Being a gentleman requires many things. One of them is attention to details. 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.
Why? Because exposing one’s more or less hairy legs is nothing anybody wants to see in public. But what exactly are the right socks for you? You have plenty of options on the market. Unfortunately, most are too short and just reach mid-calf. The only way to keep them up is to use sock suspenders that connect your shirt with your socks or sock garters that sit on your calf. Not only is that uncomfortable to wear but you can see them through the pants when you sit.
In today’s guide, we discuss everything you need to know about men’s dress socks, so you look your best while being comfortable. First, let’s start with sock history, highlight the hallmarks of quality Socks, the types of dress socks, Sock Etiquette and How to Buy Socks.
The History of Socks
Dating back to prehistoric times, cavemen skinned animals and used their hides to wrap around their feet. Tied at the ankle, they would use the warmer and more comfortable parts of the animal skin mixed with fat and sometimes the meat. The purpose of these rudimentary socks was, of course, to keep the feet warm, but also, protect them from the harshness of the rougher hide and natural fibers used as shoes. Of course, for those who didn’t properly sanitize the hides or used raw meats and fat, the ability to contract more disease through open wounds would prove for many to be catastrophic and sometimes, even deadly.
Cavemen probably invented the basic idea of socks or stockings, but over years, they progressed into a far more advanced form of protection, offering comfort and separating your foot chafing in the shoe.
Socks = Luxury in Medieval Times
By the medieval times, socks were considered a form of luxury and as such they were reserved for nobility. Also, it wasn’t unusual for knights to wear socks underneath the suit of armor because it created a layer of comfort and prevented diseases.
Starting in the 17th century, even regular families could afford socks. Of course, the yarn was often homespun and the socks hand-knitted from itchy wool. On the other hand, the upper-class echelon of society preferred fine silk and cotton socks.
Sock Knitting Machines Bring Prices Down
Once sock knitting machines were invented in the 18th century, prices for socks decreased and the knit got finer. At first, socks were knitted flat and then they were sewn together, leaving a seam at the back side of the calf. For example, the Fort Belvedere Cri de la Soie knit ties are knitted on more than 100-year-old sock knitting machines which have been repurposed for silk knit ties.
The First Circular Sock Knitting Machines Appear in the 19th Century
The next big advancement was a circular sock knitting machine, also referred to as CSM. The big advantage was that it was now possible to knit a seamless tube. Of course, the heel and toe areas had to be knitted separately and closed off by hand. Then, in the dawn of the twentieth century, nylon socks came into play and changed the world of male socks and stockings forever.
In the beginning, the number of needles was limited to 72 which resulted in a thicker sock. Over time, the number of needles was increased and today you can find socks made on machines with 280 needles which represent the finest you can buy in the world.
Nylon Changes The Sock Game
In the dawn of the twentieth century, nylon socks saw the light of day and changed the world of male socks and stockings forever because it enabled the production of superfine socks. Even though the term hosiery and stockings are now associated with womenswear only, over-the-calf socks used to be called hose, and the term was used exclusively for the male socks. Fine hosiery often with embroidery such as clocks were a staple in every gentleman’s wardrobe. Nylon was the new thing at the time and hence it was used in blends most often.
Today, Nylon is considered to be a cheap material that makes your feet sweat and even though it provides strength it is preferable to use more breathable natural materials such as 100% cotton, or wool, cashmere and silk blends. Of course, the area around the calf requires a flexible material that keeps the socks up, but it wasn’t always like that.
Socks Become Fashionable
In the past, socks were secured at the top, not with an embroidered ribbon or string. As socks continued to take on a more traditional and fashionable role, the elegant dandies of France and London would begin wearing intricate socks, stemming away from the embroidery and moving into patterned socks with formal wear that ranged from height right around the calf to the upper thighs.
They are especially stylish with breeches when worn for white tie, as you can see in this picture of the Duke of Edinburgh. Today, even regular white tie outfits are so rare that you hardly ever see anybody outside of the theater, reenactment or costume party wear these full hose silk stockings.
