she adds.
Last year, the double-breasted jacket made a roaring comeback. Internationally, of course. It’s been over a year since men took to this classic, but in India there’ve been barely any glimpses to this style. “I always thought double- breasted styles are good for really tall and thin men. And Indians hardly ever qualify for that silhouette," says Mohit Agarwal, a digital marketing executive working with a healthcare firm in Bengaluru.
This might be the primary reason why Indian males have stayed away. But this isn’t true. Men who are shorter or of a medium build (like most Indians) need to just keep a few pointers handy. Don’t choose a jacket with padding at the shoulders; find one with narrow lapels and if you want to keep it more formal, get one with six buttons instead of four.
The great thing about this jacket is that it can be worn as part of a suit and even separately, as a jacket. Make sure the fit is perfect and that you keep the lower button unbuttoned as is the case with single-breasted jackets.
This one is tricky so tread carefully, because when worn well it can add a certain coolth. Rule number one is to not wear this to extremely formal meetings. Reserve them for Fridays or if your office dress is business casual then for days when you don’t have to meet clients or make presentations. “Rule number two is to wear them with loafers or fashion sneakers but never ever with visible socks," advises Rakheja. For a garment so casual, they look surprisingly great with button- down shirts so you’re not completely in the wild.
Reaching for the nearest blue shirt in your wardrobe and wearing it with the same style of black pants might be easy. But it’s also thoroughly uninspiring to walk into an office and find at least a dozen others dressed exactly like you. Learn to push the boundary just a little bit.