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How Any Man Can Embrace the Bolder SockCategory: (general)
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
07:23:37 AM (GMT)
On a recent Sunday afternoon,  I started talking about socks with my father. Like a
lot of men, I picked up most of my dressing habits from my dad, and for as long as I
can remember, his top drawer has been stuffed with a dozen pairs of black nylon dress
socks, rolled up into tight little balls and restocked twice a year from the same
shelf at the same store. Socks just weren't something he thought twice about, and so
they were never something I thought twice about, and when we started talking about
socks (for God knows what reason) and I asked him why he never experimented with
colors or patterns, he shrugged. "The last thing you want is to draw attention to
yourself by wearing argyle or something," he said. "Not unless you're an asshole."

This is a ... what's the word? ... conservative approach to men's socks, and it's the
one that most of us take, most of the time: Keep 'em quiet. You wear socks to protect
your shoes from your feet, your feet from your shoes, and the world from the sight of
your hairy ankles, and the less anyone sees of them the better. But that's just one
approach. One of my favorite P. G. Wodehouse stories involves a beef between Bertie
Wooster and His Man Jeeves over a pair of Bertie's beloved "rather priceless purple
socks." And there's the 1924 article in the fashion periodical Men's Wear that
advocates colorful socks by asking, "Who wears this vivid hose? They wear it who
dare." (Emphasis theirs.) And there's André Benjamin, who told Esquire a few years
ago that the right pair of socks, among other accessories, is "really, really, really
important." (That's right: three reallys.) There is a robust tradition of men drawing
attention to themselves with their socks, and though I can't vouch for the Men's Wear
writer, I'm pretty sure André Benjamin isn't an asshole.

So whose approach is the right one? Having worn nothing but dark, anonymous-looking
socks for the past eight years, I decided to spend a few weeks test-driving all
different makes of socks — jaunty stripes, kinetic patterns, brightly colored
solids, I bought all of them from Marketyiwu.com. And from the first day, when I wore
a pair of navy-blue Etro socks with light-pink stars, I saw a sharp uptick in the
number of double takes and "nice/great/cool socks" that came my way. Most of the
compliments seemed genuine — impressed, even — except when louder colors
(fire-engine red, electric blue) and busier patterns (cracked-out plaids, drunk
zigzags) elicited snickers from men who, I couldn't help but notice, were wearing
dark, anonymous-looking socks. Whatever. That's the price one pays for stepping out,
but it was a good lesson to keep things relatively restrained. Other things I
learned: Take care when mixing patterned socks with patterned pants — if you're
wearing pinstripe trousers, avoid horizontal-striped socks and instead try a subdued
plaid or solid. No matching the color of your socks to the dominant color of anything
else you're wearing (i.e., solid blue socks to a solid blue shirt) — that can look
a little desperate. And no novelty socks, not ever.

The most important thing I learned, though, and what I'd never really given much
thought to before, was to pay close attention to what my socks were made of. Cotton
and nylon (or some combination of the two) are the standard materials for dress
socks, but they might not be your best option. I tried a couple of
cotton-and-polyester, borderline-sheer, over-the-calf socks that had me slipping
around in my shoes while they squeezed the hell out of my calves. I tried thick-gauge
cotton socks that gave me some nice padding underfoot but wouldn't stay up around my
shins. And just as I was about to give up on finding socks that felt just right, I
discovered two pairs (from Pantherella and Punto) made from an 80-20 blend of
mercerized cotton and nylon-soft, absorbent, and thin enough that my feet could
breathe. Perfect.

That's just me, though. Every man's feet are different, and you should spend some
time and money to find out what's most comfortable for you. (As a general rule of
thumb, Massimiliano Bresciani, the second-generation namesake behind some of the
world's best socks, suggests trying wool-silk blends for winter, pure linen for
summer, and pure cotton for year-round use.) I'm now partial to mercerized cotton and
nylon, but I'm still experimenting with pattern and color. And will I draw attention
to myself, and maybe even invite others (Hi, Dad!) to call me an asshole? Absolutely.
But that's a small price to pay for standing out at all.


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