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The new rules of socks: novelty ones are out – but yes you can wear them with sandals

You may have noticed that print socks aren’t what they used to be. Think back: for a long time socks were just something you used to cover your feet. Possibly black, probably ankle-height and definitely an afterthought. Socks are now an important part of your outfit at the least, the making of an outfit at most.

Socks have become an area of diplomacy and woke-signalling – the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is perhaps the biggest name to use socks in this way, choosing pointedly themed ones for public occasions. Or a telling insight into a political mind: Boris Johnson was criticised recently for not washing his lucky unisex socks, emblazoned with a ruler of the Neo-Assyrian empire King Ashurbanipal, often enough.

Vetements’ DHL socks.

Vetements’ DHL socks. Photograph: @vetements_official/ Instagram

In fashion, statement socks have been big for a few years. In 2017, kicked off by the Vetements’ socks with the DHL logo teeT-shirt, they became “the most loaded accessory of the year”, according to the GQ columnist Justin Myers. Prada played with pulling socks up to men’s knees and, thanks to logomania, socks have become a more affordable way for fashion fans to conspicuously buy into their favourite designer labels.

If none of this is ringing any bells, then it might mean it’s time to reassess your sock game. This is where the rules come in, because, in the words of Monica Geller from Friends: “Rules help control the fun.” EVB

What kind of socks should I be wearing now?

What kind of socks would you like to wear? Given the proliferation of styles, there is a good sock option for everyone. According to the stylist Bemi Shaw, you can never go wrong with a sports sock. “They add a bit of edge to a basic outfit and make streetwear look more authentic.”

A Matisse-bright pair, like you’ll find at Arket, is an easy way to elevate a thrown-on outfit. At John Lewis, according to Elena Bergonzi, a fashion accessories buyer, classic sport socks are proving popular, “but also glitter and animal prints for the fashion-forward customer”. 

To this, the answer is a definite: Yes. But again, make clear it is deliberate. As the sock-styling expert and Man Repeller journalist Harling Ross has noted, explicit coordination makes it clear that any unusual use of accessories is intentional. If you’re feeling a bit hesitant, see the sophisticated version of the sports socks and sandals look as touted at the most recent Agnona show. Socks were paired with sandals of the same shade or just a little different; a subtler way to dip a toe. Or, one step up: look to the styling of duck-egg-blue socks with navy-blue sandals at spring/summer 2020 Sies Marjan menswear show.

“Is there another way to wear your socks?” Shaw asks. For her, pulling them up “looks the best but also avoids the awkward bunching that can look like cankles”.

There’s an easy sartorial win to be had for men in shorts and sports socks just by pulling them up – but be sure to look like you mean it. Charlie Teasdale, Esquire’s style director, also thinks socks should be pulled up “in any vaguely formal situation” – he even suggests, “if you were so inclined”, investing in some sock suspenders. EVB

Is it OK to wear white socks?

Yes and no. Yes, when playing sport; no, when wearing a suit – until recently that is. Now, it is the subversive nature of white socks that makes them so appealing, says the fashion stylist Tom Stubbs, who wears his with Prada penny loafers. “That’s what’s so good about them, they’re wrong!” he says. “For a tiny bit of man-hosiery, [they are] freighted with controversy … They appear synonymous with the 80s, a decade decreed fundamentally bad stylistically. This obviously adds to the attraction.” So when to wear them? “Whenever you want to break the norm … socks don’t usually have attitude – but these white fellas defo do.” 

Where is a fiver best spent on socks?

“Asos has a great selection of mens socks for decent prices,” says Shaw. Calzedonia has spotty, fishnet and preppy Argyle styles galore. A supermarket pair of white cotton socks plus some dye and string will allow you to make your own take on the tie-dye sock trend. While if it’s volume over style points you’re after, you can’t beat a seven-pack of cotton-blend navy socks from M&S. EVB

If I’m going to buy one expensive pair of socks, which should I get?

