It’s Time To Update Your Sock Drawer


On the brink of party season, there is no better time to update your sock collection. To help you sort the cool details from the comical disasters, SLMan spoke to SockShop about what you should be wearing and when. Along the way, one of London’s most eminent purveyors of men’s style, Oliver Spencer, chipped in with some tips on correct sock etiquette.

Tell us about the different styles of socks…
There are as many different styles as there are people to wear them. Each one fulfils a particular need, whether it’s fashion, functionality or just personal preference. At the most basic level, men’s socks come in light, medium or heavy gauge (the thickness of the sock) and in varying lengths from over the knee to below-ankle shoe liners.

What style should you wear when?
The finest gauge, lightweight styles – usually called dress socks – are designed to be worn with typically closer-fitting smart, formal and office shoes. A slightly thicker, but still fine, gauge is your regular everyday casual style. These are more relaxed and you would pop these on with casual shoes or even trainers. Medium-gauge socks offer more insulation and cushioning. These can be called ‘leisure’ or ‘boot’ socks and tend to be worn with heavier, looser-fitting shoes and walking boots.

“Black and navy always with suiting. For the best formal socks, I go to New & Lingwood.”

Why are there so many different lengths out there?
It’s always about comfort, function and fashion. The most important rule is: when wearing full-length trousers, no bare leg should ever be exposed when standing or seated. The average length of dress or everyday socks is called a ‘true’ sock or ‘half calf’ – because the leg shaft reaches mid-calf. Ankle length is generally picked for sports, when freedom of movement and staying cool is a priority. Knee-length socks are almost exclusively about protection and insulation, but some men still choose fine-gauge knee-length socks to make sure there is no risk of bare flesh-flashing.

“Wear a thicker style such as a woven or cable-knit sock with jeans, but with chinos and suiting they should be a lighter fabrication.”
- Oliver Spencer

Any dos and don’ts?
Comfort should come first. Buy a natural fibre such as bamboo, wool or cotton, or a performance synthetic to ensure your feet can breathe. Don’t force thick socks into tight formal shoes – you’ll be more and more uncomfortable as the day goes on. Don’t wear sports-style crew socks or football socks unless you’re actually doing sports! Novelty socks are fine for hanging around in at the weekend, but don’t wear them when you’re trying to convince the boss you’re management material.

Should your socks match your trousers?
In formal wear, yes. Matching socks will also elongate the leg – just make sure you’ve got the right tone. Blue-black trousers with a warm black sock won’t look right. The rules relax for jeans or chinos: go for the complementary or contrasting colour route; you can also have a little fun with pattern.
What colour suits work with what colour socks?
There are a few sure, solid choices. Unexciting, but a black suit can only safely stand with a grey, black or navy sock. Perhaps push the envelope with a muted wine red. All of the above will work with a navy suit, as will brighter blues or darker browns, greens and dusted shades. A grey suit allows far more variety in colour choices.

What about matching with your shoes?
Bizarrely, given their proximity, your shoes and socks bear little relation to each other colour-wise. Your socks should never match your shoes unless you’re wearing very pale trousers, and even then you should go tonal, not matching. If your shoes match your socks, you aren’t doing justice to either.

“Match your colour socks with a t-shirt or jumper.”
- Oliver Spencer

Do patterned or bright socks ever have a place in the office?
Yes, but think about how loud they may look compared to the rest of your business wear. A simple stripe or single-colour polka dot always works, and a good argyle or paisley will work. But going crazy with pattern and multiple colours is always going to draw people’s eyes away from the rest of your wardrobe choices and straight to your ankles. Bright colours also need careful consideration. They’re not for everyone, or for every occasion, but brave dressers can put a bright, contrasting block-colour sock with a plain suit to great effect. Coloured socks should be a complementary colour to the suit and perhaps pick up a key colour in your suit or tie: for example, if you have a blue pinstripe in a black suit, that’s your route in.

And is it ever okay to not wear socks at all?
The aim is usually to appear barefooted rather than actually being sock-less. To do this, you’re best to choose a low-cut shoe liner that sits below the edge of the shoe. That way, you get the look without the downsides of sweaty shoes. If you’re going with the sock-less look, your trousers should end on or just above the ankle, skimming them neatly. Slim-leg chinos or jeans can be rolled up a further couple of turns to make a clear causal statement.

Before you go, any parting tips?
Own a good, broad selection. Buy good quality and wear the socks that are comfortable, and that give you pleasure. Wear once, then wash. And white socks only in the gym, please!

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