Socks shouldn’t be an afterthought. Though barely visible, socks can push a look from good to great when properly chosen.
The proper type
The rule in choosing the right pair of socks is simple: like begets like. Wear dress socks with dress shoes. Athletic socks, even in black, should be used strictly with sneakers or trainers.
This isn’t just tradition. Athletic socks are thicker, made to cushion the feet during sustained motion. Thus, their bulk may end up stretching and ruining your dress shoes.
For formal events, your socks should go up to your calf. This prevents you from flashing a bare ankle or leg when you’re seated, which is considered bad form. As the formality of the event lessens, so does the length of your socks. Thus, wear low-cut socks during occasions where sneakers and shorts are acceptable.
Patterns and colors
Socks do not always have to match your pants. Wear patterned or printed socks by matching the dominant color with the rest of the outfit. A pair of blue argyle socks can reflect a blue tie.
You can also match the dominant color of your patterned socks with your shoes. Purists usually discourage matching the socks with the shoes because it has the effect of making the shoes, regardless of the style, look like booties. However, this is not applicable in the case of socks with prints or patterns.
Colored socks can pull together a look by repeating the color of the tie or the pocket square. Using a number of colors can also look dapper, as long as the intensity of the hues is similar. For example, stick to pastel socks if the rest of the ensemble features pastels. Maintaining a particular tone, despite the use of contrasting colors, keeps the look fluid and cohesive.
A sock is a product of economic decisions. Dress socks, in particular, show such choices. They are made out of readily available materials such as cotton blends and come in lengths that are somewhere in the midpoint of the shin to keep costs down. They are also manufactured using circular knitting machines that can produce large quantities fast. The outcome is an affordable yet unremarkable sock, easily obtained at any department store.
Socks that are stitched or crocheted by hand are considered the finest because they are the most durable. High-quality socks may also be machine-made, but greater attention should be given to the stitching of the seams.
Pick socks that have a smooth finish and defined elasticity. Silk and wool are good alternatives to the usual cotton. When it comes to sizes, explore options that go beyond the generic small, medium, or large. Specialty menswear shops offer a broader range of sizes to ensure a comfortable and snug fit, which eliminates the unbecoming need to tug a sock back in place.
This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Vol. 8, 2012.