Socks: Matching and Coordination

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Several years ago, during the run-up to my wedding, I found myself in the midst of a quandary. My best man and I were locked in sartorial combat over socks; or hosiery, whichever you prefer.  At issue was this: should socks match the trouser or should they be left open to personal interpretation? This was no small matter as the deciding vote would affect four groomsmen, the aforementioned best man, and me, the groom. More importantly, at some level it might ultimately affect the bride. I was a little nervous.

Rob, the best man, was unshakeable in his assertion that our socks – all our socks – should match our trousers, in this case cream colored gabardines. Along with classic white bucks and navy blazers, we fit in quite nicely with the Connecticut coastline backdrop. Personally, I felt that having the shoes, socks and pants all match would leave me with the nagging feeling that I should be selling ice cream out of a truck somewhere. This back and forth went on for days until I gave in, told him that I’d go with the white socks and promptly wore blue ones instead. Honestly, I don’t think anyone even noticed except Rob. I’m now his son’s godfather though, so I guess it all worked out.

Nonetheless, this leads us to one of those never ending debates: to match or not? If so, should the socks match one’s shoes or pants? What about winging it and just let your socks be independent statements of fashion?

The previous story might lead you to think that I am a near anarchist when it comes to ankle style, but such is not really the case. I am more of a stylish moderate. In many cases, it is very appropriate to have your hose blend seamlessly with your trousers. Business suits for example, draw their power from a sense of formality, sobriety even; and novelty or themed socks would be a glaring incongruity.

Creating a continuous color theme both elongates the leg when seated and your socks are more visible. It also keeps the focus on the upper half of the body where a tie or pocket square can add touches of color and personality. What is the universal unifier? I’ve found that when in doubt medium gray socks work with most everything.

Please note that in most cases, certainly those involving business or formal situations, your hose should be of the over-the-calf variety. Nothing is more unsightly than a deflated sock and hairy calf advertising themselves when you sit down for an important meeting. Once, when watching a television interview of a leading political figure, I saw the gentleman lean back in his chair to answer a question. He crossed his leg casually and began to speak. I have no idea what he said; I don’t even remember who it was. All I can remember is his floppy short sock awkwardly exposing a pasty white leg.

At the other end of the sock spectrum is what to wear with your casual or non-formal work wardrobe. Here, I am the social liberal. Wear what you like, but try and make sure that there is some connection to your overall wardrobe or at least to some element of your dress. Wearing an English tweedy/earthy outfit? Try a punchy argyle. It’s also important to match fabric weights; don’t wear silk or nylon dress socks with khakis or rougher sport socks with Incotex gray flannels. Equally, your socks should balance with your shoes. The same rules apply; elegant, tightly finished socks for dressy shoes like black cap toes or Gucci loafers; heavier, coarse fabrics for your deck shoes or trainers.

If you want a real passionate dissertation on the many nuances of a sock fanatic, check out the new issue of Fantastic Man, the subversively intellectual yet occasionally bawdy gentlemen’s style journal.  Glen O’Brian – GQ’s Style Guy – crafted an entire essay devoted to hosiery. It’s a fun but totally practical essay about the often forgotten indicators of a man’s true style.


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Chris Hogan, an association executive based in Washington, D.C., blogs at OffTheCuffDC.com. A lifelong interest in style and clothing led to sales and management positions at several Ralph Lauren stores and an active wardrobe consulting practice