Socks are no longer just another part of your wardrobe – they have emerged as the easiest way to create a new look and inject a bit of personality into each outfit. Having a variety of different socks helps you to create a number of different outfits with just one or two quality suits in your rotation and it’s much more cost-efficient than constantly buying different shoes, jackets or pants.
Now, with the sheer variety of colours and patterns available, how you match socks to the rest of your outfit has taken on a whole new level of difficulty. Whether you prefer a more subtle look or are looking to make a statement with your socks, this guide will be sure to help you!
Guidelines for Matching
1. Your Socks should Match Your Pants, Not Your Shoes.
There has been a longstanding debate over whether to match your socks to pants or shoes. Since socks are something worn in shoes, some intuitively assume that they should be matched to their shoes. However, matching socks to your shoes tends to create the ‘bootee effect’ where it looks like you are wearing big boots. This distracts from the rest of the outfit as people try to figure out whether you are wearing boots or shoes.
As a rule of thumb, you should match your socks to your pants rather than your shoes. In doing so, your socks will become an extension of your pants. This elongation effect tends to create the impression that you are taller, which can help if you feel unconfident about your height.
Still, this doesn't mean that your pants and socks must look exactly the same! Unless you are going for a monochromatic look (Eg. a full black ensemble), it is much better to add some variation to break things up. Sadly, most men have a limited variation of dress socks, sticking to the same colours as their suitings: black, charcoal and navy. Pairing the same dark colours from top to bottom looks dull and unimaginative, which should be avoided.
There are 2 simple ways to create a little contrast. Firstly, you can wear different shades of the same colour to create a cohesive look. For example, light grey pants can be paired with black or charcoal socks. As for navy pants, wearing socks in a lighter shade of blue will work well too. Secondly, you can select colours that complement each other. We elaborate more on traditional and modern colour combinations below.
Adding some patterns into the mix can do wonders in terms of changing up the entire look with a pop of personality. Still, be careful not to use too many patterns or risk making the outfit look too tacky. This means you should avoid mixing patterned pants with patterned socks. Instead, when wearing patterned pants, opt for solid-coloured socks and vice versa. The same goes for your other accessories, if you are looking to wear a bright and bold sock, keep your tie and pocket square simple in solid colours.
Patterned socks (houndstooth, glen plaid, stripes etc.) are an excellent complement to solid-coloured pants. You can go with a conservative pattern like stripes, dots or checks or more flashy novelty socks with cactuses or burgers on them.
Regardless of the pattern selected, remember to colour coordinate your outfit from top-to-bottom to present an image of someone detailed and put together. A good method is to draw on the accent colours of your accessories (eg. tie, pocket square or scarf) for your socks. For instance, if you have a light blue tie and navy pants, you can select a blue patterned sock between these two blue shades. Alternatively, a chequered scarf with red accents is a good opportunity to don your favourite pair of red socks. Still, be careful to avoid matching your socks to your shirt for such a combination tends to look awkward.
An easy way to strike a balance between a bolder design and a refined look is to use two-tone socks. Two-toned socks, as the name suggests, involve two colours and subtle patterns such as shadow stripes or subtle argyles. Ideally, the sock should contain one colour that’s close to your pants and one that’s contrasting. This combination produces a softer contrast for a more refined look and increases the versatility of the socks at the same time.
For example, a blue and red two-tone sock will look great with a navy suit and red knit tie. You can also pair a grey suit with a charcoal and light blue one. For a more professional look, you can tone it down with a navy and blue shadow-striped sock. The two-tone sock is different enough to stand out, but its understated design ensures that it remains office appropriate.
4. Dress for the Occasion
Above all, remember to select the colours and sock length appropriate to the occasion.
For formal or professional settings, stick to traditional colours like black, blue and grey. It is safer to go with socks with subtle patterns and of the same colour (but a different shade) as your pants for a sharper look. Also, since the professional dress code typically entails tailored pants, avoid wearing short or no-show socks. Get a pair of quality over-the-calf socks that will stay up and cover your ankles.
