Men’s Socks: The Quintessential Guide Take the GM's quiz to find your fit
The days when sock drawers were filled with nothing but white tube socks are over. Second that for mountains of plain black dress socks. Whether it’s bold colors, striking patterns, or novelty repeats, the standard for men’s socks has shifted in a big way.
The necktie is no longer the sultan of sartorial flair. Men now start from their toes and work their way up — so kick your feet up and discover how to wear men’s socks (opens in new window) the right way.
Getting that sockless look doesn’t mean literally going sockless. A smartly designed pair of no-show socks (opens in new window) will keep your feet comfortable, stylish, and dry. Plus, they’ll stay put throughout an active day without slipping off the back of your heel.
Some experts believe that no-show socks are the only acceptable option when wearing shorts, but that opinion is a bit too restrictive. Regardless of how stylish they may be, if you wear no-shows with the wrong shoes, you’ll end up with blisters on the back of your heels where your shoes rub against your skin.
The naked ankle is seemingly everywhere and publications like GQ magazine utilize no-show socks with nearly every type of outfit — from jeans with slip-ons to dress pants with Oxfords. The only shoes should avoid wearing them with is with boots, high-tops or sandals.
Ankle (Athletic) Socks
Ankle socks are often confused with no-show socks but they are quite different. No-shows sit below the ankle and are meant to be hidden. Ankle socks sit on or slightly above the ankle and protect your heels and ankles from chafing.
Ankle socks are not fashion accessories. This means that wearing them should be limited to the gym or other physical activities, like moving a friend out of a 4th-floor apartment — or running as fast as you can away from any friend moving out of a 4th-floor apartment.
This same rule applies to white athletic socks (at any length). In fact, we don’t recommend wearing white athletic socks in any situation. Go with black instead, they’re less conspicuous and will stay looking cleaner much longer.
Mid-calf socks (opens in new window) are the socks that should be filling up your sock drawer — they’re the workhorse of the modern man’s sock supply.
The mid-calf style is perfect with sneakers, loafers, dress shoes, boots and everything in between. Plus they can be found in just about any color, pattern, thickness or material you can dream of.
Over the Calf (OTC) Socks
Short of wearing sock garters (opens in new window), over the calf socks were once the only reliable way to keep your socks from pooling around your ankles. But as sock manufacturing improved, this knee-high style fell out of favor and has never recovered.
If you really are concerned about keeping your socks up, OCT socks are an undoubtedly a fool-proof solution. Unfortunately for diehard fans, few retailers still have this style on offer. Those that do charge exorbitant prices and offer a paltry selection. Some may say that the knee-high is an outdated style, but unless you’re disrobing in public, who is really going know how tall your socks are?
NOTE: Do not wear over the calf socks with shorts. That is unless you want the neighbors to call the fashion police.
You’ve probably heard that cotton is king. When it comes to socks, that’s definitely true. Cotton is the most popular fabric for both formal and athletic socks.
Cotton is lightweight, cooler, and more durable than other fibers. It also holds its shape over time. With its relatively low price, most of your socks are from a cotton blend. Expect this fabric to be a regular in your sock drawer.
Wool has been used in sock manufacturing since the beginning. Wool socks will keep feet warm in cold weather and cool when temperatures soar. They also don’t absorb as much moisture as other materials. These characteristics combine to make them a great fit for outdoor activities such as hiking or skiing.
Pure wool socks can be a scratchy and thick, so many are now blended with synthetic fibers like rayon. This blending of yarns makes them softer, while also enhancing strength and durability. The main downside of wool socks is that they cost more than cotton or synthetics.
Seen as a luxury material, cashmere’s makeup and benefits are similar to wool. They’ll keep your feet comfortable and are super soft on the feet.
However, because they are more likely to lose their shape or tear, taking proper care of cashmere socks is essential. Investing in cashmere socks means that you better be committed to hand washing to get your money’s worth. And don’t even think about putting them in the dryer.
Silk socks are often reserved for black tie and formal affairs. Not only are they more expensive, but they won’t last as long as your cotton, wool, or even cashmere varieties.
They’re often blended with wool for added warmth or synthetic fibers for durability.
It may not be the most practical sock, there’s no doubt that your feet will feel fancy.
Generally, we advise steering clear of 100% synthetic socks unless you’re after a pair for strictly athletic use. Synthetic socks are famously lightweight but they tend to be less comfortable and breathable than their natural fiber counterparts.
When blended with a natural fiber like cotton or wool, synthetics can add a degree of durability and help prevent shrinkage.
How to Wear Socks Well
When in Doubt, Go Dark
If you’re in a traditional industry or are having tea with a world leader, play it safe with black, brown or navy socks. This traditional look will keep you under the rader. As much as we love colorful socks, sometimes it’s better not to stand out.
Try Adding Texture or Ribbing
Just because you’re wearing conventional solid socks doesn’t mean you’re left without options. For something with a bit more interest, experiment with texture. Ribbed socks are available in almost every neutral color imaginable and the seams add a subtle visual interest.
Wear No-Shows with Discretion
Beware of baring ankle in any formal environment — many conservative types consider no-show socks to be in poor taste, especially with suits. If you love making those types of people uncomfortable, more power to you.
Try Bold Solids
Use solid or color-blocked socks to add a sense of sartorial know-how to your look. Bold toned socks are the easiest way to dip your toe into thoughtful accessorizing.
Stripes, Dots & Argyle
The next safe bet after colored solids are stripes, polka dots or argyle. A three of these sock patterns are timeless and make for easy matching.
Coordinate Your Colors
When it comes to the question of color, we suggest that you mirror your sock color with another color that you’re wearing above the waistline. This color continuity ties your outfit together. If however, you’re already great at color coordination, do as you like. At the end of the day, if it looks good, it looks good.
Avoid Pattern Matching
Avoid matching the pattern of your socks with a pattern that already exists in your look. If you’re wearing a polka dot shirt, avoid dotted socks. If you’re rocking an argyle sweater, avoid argyle socks. Matching pattern on pattern can look a little too deliberate — and not in a good way.
Going Bold School
Novelty socks are not everyone’s cup of tea but when done right, this is the just about the most fun you can have with fashion. These kinds of men’s socks range from boldly tasteful to just plain tasteless, so step with caution.
Right now we are loving Alynn’s new line of socks (opens in new window). They toe the line of wearability while still maximizing play.
Cuff or Crop Your Pants
If you really love your novelty socks, don’t hide them from the world. Try cuffing your pants or having them tailored with no break (or even cropped) in order put your socks on display.
Let Your Socks Be the Star
We’re big proponents of socks that show off your personality. But if you decide to rock a novelty pair, consider toning down the other aspects of your ensemble. The more toned down the rest of your outfit is, the more striking your socks will be in comparison.
Keep Your Sock Drawer Organized
The more organized you keep your sock drawer, the more likely you are to find the right pair for the right outfit. Instead of folding them inside out, try folding your socks and stacking them in a row horizontally. This will give you a great idea of what socks you’ve got at any moment.
Sock It to ‘Em
Whichever way you decide to sock up, make your choices pre-meditated and deliberate. At this point, there’s no good excuse for a threadbare sock drawer.
Got a favorite pair of socks (opens in new window)? Let us know in the comments.