No white socks outside the gym!" designer Ravi Bajaj cautions, almost menacingly, when I ask him what’s going on with men’s foot fashion. Bajaj, who opened the Van Heusen India Mens Week last month, harbours a fashionista’s exasperation for bad sock etiquette.

Sole mates: (top) Bajaj believes contrast is key when it comes to sock styling. Madhu Kapparath / Mint; and Ranbir Kapoor wears a quirky pair in Wake Up Sid, which released in theatres on Friday.

“At no time are white socks to be worn with anything other than gym wear," he says. “Unless you’re trying to emulate Michael Jackson."

The Indian man’s sock drawer needs a sartorial reassessment. Bajaj complains about both—the absence of professional retailers and the lack of demand for smart socks in the country. He used to store designer socks at his own signature boutiques in Delhi and Mumbai, but stopped ordering new pieces a couple of years ago because they didn’t sell. “Indian men are willing to splurge, or at least put some thought into their suits and club wear, but they neglect innerwear," he says. It might, however, get increasingly problematic for men to relegate socks to the standard white, black and grey categories.

It’s not just Indian men, though. Even one of America’s most popular television hosts, David Letterman, had to take flak for his staid sock sense. Some weeks ago, on Letterman’s Late Show, his guest Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of AmericanVogue, made a cheeky jab about his plain grey pair.

Bajaj’s gripe with socks doesn’t end with colours. He speaks of ideal length, pointing out that though winter (longer) and summer (shorter) lengths don’t really apply in Indian weather conditions, it is important to check that your shin doesn’t show when your trousers ride up on sitting. Also, formal sock etiquette calls for socks that are darker than your suit and lighter than your shoes. And loafers, unless they’re black, should not be worn with socks. Bajaj also suggests going sockless with light-coloured linen suits.

These norms stated, the designer advocates “going crazy". He lives by his aphorism, too. A peek into his personal sock collection—mostly from the brands Paul Smith and Kenzo—reveals elaborate oriental prints and floral patterns in colours ranging from mauve and plum to parrot green. Some of the pieces are subtle: A pair of simple grey Paul Smith socks, for instance, are quietly transformed by a delicate green pattern. Contrast is key and Bajaj suggests pairing a pinstriped suit with floral socks; a tweed jacket with argyles; blue denims with black and red checks. Most of his socks are cotton blended with silk or spandex for a sleek fit.

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Stylist Priyanjali Lahiri, who put together Aamir Khan’s wardrobe for Taare Zameen Par, is a firm believer in Bajaj’s “going crazy" motto. In the posters for UTV’s Wake Up Sid, which released on Friday, Ranbir Kapoor wears orange stars, the Smurfs and snakes and ladders on his feet. Kapoor plays a laid-back city boy and Lahiri says she put a lot of thought into picking his T-shirts, boxers and socks. “Sid is the sort of guy who sleeps in his boxers and socks and so it was really important to make sure his socks had character," she says. Lahiri picked most pairs from Topshop, a British fashion brand, and odd little shops in Bangkok. She rates socks as being in the middle of the list on the fashion meter, after T-shirts and shoes. “It’s the first thing you see when a man takes off his shoes to get intimate. That’s got to be something!"

Sonal Bhatia, brand manager for Paul Smith in India, has reason to believe that the Indian man’s sock sense is on the rise. Bhatia says that since the British label’s launch in Delhi and Bangalore last year, there have been several walk-ins by customers—aged anywhere between 19 and 55—asking specifically for socks. At a flat price of Rs1,700 each, the stores sell around 300 pairs a month. “Our signature pattern is high contrast stripes. And while ordering patterns, I’ve never once had to think about getting conservative for the Indian market."

As a stylist, all Lahiri suggests is, give socks a chance. “It can be your thing," she says. “Wild socks score high as a style statement because you can choose when to reveal them...with a twist of your ankle."