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Bare ankles in winter won’t make you chic – just cold

I read that the essential style statement this winter is “to show some ankle”. But wearing no socks with ankle-grazing trousers makes me feel like a cheesy extra from El Dorado. Am I wrong?

Anonymous, by email

Now now, Anonymous. This column is what American therapists call “a safe space”: there is no “wrong” here, only different perspectives (except in the matter of definitively wrong things, such as overpriced exercise clothes, detox diets, winter hats that look like animals and – OK, I think we’d best not go down this path.) It just so happens that your perspective matches that of quite a few other people. I have one friend, for example, who refers to the look you mention as Sexy Spanish Waiter Chic. Is she wrong? She is not, and nor are you.

It’s a slightly tricky one, this trend. I genuinely like the look of this style: a nice pair of narrow trousers just cutting across the ankle bone, worn with some pointed flats or something similar. In fact, I like it so much that I recently broke my usual no-jeans rule and bought just such a pair of jeans from the brilliant American chain Madewell when I was last in Los Angeles on a work trip. As I handed over my credit card, images of myself strolling through the streets of London danced in my head. Oh how stylish I will look, I mused smugly, so much so that I’ll probably go hoarse from having to reassure people that, no, I’m not – contrary to all appearances! – Jane Birkin.

It was only when I got home that I remembered something important: I live in London, not Los Angeles. This means that it is really freaking cold for about half the year and therefore not all that pleasant to walk around with bare ankles and all-but bare feet. Maybe I’m a high-maintenance kinda lady but if I’m cold then I don’t feel chic and I don’t look chic: I look cold, and probably with a red nose to boot. (I am totally high maintenance, by the way. In fact, in the words of Harry in When Harry Met Sally, I’m the worst kind; high maintenance but I think I’m low maintenance. But we’ll save that for another time.)

I read often in fashion magazines about women who are considered style icons precisely because they wear clothes that look, frankly, cold. Alexa Chung, I am told, “doesn’t really do socks – at least not with jeans”, while Carine Roitfeld’s legs are “always bare, even in winter” and sporting “high, high, high heels”. Both of these women live in northern Europe so none of this makes any sense to me. Sure, I am perfectly aware of the cliche about “style over comfort” but actual misery does not look stylish to me. Moreover, both of these women are extremely thin, so I’m guessing they feel the cold. Who walks around with bare ankles in February in northern Europe? I’ll tell you who: people who are not outside for very long because they have a car and driver or, at an absolute pinch, a taxi on perma-call.

This is fashion at its most tedious – when it celebrates not just clothes but actual styles that are accessible only to those who subsist on designer freebies and six-figure salaries. This is why Kate Moss is so perennially popular with women of all ages: she never looks uncomfortable and her styles always look accessible. In fact, Mossy’s favourite off-duty winter look is, I have noticed, jeans with boots on top, especially when she’s walking the dog. As chance would have it, this is often my dog-walking look, too. Oddly, no one’s ever mistaken me for her, but I think the fault for that probably lies with my dog. Even though Moss is generally wearing whackingly expensive clothes, her style looks eminently not just copiable, but also comfortable. Think of her most influential outfits: a Bella Freud jumper with a denim miniskirt, denim shorts with slouchy pirate boots, Hunter wellingtons with denim shorts. These are all outfits that look temptingly comfy, and that’s the reason they were immediately copied by millions. How many people have you seen dressing like Carine Roitfeld, no matter how many times fashion magazines tell you she’s an uber fashion icon? Exactly.

Chung has that copiable factor, too, at times, but increasingly, I find her style is simply inaccessible (and therefore unappealing) to anyone who occasionally has to go outside and/or is over a size 0. So although I’ll happily look at photos of her for hours on end, and I am always interested in what she’s wearing (yup, doing my education proud), I’ll never copy it. Moss, on the other hand, is a different story. To be honest, I kinda think she copied that dog-walking look from me. And, Kate, I forgive you for it.

So going back to the ankle-flashing. Sure, it’s a nice look, in a sexy-extra-from-El-Dorado way. But is it a practical look in February in Britain? No, it most certainly is not. A woman looks chic not by following trends, but by being comfortable in herself, and no woman is comfortable with bare ankles when it’s two degrees outside. So for the sake of chic-ness, I’m putting away both my new jeans and my ankles until March and sticking firmly with my boots, ideally in the flavour of Ugg. Kate Moss, I feel, would approve.

Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email ask.hadley@theguardian.com

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