Q What do you think about the new(ish) style of wearing colorful/unusual socks? I am thinking of buying a few pairs for my husband but I know he’ll wonder if they are appropriate; and if so, when?
A In the vast sea of sameness we call men’s dressing, the category that allows for distinction, variation and individuality is the aspect known as “accessories.” They can range from quietly traditional to uniquely eye-catching. Smart dressing often results from an accessory’s being something different from the usual choice — as long as the difference is minor. Which one a man chooses to wear makes for his individual style. While neckties are the most common choice for individuality, men’s accessories can also include: belts, pocket handkerchiefs, scarves, hats, shoes, jewelry and socks.
Socks generally are the least dramatic category to choose if you want to shake things up a bit, but not go too far. Until a few years ago, they were less an accessory and more near to an undergarment, mostly unseen and entirely unnoticed. You were told to wear quiet colors that matched or coordinated with whatever else you were wearing, that were long enough to cover your leg so no skin showed when you crossed your legs, and that were made of material that was appropriate for the season and the event (wool, cotton, silk or synthetic blends). Socks were almost always dark solid colors with the exception being some that had a subtle, traditional bird’s-eye tweed or herringbone pattern.
Today, socks can truly stand out. A wide range of lighter, brighter colors, with and without playful patterns, are considered acceptable in certain situations. But those “certain situations” are where it is easy for a man to go astray. If the occasion is not too formal, if the setting is more social than business-related, and if he feels at ease in his surroundings, he certainly might experiment with colorful, slightly eclectic socks. They work best with casual combinations, such as chinos and jeans. (With shorts, my recommendation is to wear no socks at all.) But if the occasion calls for a good degree of formality and elegance, stay with socks that are traditionally and conventionally quiet; perhaps with a subtle pattern that primarily echoes the suit’s color.
The most consistent piece of advice when it comes to accessories and particularly socks and well-dressed men is “nothing too bright and nothing too wild.” You want to choose something that will bring comments such as “A nice touch of eccentricity.” It is often said that essentially there is no such thing as being “accidentally well dressed.” The Italian word “sprezzatura” often comes to mind when I see interesting socks that work well; the word is defined as “contrived, zesty casualness in dressing,” a philosophy we Americans might call nonchalance.
When choosing, first think of which clothing these socks will go with, and then color and pattern. Many men have patterns and colors they prefer. The same choice one might select for casual polos or short-sleeved weekend shirts could be appropriate for the more unusual sock choices … but don’t wear them together. Too matchy, matchy. That said, when khaki pants are worn with a yellow shirt, socks that combine yellow and brown would work nicely. With blue jeans or dark blue dress trousers, brown loafers and a blue shirt, a pair of blue and brown patterned socks could be a good choice. And even with a weekend navy blazer and gray dress trousers, choosing any patterned socks that include some shade of blue in the mix (whether a traditional argyle or a more modern fanciful design) could really be a fun way to go.
It is important to know the man you are shopping for. Safe dressers choose the most standard/conservative styles. Distinctive dressers, who like to stand out from the crowd and want to be noticed, choose more colorful, unusual-patterned items. And the majority of typical dressers tend to aim for styles that span these two extremes, perhaps something with a preppy or academic vibe. If we consider the most noticeable accessories — neckties — as examples, safe dressers usually chose dark solids and quietly traditional stripes and patterns. The look-at-me dresser may choose paisleys in bright colors or bold geometric designs. But more typical men in between these two types feel comfortable wearing brighter solids, bold stripes, and all-over “neat” prints. The newly crowned King Charles III wore an especially beautiful tie with a small geometric design in a memorable shade of blue for the Coronation Concert.
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