Apart from the ever-popular white tennis socks, most men will not have anything other than solid plain or ribbed black, brown or gray socks in their closet. Maybe a herringbone, argyle or birdseye will be the exception but for the most part, that’s about it. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way, and quality over the calf sock are available in subtle, yet unusual colors that elevate every man’s outfit, mo matter if it’s for business, pleasure or evening wear.
Hallmarks of Quality Socks & How To Buy Them
1. Over-The-Calf Socks Must Stay Up
The most important quality hallmark of an over-the-calf sock is that it stays up. Unfortunately, most socks don’t because they are not sized properly and lack the correct length and materials, which causes the sock to slide down.Therefore, many companies try to offer all kinds of sock suspenders and sock garters, which are uncomfortable, expensive and they show through the pants.
More importantly, it doesn’t deal with the problem at the root and focuses on remedies for bad products. Instead, if you buy good quality socks in your size the first place, because they will stay up, and you can skip any suspenders and feel comfortable too.
Instead, buy good quality socks in your size the first place, because they will stay up, and you can skip any suspenders or sock garters and feel comfortable too. Apart from that, just picture yourself how you have to take off your sock suspenders when in company – it looks utterly ridiculous. Therefore, invest in quality over-the-calf-socks that stay up.
I had to deal with sliding socks for years, and therefore, I decided to create my own. After extensive testing for 24 months, I am now proud to offer you Fort Belvedere Socks that stay up all day, because we put a lot of thought in the materials, the construction, elastic and length of the socks. Therefore, they even stay up after you wash them a few dozen times, whereas all other socks I tried, start to slide down your calf after a few washes. If you are not convinced, read our customer’s reviews and buy just one pair to start. I am confident that you will come back for more.
2. Buy Sized Socks
Most companies offer one-size-fits it all socks, which requires the use of flexible artificial fibers but just like shoes come in different sizes, quality socks do too. Although socks are more flexible than shoes, one or two sizes make for an uncomfortable walk, and whenever you see less than three sizes offered, you should not buy from them. Instead, look for suitably sized socks because they hug your foot without leaving pressure points and once you put them on, you don’t want to go back. This is especially true if you have small feet or large feet because most normal socks will either be far too big or too tiny!
For a selection of socks in 4 sizes, click here.
3. Go For Natural Fibers
Natural fibers are more expensive than artificial ones but their ability to absorb moisture is much higher, and you are less prone to sweating in them. Of course, not all cotton, cashmere or wool is alike and for the best quality yarn, you need the longest and finest fibers. Not only will that result in a more luxurious tactile feel and touch but the socks will also last longer and pill less, than regular socks. Of course, cashmere feels very soft, but 100% cashmere socks will not stay in shape for more than a handful of washes, and they must be blended with other fibers to be useful for a while longer. Of course, they are usually worn out faster than long staple cotton socks or long fiber wool socks.
Note, the toe and heel areas may have a small percentage of nylon even if they can be legally described as 100% XYZ. Also, the cuff on top must be elastic and is often made of Spandex or other elastic materials that grab your calf. Rest assured that your skin touches just natural materials.
4. You Want Thin Elegant Dress Socks
When you are at the gym or on a hike, it is ok to wear thicker socks that are cushy. However, with a suit or a combination, a finer sock looks much smarter, and it is also more elegant. Therefore, you should avoid thick tennis-style socks at all times when you dress up.
5. Smooth Toe Area For Comfort
Most socks are machine knitted, but the majority of machines cannot link the toe area neatly, which is why this often requires a separate step. When done by machine, you can often feel it when wearing them, and hence, quality socks are hand linked most of the time. Lately, modern machines have been introduced that can link the toes with a flat result, but those are expensive and thus rarely in use. Therefore, make sure to get only socks with a smooth toe area for comfort. All Fort Belvedere socks are super smooth and hand linked.
How To Combine Socks, Shoes & Pants
The golden rule of sock matching is to always match them with the pants/trousers, not your shoes!
Of course, that won’t always be possible because the colors of your chinos will rarely match your beige socks exactly.
