Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Dressing the Ankle

(©RKO Radio Pictures Inc./Photofest. Fred Astaire’s feet from G. Bruce Boyer’s “Fred Astaire Style” Assouline Publishing, 2004 Used without permission. Let me know and I’ll take it down.)

Wow! That sounds very pretentious. But that’s what we’re talking about: socks, hosiery, dressing the ankle.

From a reader:
Hi there!
Everybody seems to ask your opinion so here I go with a question.
What socks (design, color, …) do you wear with different type of suits, etc…
How to match them (shoes, tie?…) Always black socks? What about sheer socks?
Tell us all your tips!

That was a question from France!

Bonjour Cédric et bienvenue! Hope the following helps, as you are not the first to ask me that question.

There are two schools of thought here.

In our travels, Mrs. E. and I are fortunate to have seen a great many sights and experienced many a different culture. Whilst living in France, I did notice that the men had a different way of dressing. Especially down south where we were. Colours were brighter for one thing. Socks… socks tended to match shirts. Even white shirts…

In secondary school, where we were required to wear socks, I wore navy blue, even with khakis and flannels and my ever present oxblood penny loafers. (Bean duckboot moccasins required wool ragg.)

I still experiment with colourful socks, inspired in part by that picture above. Fred Astaire wanted to draw attention to his feet. I usually want to show off my shoes. Those socks on Mr. Astaire were probably yellow, which stood out beautifully against the signature grey flannel trousers and brown suede shoes. I wear that combination, too and feel very smart doing so. It puts a spring in my step.

In my sock drawer you will find spots, stripes, argyll, Fair Isle, zig-zags, houndstooth, plaid, grids red, pink, green, yellow (A good source for fancy legware is Mr. Kabbaz)… At one point I wore red socks with my dinner jacket.

But then I was removed from the stag line at the Deb balls and that was that.

When I wear colourful socks, I try and match the colour to some element above the waist. Even if it’s a splash in the pocket square, a pattern on the tie, or a stripe on a shirt. Argylls generally play well against tweeds, twills, corduroy and flannel trousers; in other words the thicker winter fabrics. Although, I have a nice pair of pale blue, yellow, green and white in cotton for summer wear with white linen trousers and white bucks. For every “rule” there is an exception.

Now for those who are in a serious sort of business, I don’t recommend flashing colourful hosiery about as it garners sideways glances from those who assume that you are frivolous. If only they knew how deadly serious you are about things sartorial. But that’s not our fight.

The easy answer is to match your socks to the colour of your trousers (if you are particularly daring, but still need to be taken seriously, you may wear socks one shade lighter than the colour of your trousers.) Keep patterns discreet. Small pindots, tonal houndstooth, clocks. You should look like one well-tailored, dark column from your (highly polished) shoes to your neatly groomed hair. The idea is that nothing should jar the eye to a stop until it gets to your Hollywood smile and knowing eyes. (See Grant, Cary.)

If I’m wearing a patterned suit, I will go against the grain matching a different pattern of sock. For example, a navy chalkstripe suit paired with either a navy sock with white dots or a navy sock with horizontal stripes. A grey glen plaid suit with back and white houndstooth socks or grey socks with white spots. I try not to wear spotted socks if my tie carries the same pattern. But that’s just me.

I do sometimes wear sheer socks. They are silk and require garters. I wear them only with my dinner jacket. They are black. And that is about the only time that I wear black hose with midnight blue trousers. You can get away with wearing that combination if your suit is of the inkiest, darkest blue or the deepest charcoal grey and your shoes are black. (I would recommend instead dark blue or grey socks as being far more elegant.)

A final note. All dress socks are over-the-calf, full stop. If they are cotton lisle or merino wool with a handlinked toe, they are perfectly comfortable. You won’t even know they are there. Otherwise your companion/adversary/audience won’t notice anything but a hairy, pale sliver of leg if you sit down. Not very elegant at all.

7 thoughts on “Dressing the Ankle

  1. “Colours were brighter for one thing. Socks… socks tended to match shirts. Even white shirts”

    When Cary Grant wore a suit or dress/casual in his movies, I noticed that his socks were light-colored. I think it looks great – especially with loafers or slip-ons- and I’m moving in that direction (on Fridays). Call in Cary Grant Friday casual!

    All the best—-

  2. Thank you for such a detailed answer!
    you’re right when you say that in France we tend to match socks with ties or… shirts!
    Well, in any case, you gave us great information.

    Have a nice week end,

  3. Paul, I heard a rumour that he wore tan socks that made it look like he was wearing no socks at all.

    Cédric, you’re very welcome. Thanks for the idea for the post. Ciao.

  4. All good ideas. I particularly liked your warning to wear “serious” socks for serious occasions, and your advice against the deadly-dull black sock except for with a tuxedo.

    If, for whatever reason, you must wear shorter (i.e., mid-calf) socks, invest in, and use, sock garters. They are not as comfortable as over-the-calf socks, but they keep your socks up, which is more than worth whatever minor discomfort they may otherwise engender.

  5. Paul Stuart stores (Chicago, New York, Tokyo) have the most beautiful selection of men’s hosiery. I particularly like to buy cotton ones that are two-tone (heel and toe are in contrast color from rest of the sock and very cheerful) for my husband every Christmas. They also have a beautiful sport sock that appears to be wool (maybe not really as that might be itchy??) with a fleck in it of different colors–great for chilly weather/fall and winter wardrobes and alongside jeans and corduroys. I tend not to buy his dress socks there, as they are expensive, and there is nothing particularly special about dark blue/brown/black men’s dress socks.

  6. Interesting. I’m a big fan of livening up a conservative suit with colourful socks. I particularly love my Paul Smith ones, which come in all kinds of stripes, patterns and colours.

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