What is understood by expensive socks will, of course, vary wildly. Shaw’s tried-and-tested choice are Calvin Klein: “I remember getting a pair for Christmas and realising that this was what heaven must feel like.” If you want high-level comfort, try Toast’s recycled cashmere (£24) or the Scottish cashmere socks from Brora (£39 to £85). If you’re in it for the lolz, look no further than this Don’t Trip tie-dye pair for $28 (£23). Or for a pair just a little elevated from the others in your sock drawer, try these £12 organic cotton, sustainably dyed ones from Brothers We Stand. EVB

What material should socks be made from?

Most socks are made from a blend of materials and those that include elastane are likely to be a better, more comfortable fit. Bamboo fibre socks absorb moisture and boast antibacterial and antifungal properties. “Bamboo socks aren’t quite as green as they may appear, due to the processing of the bamboo and dyes,” says Steve Hynd, campaign manager at City to Sea. “Look out for organic cotton certified by Gots (global organic textile standard), which means your socks will be independently checked throughout the supply chain. Also, don’t throw out your old socks – and wash them in a Guppy bag to ensure you don’t leach microplastics as you wash.”

Claire Preskey, a senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent university, recommends woollen socks: “Wool is biodegradable, odour resistant and naturally breathable.” However, wool tends to be more expensive than cotton and “it should be noted that there are wool-growing practices that are controversial, [such as] mulesing and cruel shearing methods,” says Preskey. LH

Where do all my lost socks go?

The same place as cloakroom tickets, lighters and USB phone leads: thin air. There are, however, practical ways to curtail your lost-socks quota. Don’t bung them in with all your other laundry, that’s how they get irrevocably separated and, despite best intentions, post-wash pairing just doesn’t happen. Instead, do a separate women socks-and-underwear laundry load and invest in an octopus drying contraption to drip-dry them and prepare to pair with no stragglers. Simples #socksgoals. 

No one does socks quite like Tyler, the Creator – see his white socks with beige Teva sandals. The mid-90s director Jonah Hill is another man unafraid of a bold sock – pull up your tube socks and channel the confidence of someone who has been variously called an “style saviour” and “ultimate purveyor of dad fashion”.

For inspiration on how to have more nuanced fun, the German style icon Veronika Heibrunner is a wizard with her feet – from bubblegum pink socks with loafers and cream jeans to mid-calf-height socks with walking boots. If you’re after more high-brow inspiration in these halcyon days of chaussettes, channel Malvolio (minus the cross-gartering). Stubbs also points to the AW19 Celine catwalk. “Check [Hedi Slimane’s] AW19 men’s show for Psycho Billy ‘Robot’ shoe references and Skinhead/Rude Boy tassel loafer hybrids all presented against gleaming white almond socks.” EVB

Are trainer socks still a good idea?

As Myers puts it: “If you are going sockless, make sure you … wear socks.” This is where trainer socks come in. In our post-Victorian era, it is not always necessary to cover your ankles – but fashion’s ongoing love-in with sports shoes means socks are still essential if you don’t want an unpleasant waft.

As visible socks are an easy to way to communicate fashion prowess, and there are so many trend-driven styles available, it makes almost no sense to conceal them. However, if you are opting for invisible socks, the clue is in the name. Make sure that the sock is well hidden – ill-fitting elastic bands that poke out from around the edges of your shoes are never a good look. LH

It may have connotations of last-minute dad/uncle/teacher/secret Santa present, but herein lies the thing about socks: everyone wears them/needs them/loves them. The trick is to steer clear of novelty socks (an unsustainable gimmick that they’ll never wear) and instead buy a style they wouldn’t normally buy themselves. “Granted, it seems odd to go north of £20 on one pair,” says Teasdale, “but really good socks are the same as really good shoes – if you spend a bit more they will wear better and last you longer.” Teasdale points in the direction of Arket (“nowhere near £20, but you could buy someone a bundle”) and the Workers Club. “They make excellent merino wool socks in cool colours if you want to splash out.” SC

So, are novelty socks ever OK?

“Nope,” continues Teasdale. “Colour and print, absolutely. Go mad. But if you need your ankles to tell jokes for you, then socks are the least of your worries.” 

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