If colors are similar but not exactly identical, the look is off. Instead, it pays to use a slightly contrasting color, or better yet a pattern. Classic designs include herringbone, houndstooth or my personal favorite: ribbed stripes
Ribbed socks are more expensive to produce that flat-knitted socks, but they are also more flexible and adapt more nicely to the foot. Over the last ten years, the dress socks I have worn 80% of the time are shadow striped ribbed socks, because they work with everything and always look smart.
So what are shadow stripe socks? They are socks where the ribs have a different color as the rest of the socks. The advantage is that one sock has two colors that complement each other and as such you can pair them with many outfit combinations.
Matching socks with trousers will be an entire article of its own, but it pays to understand the concept.
For example, a beige Chino looks great with brown shoes and a burgundy sock with a beige stripe. A burgundy sock on its own would be too dominant, but the softer beige stripe pulls it together nicely.
Now, let’s say you have a navy suit, you can wear it with navy and red striped socks. Even if the nNavy of the socks doesn’t match the blue of the suit, it will still look handsome because the combination of red and blue catches the eye, without being overly loud. As such, one pair of socks works with all of your blue suits. If you just had solids, you would either need a perfect match or a shade that is clearly different. If they colors are too close, you cannot combine them. On the other hand, striped socks work with a lot more outfits.
So, it’s summer now, and you have a light blue chino but also a mid-grey, light gray or charcoal suit. You can wear a pair of light-grey and light-blue striped socks that work well with all of your trousers without being boring. If you prefer a stronger contrast, try dark gray and turquoise stripes.
In case stripes or patterns are too bold for a certain occasion, you should think about getting solids with clocks because they combine the understatement of a solid pair of socks with the elegance of a gentleman. The small vertical pattern on the side of each sock is very subtle but different from the stuff you can buy at normal men’s stores or Amazon.
Stay tuned for another article that focuses exclusively on matching socks, shoes, and pants.
Dress Sock Etiquette
Of course, you will always find exceptions to the rules, but these are basics that help you maneuver the waters.
1. Don’t wear bold, bright patterns with Black Tie or White Tie
For black tie or white tie events, a pair of black or purple socks might be daring, but they are certainly loud and will make you stand out no matter if you want to or not. Traditionally, evening dress socks are made of silk or silk blends, and they should match the trousers. The finest evening socks for black tie you can get are knitted on a machine with 280 needles and so thin soft and elegant that others will be jealous.
2. Don’t wear athletic socks with business attire or formal wear.
Athletic socks are for active wear. For anything remotely dressy, go with over-the-calf dress socks. End of story.
3. Pair Socks With Your Outfit
As discussed above, it pays to choose socks based on your trouser color. But if you have a pair of striped socks with two colors or just a contrasting pair of socks, it pays to pick up that same color somewhere else in your outfit. It could be your pocket square, your tie, bow tie or even shoelaces. No matter what you choose, having some form of coordination will make your outfit look quite debonair.
4. Avoid ripped or Punctured Socks
If your socks have a hole, it’s time for them to go. Surely, if you have someone who can fix them you might want to give that a try, but at the current cost of hand-labor, mending can easily cost more than a new pair.
Replenish your collection on a regular basis but if you invest in quality, and you have 12 pairs or more in your rotation, socks should last for a while.
5. Trim Your Nails & Treat Your Heels
Your socks will last much longer if you properly cut or clip your toenails and file them afterward to avoid sharp edges. The same goes for your heels. If you have crackly, hard calluses on your heel, they will wear out your socks more quickly than if you take care of your heels. Hence, take care of your feet with a quality nail kit.
6. Don’t Mix-And-Match Them
Socks come as a pair for a reason. They are not intended to be mixed and matched. Even a basic black sock can be a slightly different shade or hue than the other. Always be extra careful to keep your socks paired correctly, or discard them if they’re not.
Dress socks can be complicated because they often are not sized properly and slide down your calf. However, if you invest in quality over-the-calf socks that are sized for your foot and height, you will be comfortable all day. On top of that, if you invest in a number of two-tone striped and solid socks or socks with clocks, you can easily cover your entire wardrobe while adding a unique accent to your wardrobe.