Hold on to both style and comfort. Here’s your 10-point expert-approved guide to navigate the confusing aspects about teaming up sneakers with ethnic Indian wear 

Sneaker drops get all of us going, and if you proceed to trace the history of the sneaker, you will realise why it is a perennial footwear style. Of course, one can’t discount the fact that these shoes owe its popularity to both functionality and comfort. From becoming the dependable choice of shoe silhouette for athletes to being touted as a sartorial identifier in the street movements of skateboarding and hip-hop, sneakers have been accepted as a cross-cultural accessory from as early as the 19th Century. Such is its appeal that even luxury houses — on realising its potential — gave in to the demand, only to create high-end renditions of this coveted footwear. As of this year, the ever-growing sneaker segment amounts to US$66,348 million on a global scale, according to a Statista report. While the US still remains a major market for these shoes, India has seen a meteoric rise in the sneaker-driven subculture. In fact, some of us have made great strides by trying the unthinkable — teaming up a pair of sneakers effortlessly with ethnic Indian wear. 

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The ethnic Indian ensemble paired with sneakers is a sartorial combination tried and tested by Anand Ahuja, while under the spotlight, at his wedding reception in 2018. The fashion entrepreneur, who is also a sneakerhead, dared to successfully style a pair of Nike sneakers with a bandhgala. Designer Akshat Bansal of luxury label Bloni points out that everyone seems to be emulating this style post that big Indian wedding. That said, wearing a pair of sneakers with Indian outfits, though an interesting take for men, requires vestiary prowess, and is no cakewalk. Fashion experts help you with a few rules to pay heed to before perfectly fitting into a pair of sneakers with your ethnic wear.

Keep it contemporary. While the thought of teaming up sneakers with almost everything might be too difficult to resist, a fail-safe option would be to choose a contemporary Indian outfit, according to celebrity stylist and costume designer Leepakshi Ellawadi. She says, “Sneakers look cool with slim-fit trousers and dhotis at the same time; you can work them in a versatile manner. The key, though, would be to stick with a slightly modern and contemporary outfit rather than trying to pull off a pair of sneakers with something traditional.” Celebrity fashion stylists Pranay Jaitly and Shounak Amonkar of Who Wore What When fame agree, adding, “Styling something like a sherwani with sneakers would just be a very bad mix of two styles coming together. Try something classic like a kurta with a Nehru jacket, or a bundi with straight pants; these work well with sneakers. Even a kurta with a jacket over it or a short kurta with straight pants are a few modern styles that work with sneakers.” 

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Find your pair. No matter what footwear you team your outfit with, it is important that the end result is flattering. Jaitly and Amonkar mention that the style and length of your pants are crucial. “A churidar with sneakers is a big no-no. You should opt for straight pants, something that falls right above the ankle, or something that covers the tongue of the shoes, if you’re going for a loose, wide-fitted bottom.” Designer Dhruv Vaish adds that with everyone becoming so experimental, there’s nothing like a no-no any longer. Though he agrees that certain styles don’t complement each other, “I wouldn’t recommend a churidar with a sneaker, for sure. I’d prefer a straight-cut pyjama with it. I think the sneaker has more to do with the bottom than what you wear on top. If you try wearing a churidar with sneakers, the sneakers need to be sleek, and not chunky.”

Make a statement. There is no reason to keep the versatile sneaker on the sidelines when it can be a statement accessory. Bansal says, “If the Indian outfit you’re sporting is a classic piece and you’re wearing a sneaker with it, make the footwear your standout point. If it’s a classic blue, white, or black sherwani, an over-the-top pair of sneakers can up the game.” 

It’s all about balance. Even though you want your style to pack a punch, when sporting a pair of sneakers with an Indian outfit, it is best to know when enough is enough. Vaish is of the opinion that while there is no harm in going for a strong look, decide on how to balance it out. He says, “If you have a strong look for the kurta, I’d recommend you go for a subdued sneaker. In the same way, statement sneakers help when you have an outfit that is not so strong. Make sure the statement piece is just one of the two, the outfit or the sneaker, not both.” Ellawadi adds, “You don’t want anything overtly bright that takes away from your outfit completely. They [sneakers] need to accentuate the outfit, but they shouldn’t be the centre of attention when you’re trying to wear an ethnic outfit and make a statement. In this case, a little bit of matching would help.”

Texture matters. Jaitly and Amonkar mention that the texture of the shoe can make a lot of difference, “The texture of your sneakers matter very much. If you have a sneaker, possibly in suede, it will complement your Indian outfit very well.” 

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Don’t be scared of hues. A good way to give your monotone look a dash of colour is by wearing the right sneakers. Ellawadi says, “Men have become very experimental and quirky, and are not scared of colours anymore. Yes, a staple in sneakers definitely is white. But I think you can try different colours to give a twist to your outfit. I usually see men wear white, black, or brown sneakers. But even on a black or a brown sneaker, you can have coloured soles or a hint of colour on the laces. In fact, laces have picked up massively; people are wearing  different laces on different feet, sometimes even sneakers with bright neon laces. I think I’d like to see more colours on men.”

Proportion is key. The length of your kurta has a lot to do with the silhouette it cuts, and so it is important to match your sneaker with it accordingly, add Jaitly and Amonkar. They say, “The length and fall of the kurta are very important because if you opt for something really chunky or high-top sneakers and if you’re short, it could just look weird. It needs to be proportionate.” 

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Work on it as a team. If you’re thinking of wearing a pair of sneakers with your wedding outfit, it would be wise to discuss it with your fiancé so you don’t look mismatched. Bansal says, “In a wedding, you’ve got to see what your fiancé is wearing. If the bride is wearing a traditional Sabyasachi, the groom teaming his outfit with sneakers doesn’t work. But if the bride is probably wearing a Falguni & Shane or a Papa Don’t Preach outfit or even a Bloni skirt with a fringed bralette, you can opt for sneakers with your clothing as it will blend well, and will also look like it matches the setting. If the bride and groom wear traditional outfits and the groom is donned in a sherwani with paisley motifs and heavy zardozi embroidery all over, and he wears a sneaker with it, I don’t think that works. It will look like it is forcibly done, and that would show.”

Not wedding-approved. Indian weddings are traditional affairs, and even though wearing sneakers might seem a comfortable option, it is best to not wear them on the wedding day. Vaish agrees, adding that sneakers are still not formal. “For me, sneakers are great comfort wear and trendy, but it is still in the semi-formal category. I definitely won’t wear it at a wedding, especially for formal functions. Sneakers, though, may work for smaller, intimate, and personal gatherings like the tika or roka.” Ellawadi concurs, adding, “Even at a wedding, there are many functions. Sneakers with a bundi and a fun, short kurta as well as a pair of jeans will work well for a sangeet. For events like a cocktail night, traditional Indie night, bidaai, where you most probably will wear old-school traditional outfits, avoid the sneaker.” 

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Let your style be effortless. Sartorial trends work best for those who imbibe it with zero effort. Bansal says, “You can’t just wear sneakers because it is a trend. Try and understand if you’re feeling comfortable in it. Don’t overplay it just for the fact that it’s a trend.” Ellawadi, who is of the same opinion, adds, “ Your look should be effortless. While there are a handful of dos and don’ts, I think it should come to you a bit more naturally than trying to fit in. As long as wearing a sneaker looks effortless and it is dressed for the right occasion, it will look cool.”