An anklet is an ornament worn around the ankle. It is also known as an ankle string, ankle bracelet, or ankle chain. Anklets and toe rings are some of the historically oldest jewelry and ornaments are known to be worn by both men and women around the world. Nowadays, anklets can be worn solely as a piece of jewelry, or as a part of cultural expression and expression of the social status.
Few ornaments and jewelry items have as many applications and cultural significance as anklets. That is why, in the following paragraphs, we’ll take a look at the meaning of wearing anklets; what do they represent, mean and signify in cultures around the world. So, let’s get started!
The History Of Anklets
The wearing of anklets can be traced to as early as Summerian times, or 5th millennium BC. Anklets are often associated with ancient urban civilizations, but are, nevertheless, worn even nowadays. Anklets have been worn by both women and men, depending on the civilization and the culture, and of course, they had a certain meaning and representation.
South Asia And India
In South Asia, girls and women have been wearing anklets for over 8000 years now. Anklets in this region are known as pattilu, payal, or can be sometimes referred to as nupur. Generally, the anklets in South Asia and India represent adornment for the feet. They are made to look like loose chains, that can even be decorated with uncut diamonds and other gemstones.
This, of course, refers to the social status of the wearer, meaning that the women wearing the anklet comes from a rich family, or is married into one. Nevertheless, both unmarried girls and married women, rich or poor, were and still are required to wear anklets.
Historically, anklets in this region of Asia often feature bells and charms, which produce noise when women or unmarried girls are walking. Supposedly, the noise from the anklets is supposed to alert and remind them to behave properly and be respectful.
Anklets in South Asia can be made from different materials, depending on the wealth and social status of the wearer. Traditionally, Hindu women and girls wear silver anklets, since it is the most common metal in this region, and also because gold is sacred in countries like India. Here are some other interesting facts about anklets in South Asia and the Indian subcontinent;
- Rajasthani women wear the heaviest type of anklets. They are made from silver and signify tribal adherence. These types of anklets are nowadays worn only in rural areas.
- In ancient times, men were also required to wear anklets. Golden anklets were worn by Kshatriya, or the royal/warrior caste, while men of lower castes wore silver anklets.
- The word payalak or payal means anklet in Hindu and Punjabi.
- Anklets were first mentioned in Tamil literature, or more specifically, in an epic called The Story of the Anklet. In the story, a woman’s husband is killed as he was trying to sell her anklet to a dishonest goldsmith.
In ancient Egypt, women of all social classes had to wear anklets. They called them the menefret, which had the same meaning as a bracelet, but they usually used a phrase referring to the ornament’s connection to the feet. The Egyptians were making anklets from numerous materials, different metals, and made them into different shapes as well. The rich were wearing the golden anklets, while the lower social classes wore silver or iron anklets.
Later in Egyptian history, anklets were only worn by Egyptian women living in the inner cities. These anklets were referred to as kholkhal, and were usually worn by the women living in the city of Alexandria. However, the tradition of wearing anklets is not common nowadays, in modern-day Egypt. The reason for this lies in the widespread Islamic conservatism, that has deemed anklet wearing as immodest and provocative. However, public dancers or belly dancers are still seen wearing anklets as parts of their outfits.
In Europe, anklet wearing wasn’t a long-lasting tradition. It was present during the Bronze Age in areas around Danube, Rhine, and the Alpine foreland. Bronze anklets were discovered in these areas, alongside other bronze jewelry and items, like dishes and figurines. The anklets, as well as the other bronze items, are attributed to the Tumulus culture, which was known to dwell around this region of Central Europe.
So, What Does It Mean To Wear An Anklet?
Based on the historical findings and cultural interpretations, we can say that wearing an anklet can mean numerous things, depending on the region, culture, and country. For example, wearing an anklet can mean or signify the following;
- Marital status – historically, in some cultures and regions both unmarried girls and married women were required to wear anklets. The same applies nowadays, but there are certain differences in anklets for those who are married and those who are single. For example, the anklets for unmarried girls are required to have more bells and charms, decorations, and beads. The reason for this is to attract the attention of single, unmarried men.
- Social status – historically, women that were wearing bigger, more decorated anklets with gemstones were considered to come from a rich family or to have married into one. Women wearing silver or iron anklets were considered to belong to the lower social class or castes. The same practice applies nowadays, especially in South Asia and India.
- Relationship status -there weren’t any historical implications that the side you wear your anklet on is important. However, there have been some stories circulating that whether you wear the anklet on the left or right side can have a certain meaning, in regards to the relationship status. For example, if a woman wears an anklet on the left side, it means that, upon her husband’s approval, she is now in an open relationship. However, such rumors and stories are anecdotal and don’t hold much weight, especially nowadays, when women around the world wear anklets on both ankles.
- Fashion statement – anklets have had their moments in the fashion industry or served as some kind of inspiration and influence. During the Hippie era, anklets were a must-have, and even nowadays are considered in the western world as a hippie- or boho- kind of jewelry. Anklets generally represented freedom, connection to nature (as they were made from cotton, leather and had flowery ornaments), etc. Nowadays, anklets serve as a fashion statement and are frequently seen modeled on runway shows. In 2016, for example, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, and other brands promoted anklets as must-have for the Spring/Summer season.
What Does It Mean For Men To Wear Anklets?
As mentioned before, men have been wearing anklets just as long as women. Men wearing anklets usually indicated the social status, or whether they belong to the warrior, royal, or lower castes. In India, for example, men of royal or warrior caste were required to wear golden anklets, while other men, of lower castes, were required to wear silver anklets. Nowadays, men aren’t that prominent for anklet wearing, mostly because of the influence of Western culture. For example, in Western culture, wearing an anklet, or jewelry, in general, can be a sign of femininity.
What Types Of Anklets Are There?
Nowadays, there are numerous types of anklets; from traditional looking ones to the modern versions, men and women can choose from a variety of different anklets;
- Gold anklets – gold anklets don’t have the same traditional status in most parts of the world nowadays, but in some cultures, they still represent the social status. Either way, you can get yourself a gold anklet with wonderful gemstone decorations, that you can pair with classy and extravagant heels.
- Silver anklets – if you’re looking for a way to make your casual outfit more interesting, you can go for silver anklets. These are perfect for summer outfits and beach days since they create a more boho look. However, silver anklets can surely be more classy and paired with heels if you want to.
- Leather anklets – speaking of anklets and the meaning behind them, we can say that wearing a leather anklet can mean a lot. For example, it can be a great accessory or a jewelry piece for a man, since leather is more on the masculine side. However, it can also be a great addition for women, especially if they’re into rock music, etc. Leather anklets can have a variety of applications, for both men and women.
- Anklets with a toe ring – these anklets are great if you’re looking to create a boho style outfit for the beach. They require you to be barefoot so that everyone can see the beautiful jewelry on your foot. You can wear these anklets to pool parties, festivals, beach parties, etc.
Wearing anklets did have specific meanings in ancient traditions and cultures. And sure, in some cultures even nowadays they’ve retained a certain representation and a sign of cultural or social status. However, anklets nowadays are just a piece of wonderful jewelry anyone can wear, regardless of the wealth, social status (if that’s still a thing), or even gender. Anklets are meant to be fun and to make your outfit stand out. So, be brave and wear your anklet with pride, regardless of who you are.