“There is not much fun in always buying plain socks.”
Hardy Amies, ABC of Men’s Fashion
The humble sock, the everyday item that can be found -often in abundance- in any wardrobe, and which used to make for a very uninspired part of one’s outfit, is having a revival.
We say socks are the mark of a man. But how did we get here? Let’s uncover the many secrets of the most talked-about and prominent item in every discerning gentleman’s wardrobe: the colourful socks.
Socks may appear a relatively small and inconspicuous item of clothing, but for their humility, they do punch highly above their weight.
The hosiery garments have gone through much evolution since they were first invented. Primarily a protective and functional item, the sock, from the latin word ‘soccus’, translate as a light shoe or slipper, often with a small heel as worn by theatre actors.
When purchasing a pair of socks, comfort and durability should always preside in the decision-making process. But no longer are socks perceived as a mere utilitarian item; style has become an essential part to its recent revival. And with such an array of colours and patterns now available, there are no more excuses to wear socks that are unsightly, holed or -dare I add- white.
Whether you are the city-type who likes to don a suit at every occasion or prefer sporting chinos or jeans, whether you are the conventional type or like to stand out just a touch more, socks have become a considered purchase and are the easiest way to inject a little personality and colour into your outfits.
“Socks abide by the law of visual scarcity: they are so infrequently the focus of an outfit by virtue of placement (near the ground, far from the eyes), so typically neutral (black, sometimes navy), and so buried beneath outerwear (only a sliver round the ankles exposed) that seeing any flair at all is a thrill.”- Kenzy Bryant, Vanity Fair
Socks can help elevate one’s game as well as their mood. In a sea of black, grey and dark blue suits, adding a pinch of colour in your footwear will perk up any outfit and make the wearer feel confident.
Taking care in selecting the right socks for the right occasion is testimony to your attention to details and reflects positively on you as a person. The revival of socks symbolises a greater shift in attitude whereby men take pride in their appearance and where details not only matter but are paramount. Socks are a way to portray confidence in a subtle way - they are eye-catching enough to make a statement but not too brash to be a style faux-pas.
Wanting to look stylish as well as be comfortable is not purely for show to the outside world. The discerning man likes his comfort at home too, as demonstrated by the recent prominence of loungewear. Socks have thus gradually become an essential part of one’s attire, even at home. Recent years have seen a surge in everyday essentials, such as socks and underwear, traditionally purchased as an after-thought, being revisited and redesigned. Fabrics and fits are being updated to suit the modern gentleman and his quest for individuality.
"Nowadays, men are looking for quality in things you can and can't see. It's about how they feel personally."- Paul Birardi, Odin
When looking to convey a little rebellious spirit, socks might just be the perfect way to make a statement. The Red Sneaker Effect report indeed states that non-conformity in dress acts as a way to assert power, status and self-assurance*.
This, the report states, is linked to our level of self-confidence. The lesser confident we feel, the more we try to blend in, and in the opposite, the greater our confidence level, the more we experiment with given codes of conduct, not minding any critical reactions and judgements that might arise as a result. In the end, whose opinion of your sartorial endeavours matters more than our very own anyway?
*[We ought to bear in mind though that the report dates from 2014 already and within that short space of time, much has changed in the menswear scene and more rules than ever before have been broken and genres mixed. The dress code has become more casual as a whole and the greater choice of garments available makes it easier to go bold and extreme.]
Socks also remain one of the most cost-effective way to update a wardrobe each season all the while injecting a little personality into outfits.
“There has been a down turn in the ‘formal accessory’ category, which is reflected by the shift towards a more casual work outfit across most sectors. Accessories are the perfect way to mix up and completely change a look without having to invest in lots of new clothing.”- Alexander Hudson, Banvard & James
Whilst novelty socks may not be your thing (best to leave that to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau), you can quite easily use colour and texture to make a statement.
But beware, there are a few basic rules to bear in mind when it comes to socks:
“It is permissible to wear socks of entirely different colour from the rest of the costume, provided the rest of the costume is of one series of colours. The matching of socks to the tie do I find affected.”- Sir Hardy Amies, ABC of Men’s Fashion
“All sock, particularly woollen, look well when finely ribbed. The ribs make the ankles look slim and help with the fit as they make the sock cling to the leg.”- Hardy Amies, ABC of Men’s Fashion
Read more stylish tips from Hardy Amies in our article in how to dress accordingly to the master of tailoring who revolutionised menswear.
In a sea of grey corporate suits, any dash of colour will make you stand out. But, make sure to do so for the right reasons. Nobody likes a show-off, and neither do your peers or your future employer. Your outfit as a whole should look like it’s been put together well, aspiring for an effortless, borderline nonchalant look. Work it too hard and it’ll become noticeable and you’ll stand out like a sore thumb.
Start with a well-tailored suit or trousers and shirt; focus on quality, timeless pieces that will work with a variety of colours and textures. Understand it to be your blank canvas and use colourful accessories to showcase your personality. Whether you go for striking pink or a more subdued dark green may give a subliminal message on your personality and creativity, but even more essential than style, you, as the wearer, should own your outfit and feel confident in it.
Here are a few recommended reads:
The Art of Manliness: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/guide-to-socks/
The Red Sneakers Effect: Inferring status and competence from signals of nonconformity. Journal of Consumer Research (2014), Available online here.
Country Life - What socks say about you: https://www.countrylife.co.uk/luxury/style/what-your-socks-say-about-you-171863
The Gentlemanual - Guide to men's Socks: https://www.ties.com/blog/kicking-up-your-sock-game-a-guide-to-mens-sock-fashion
Psychological Science - Dressing For Success: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/minds-business/dressing-for-success-from-lucky-socks-to-the-red-sneaker-effect.html
Read “The Story of Men's Underwear" by Shaun Cole, Parkstone Press Ltd, 2009.