With so many types and styles of men’s socks available today, I’m often asked what constitutes a dress sock. Is it color, fabric, weight, length, or pattern that differentiates dress socks from other types? The answer is all of the above! Dress socks all have something in common regardless of what they look like: they are designed to be worn with dress pants and shoes; therefore, are made of thinner, more refined material than athletic or fun socks that are worn with jeans and casual pants. Dress socks can be identified pretty much the same way you recognize dress slacks or suit pants… they’re fancier. Other than that, the world of dress socks has opened up and the sky’s the limit regarding other features.
Dress sock etiquette has changed recently, and we now have more color choices and options of how to wear them. Traditionally, dress socks were almost always matched up with pant color. If you wore black pants, you also wore black socks. Brown pants meant brown socks – it was that simple. And if you want to use that rule as your guide, you can never go wrong. However, like with so many other things, men are now afforded the liberty women have had for years, and, we, too, can spice up our wardrobe with exciting colors and patterns. Now, I’m not saying all rhyme and reason should be thrown out the window, but I am saying it’s acceptable to give personality to your wardrobe and ensembles by incorporating fun dress socks.
Dress socks still tend to be dark colors with very subtle patterns, and are often solid colors with just some sort of raised ribbing or cabling (ribs that intertwine); however, many of today’s manufacturers have come out with various colors that offer us exciting options. Dress socks are usually made of wool, silk, cashmere, thin cotton, nylon and some polyester blends. Finer dress socks are made from the natural materials just mentioned; with a price tag to match. Spending the day in a breathable, comfortable pair of socks warrants the cost, and will have you ditching the sweaty nylon socks in a heartbeat. So, if you haven’t given your feet the thrill of wearing cashmere or silk socks, I suggest you run, not walk, to the nearest store!
Besides aesthetic value, there’s a reason dress socks are made of thinner fabric: so they’ll fit into dress shoes properly. Nothing’s worse than having thick socks bunch up at the top of your feet and shoes, regardless of their color. It’s noticeable and not a good look, and is as bad as wearing a black belt with brown shoes, or any other fashion faux pas. Thicker socks are intended to be worn when we’re active, and not when we’re in a suit or dress pants. The thickness serves a purpose – to absorb sweat and cushion the feet during exercise, sports, or just walking around town. So, make sure any dress sock you choose is thin and light weight.
Getting back to today’s sock wearing rules; it’s now okay to match dress socks to shoe color, as well as trouser color. When socks match pant color, the sock looks like an extension of the pants. When they match shoe color; they extend the shoe. The choice is yours. I realize dress shoes and dress pants are often the same color – black or brown – but, unless you own grey, burgundy, green, beige or navy blue dress shoes, you’ll be wearing shoes that don’t match your pant color. If you own green dress shoes, please get in touch with me. (Just a little fashion humor!) So, assuming your shoes and slacks don’t match, you then have some options on which color socks to wear.
Wearing dark colored dress socks is always very classy and sophisticated. It’s a look I suggest for formal affairs, the office, business meetings, job interviews, and more conservative situations. However, if the occasion affords flexibility, such as a party or dinner date, then express yourself! Still keep the finer, thinner fabric rule in mind, but get creative with colors and patterns. There are many different styles of dress socks to choose from. Own an assortment, so you can mix and match and dress according to your mood. Does it sound like I’m putting too much energy into socks? Don’t be fooled… socks are noticed more than you might think, and for some reason, folks always seem to enjoy seeing unique socks. I usually get a compliment when I’ve gone outside the box and wear a pair of interesting socks. Don’t you? Speaking of seeing our socks… when we sit down, out pant legs ride up and there they are in plain sight. As a result, most dress socks are a bit longer and extend above the ankle to mid-calf or even the knee. The reason for this is so your legs won’t show when your pant legs creep up, so don’t be tempted to fold socks down over your ankle. This defeats the purpose of them being longer.
You need to keep something in mind when getting creative with matching dress socks: regardless of what you match them to, their colors should coordinate with your outfit. Wearing red socks with a black suit, white shirt, and grey tie probably isn’t the best choice; however, a pair of black and grey argyles would look sharp. Or, socks that have both the color of your pants and shirt would look pretty cool, too. If you really want to live on the edge, coordinate socks with ties, bowties, or pocket squares. This sort of creativity demands careful consideration, so play around with various socks and see what works. Again, you might want to reserve this look for less conservative situations.
Here are a few examples of dress socks, and as you can see…the sky really is the limit!
Coordinating dress socks to an outfit has some new rules that give us leeway to individualize our look and show our personality. Still, use good judgment and air on the side of caution whenever you’re uncertain if a pair of socks is appropriate to wear. Keep these rules in mind: socks should always compliment an outfit, no matter how you choose to coordinate them. They should be an accent, and not the main attraction. Keep them thin, but the rest is up to you!
Aaron Marino is the founder, owner, and senior style consultant at Atlanta’s alpha m. Image Consulting. He also runs alpha m. Dot Net, which features accessories for men, and I Am Alpha M. , which is a lifestyle and personal development zone for men. He authored the book, “The Guy’s Guide to Image, Style, and Impeccable Grooming” and appeared on VH1′s Glam God and also Man Made Style. He frequently makes public appearances, giving his expert opinions an advice, and his highly sought after videos appear on YouTube.