The Ultimate Style Guide to Socks

The Ultimate Style Guide to Socks

Rejoice! The tyranny of the white tube sock has come to an end. And the plain black sock no longer holds claim over our lives. A whole new world of socks is upon us where we can freely express ourselves to our hearts’ content.

While socks are often a neglected part of our wardrobe, they do play an important role, especially if you’re on your feet most of the day. As a matter of fact, we feel they’ve been taken for granted for way too long.

This ends right now! And we want make sure you’re always looking your best from head to toe. Get ready to elevate your sock game with IDENTITY Apparel’s Ultimate Style Guide to Socks.


1. No Shows 

Just because you’re going for that sock-less look doesn’t mean you don’t wear socks. In fact, we strongly advise against it. Because stinky feet. 

Men the world over no longer live in fear of showing a little ankle. Today’s styles embrace going  sockless, whether it’s jeans and sneakers, boat shoes with slacks, or even suits and dress shoes.  And because they’re invisible, they help showcase your kicks.

Good no-shows will keep you comfortable and dry, and they won’t slip off your heel during the day. They’re also perfect for warm climates. While there are no strict rules on how to wear them, avoid pairing them with boots, high tops, or sandals. It’s not so much about style as it is about practicality.  Wearing them with the wrong shoes can give you blisters.

2. Ankle Length

Just as their name suggests, ankle socks sit just above the ankle. While some are adamant these only belong in the gym, they can take their snobbery elsewhere!

These work perfectly fine with a casual look. Since they peek out a little bit above the shoe, they can add just the right pop of color to complement your footwear. 

3. Mid-Calf Length

As the pillars of the sock world, no other sock can boast the same versatility. They go with just about anything and are sold in every conceivable color, pattern, and design.

Again, length here is self-explanatory. Roll them down if you’re wearing shorts, pull them up if you’re wearing trousers. Slip on a nice dark plain for business attire, or keep it super casual with a colorful design. But of course, you shouldn’t be afraid to mix things up. 

Mid-calf socks are the foundation of anyone’s sock game and a good rule of thumb is to have at least six in your wardrobe.

4. Athletic/Sports Socks 

While these come in all sorts of lengths and designs, athletic socks are typically thicker than normal. It’s so they can absorb sweat better and even provide some extra cushioning. And the material make the socks sturdier as well.

Ideal for hitting the gym and other physical activities, they’re also great for hikes through by giving added protection in rough terrain. And because they’re quite versatile, you can pretty much pair them with anything (except maybe dress shoes, but hey, just do you).

5. Over the Calf Socks

Over the calf socks, also known as OTC or knee-highs, seem to have fallen out of style in men’s fashion over the years, but probably not for reasons you think. The extra manufacturing and material involved to make socks this long can mark up the cost by over 25%. This makes them less appealing to the average consumer, and even retailers avoid them altogether to keep their costs down.

The point of OTC is to hide the leg entirely, mostly because showing a bit of hairy leg while sporting a nice suit can be distracting. These days, they’re mostly worn with formal wear. If you’re looking to buy a pair, menswear stores are a good place to start, but be ready to pay a bit more.

And who knows, maybe they’ll come back with a vengeance. On the other hand, knee-highs are still quite popular with the ladies!


The material you choose may be just as important as sock length and will depend on the situation.

Synthetic fibers are the most durable and lightweight, but they’re not as comfortable. That’s why they’re usually blended with natural materials like cotton and wool. Socks made with 100% synthetic material are really geared more toward performance rather than comfort. 

Cotton is by far the most common material, and for good reason. It’s the perfect combination of light, breathable, and durable. It’s also the most affordable.

Wool takes you up a step in price point. It’s a pretty hardy material but not as absorbent as cotton, which makes it ideal for stuff like hiking and skiing. They also work well for all kinds of weather. You’ll likely find blended varieties since pure wool can get be itchy. 

Go further up the ladder and we come to cashmere and silk. These are very delicate, luxurious materials that feel amazing. However, they do come at a price and need extra care so they’ll last. Cashmere and silk should always be handwashed and air dried as they’re prone to tearing. They’re definitely a nice flex for uber formal gatherings like black tie, but this level of fancy comes at a premium.

Now that we’ve covered the different varieties, it’s time to get into what to pair them with.

Some Ground Rules and Best Practices

Whatever your style, there are three rules you should not break:

  1. Your socks should always match. (Left sock blue, right sock yellow? That’s a no.)

  2. Socks should have one hole: the one you put your foot through.

  3. No stains.

You could be thinking, who’s gonna know anyway? And while that might be true, you could find yourself in an embarrassing situation when you have to take your shoes off. Like visiting a friend’s house where they don’t allow shoes past the entrance, or in a private room in a Japanese restaurant.

Besides, socks are by far the cheapest piece of clothing you can buy, so there’s no excuse to always have a good pair.

Read the Room

While dressing for the occasion is always a good practice, it’s also good to push past your comfort zone to discover your own personal style.

Black, brown, navy, or dark grey remain your safest bets. These tend to match your trousers, which is also sage advice when picking out what to wear. This works in traditional settings, especially when the aim is not to stand out. If you’re not quite sold on a plain solid and want to expand your horizons, try socks that have texture or ribbing just to give it more character.

The next step is to have stripes, dots, or argyle; three different designs that add a bit more interest to your look. However, avoid matching patterns in your outfit. Argyle sweater? Skip the argyle socks. Dotted shirt? Go for striped socks instead. A little too matchy-matchy can be jarring to the eye.

There are different approaches when it comes to color. The first, already mentioned, is to match your socks with your pants. Alternatively, you can also try coordinating socks with your shoes and neckwear, or with items worn above the waistline. This helps tie your outfit together.

Bold School is the New School

We’ve seen first-hand how novelty socks have grown in popularity, and with good reason. It really comes down to having fun with your fashion and just not taking things too seriously. Socks are a great way to express your personality.

If you’re going to rock these socks, you can tone down the rest of your outfit so they really stand out. Take it a step further and cuff your pants to really show them off.

Remember, this style guide is exactly that: a guide. There are no hard fast rules when it comes to socks, and you should be as bold or as conservative as you want to be. In the end, just do you.

Go ahead. Be brave. Show us your IDENTITY.

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