For more casual occasions where the dress code is more relaxed, feel free to add some colour to your outfit! Go beyond the traditional colour combinations and experiment with earthy tones or more colourful combinations as mentioned above. Also, be sure to wear short or no-show socks with casual footwear like sneakers and especially loafers.
White socks have been much criticised – relegated by many to the status of ‘gym socks’ that can play no part in any fashionable outfit.
However, white socks can work very well in some situations, especially during the hotter months. When paired with linen clothing or khaki and white trousers like chinos, they make for an amazing summer look. Still, white socks are only good with casual dressing and should never be worn with tailored pants.
Classic Menswear Colours
Black, greyand navy are the classic menswear colours. For a sharp and professional look, you cannot go wrong with combining these colours.
Black dress socks are perfect for formal events to achieve a powerful monochromatic look. As such events typically involve strict dress codes, black socks present a clean and uncomplicated option that will be sure to add to the outfit without being a distraction.
However, since black socks tend to fade into the background, they are not the best choice for casual outfits as they tend to look dull. Even so, patterned black socks accented with a bright and bold colour can be paired with black trousers for a stylish look.
Grey dress socks are known for their incredible versatility, owing to the different shades of grey (light grey, mid-grey and charcoal) that are staples to every kind of menswear. They also form great contrast with the most common colours used in suits (black and navy) and shoes (black and brown).
Charcoal socks come in a dark grey that is very close to black. It can be used as a substitute for the standard black socks, where its softer shade can help break up the monotony of black shoes and suits.
Mid-grey socks come in a shade of grey that borders between a light and a dark colour. With its unique position as a neutral colour that is not strictly light or dark, it is able to bridge the gap between a multitude of warm and cool colours like brown and navy blue, respectively.
With such a versatile colour, grey socks can be used to tie together many different kinds of looks. One way of doing so is to go for a monochromatic look. From light grey pants, mid-grey socks and black shoes, the transition from light to dark keeps the outfit looking interesting and coordinated. On the other hand, pastels (especially pink) make for a fantastic partnership with grey as well.
Navy Dress Socks
Navy is another versatile colour that can be easily paired with other classic (eg. grey), earthy (eg. olive and brown) and brighter shades (eg. orange, red, salmon and coral).
Similarly, they can be worn to events across the formality spectrum. For formal events, navy socks can be part of a professional look topped with a sharp grey suit. They can also be a part of the perfect business casual ensemble, paired with khaki chinos and a comfortable polo shirt.
For a more casual look, navy dress socks can be worn alongside light-wash denim. You can also swap in a pair of navy-patterned socks to complement the rest of your outfit. For example, wearing a navy sock with red stripes with a red tie will really pull the entire outfit together.
Besides the classic colours, earthy tones (olive green, khaki, tan, brown, orange etc.) are also a favourite colour combination for many – especially for a more relaxed look.
While they are used predominantly in smart casual dressing, they have been featured in suits for formal celebrations like weddings more regularly as of late. Specifically, olive green, khaki and white suits have become the go-to options for outdoor weddings.
Also, do not be restricted to the earthly tones, for there are many other combination worth trying. For example, olive green, navy blue and brown form a fantastic trio. Typically, most men will wear navy suits. Here, the navy pants can be paired with olive socks and brown shoes. Alternatively, you can also wear navy socks with an olive suit and light brown shoes.
With the dress-down movement, even political leaders like Justin Trudeau have begun wearing novelty socks as part of formal dressing.
Now, it is more acceptable than ever to wear brighter pants, socks and shoe combinations to formal occasions. They make for a fun deviation from the classic muted menswear looks adorned by the rest of the room. Still, when occasions are still formal, stick with solid colours rather than patterns.
The key is to select contrasting colours that blend well. Some examples include:
Charcoal and blue socks with a grey suit,
Orange and brown socks with a tan suit
Red socks with a black, charcoal or navy suit
Purple with light blue socks with a navy suit
Orange with green socks with a brown suit
At a Glance
As long as you keep the occasion and your outfit’s overall look in mind, you can wear whatever sock you like. Have fun and be confident in your choice!
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