Everything you need to know about socks


Socks are a small detail that say a lot about a man.
Image source: Shutterstock

Knowing which pair of socks to wear, with what, is a crucial part of any gentleman’s sartorial education. Get it wrong and you run the risk of looking like a scruff. Here’s the lowdown on hosiery for men – everything you need to know about mens socks.

Bin bad socks

Luxury, comfort-fit mens socks from Samuel Windsor

Throw old socks away and invest in a new set
Image source: Premium socks from Samuel Windsor

Grab a bin, open your drawer, and prepare to prune your existing stock of bad socks. Socks with “breather holes” for your big toes promise only shame. Imagine being invited to impromptu after-dinner drinks at a friend’s house. What happens if you’re politely requested to take off your shoes to save the new carpet? Learn to darn, or else chuck out anything with holes.

While you’re at it, toss novelty socks of any hue – why a gentleman would wear such cringingly awful socks is a mystery. If you want a style boost, look to your feet, as RJ Firchau, writing for The Gentlemanual, says:

“Whether it’s bold colors, striking patterns, or novelty repeats, the standard for men’s socks has shifted in a big way and men everywhere have taken note. The necktie is no longer the sultan of sartorial flair. Now, men start from their toes and work their way up.”

Find the perfect fit


True gentlemen wear over-the-calf socks, but never white with a suit.
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Fed up with your socks falling down? If you prefer to wear calf-length socks, there’s little you can do to stop them slowly falling down other than to invest in a pair of sock suspenders. You’ll have to live with the knowledge that if, for any reason, you end up at A&E, the nurses are going to have a good laugh at your expense.

Your best bet is to reconcile yourself to having to occasionally pull your socks up, or go for over-the-calf socks. Sven Raphael Schneider, writing for The Gentleman’s Gazette, says:

“Being a gentleman requires many things. One of them is attention to detail. Nothing about your outfit screams ‘I am an amateur’ more than wearing white socks or short socks with your suits that expose your ankle, because true gentlemen wear over-the-calf socks – always.”

Whatever length you choose, it’s important to make sure you get the right size. Too small, and your heel will drag the sock down, too big and your socks will slither down your shins.

Going for the sockless look? “Did someone say boats?” says Michael Adams of Michael84. “These are quite possibly the footwear of choice when going without socks.”  We agree, but unless you like your feet to smell like Edam, get yourself a pair of invisible socks.

What colour socks should you choose?

colour wheel

Use a colour wheel to find complementary or contrasting colours.
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It may come as a surprise to some that black socks are not your only option. UK fashion experts at Permanent Style say:

Colours of course, are another big jump up. Dark red and dark green are often recommended for grey suits. I’ve always liked purples and pinks with navy. And bright red or yellow seem to fit best with tan shoes, in my opinion.”

All you need in order to make choosing coloured socks easy, is a little theory. Take a look at the colour wheel above. Complementary colours are those closest together – they work well to create a subtle look. At its least adventurous that’s your grey socks with that grey suit. Add a little more colour by going for blues, purples and lilacs.

At the other end of the scale, choose contrasting colours from the opposite side of the wheel. Depending on the shade, reds and greens will make a real splash against grey, but should be worn with care as to the occasion.

Socks for brown shoes

blue socks and brown shoes

Blue socks work well with brown shoes.
Image source: Domnina Vasylina

You often ask us what socks will complement your favourite brown shoes. Again, with reference to the colour wheel, you can see that the complementary colours – yellows and oranges go well, as do cool blues from the other side of the circle.

Which sock fabric is best?

burgundy socks

Sleek cashmere socks in burgundy add a splash of colour to a formal blue suit.
Image source: Shutterstock

For formal occasions, sleek, lightweight options made from cashmere, silk, bamboo or cotton look best.

Light to medium-weight fabrics are ideal for smart casual wear and thicker, chunky textured socks made from wool or cotton look great with boots.

How to wear patterned socks

There’s a plethora of patterned socks to choose from, but to stay the right side of the divide between stylish and garish, our advice is to lean towards the traditional, especially if you’re going for a formal or smart casual look. If your suit features a pin stripe, or any kind of check thread, avoid bold stripes or geometric patterns on your socks because they’ll clash with the rest of your outfit.

Argyle: A true classic, with the familiar diamond pattern, Argyle socks are a great choice, serving the full range of functions from formal to casual. Sleek wool-rich blends in sober blues and greys give your charcoal or navy business suit a lift. Brighter colours make a flamboyant statement. Rugged woollen Argyles in blues, browns, subtle oranges and even greens make excellent weekend wear, going well with your cords and brown brogues. Vibrant blues look great with casual jeans and boat shoes.

Stripes: Horizontal stripes break the line from leg to foot; vertical stripes lengthen and extend. For this reason, short chaps suit vertical stripes, lanky lads may prefer horizontal. It’s also worth bearing in mind that vertical stripes are better in a formal setting, the clean lines offer a smoother transition from trouser to shoe.

Spots and geometrics: The rule of thumb is, the more formal your attire, the smaller the squares, spots, or diamonds should be. You want your socks to give your outfit a boost, but you don’t want overbearing patterns to distract.

You can opt for snazzier designs for smart casual and party wear, but choose something befitting your years and sense of dignity.

How to wear textured socks


A subtle texture raises these smart black socks to a class above.
Image source: Sharsonm

A pair of thin, smart socks featuring a textured pattern is a good option when you’re looking for something to give your suit a contemporary look while maintaining an air of strict professionalism. At the other end of the continuum, wear thick wool or cotton cable knit socks with your cords, moleskins or jeans, and chukka boots – comfortable on cold days and suitable for country walks, or a wander down to your local.

What are your favourite sock options? Do nip over to our Facebook page and join in the great sock debate.

Posted in Men's style guides.