Fashion is constantly changing. And it’s changing faster than ever.
This begs the question, is there such a thing as timeless style anymore?
Things that used to be obvious, like wearing a tie with your suit and saving the sneakers for the weekend, are now gray areas.
One of the grayest areas these days? Socks with dress shoes.
So, here’s what you need to know.
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So, Can You Wear Socks With Dress Shoes?
Yes, you can wear socks with dress shoes. In fact, most of the time, you should wear dress socks with your dress shoes as this is traditionally how it’s done.
Fashion is more casual in the modern era. As such, there are certain contexts in which going sockless is acceptable (which I’ll get to momentarily).
This movement came about partly because of social casualization, but also because of the higher-hemmed suit pants popularized by designers like Thom Browne in the aughts. Many suits sported an almost cuffed-esque silhouette, adding ankle exposure as an effortless aesthetic option in one’s style toolbox.
Still, even today, wearing your dress shoes with dress socks is the safest way to go.
How to Style Dress Shoes with Socks The Right Way
Understanding the Basics
Men have been wearing socks with their leather shoes since ancient times. So, even in modern history, the point of pairing dress socks with dress shoes has functional origins. The interior of leather shoes is dark, warm, and damp. Dress socks keep your feet comfortable and healthy, and ensure you’re not distracted on the job.
And as any men’s fashion convention, this function became the aesthetic decree.
As mentioned, casualization and visual trends contributed to the sockless movement. Also, the birth of no-show socks made moot the argument that dress socks were functionally necessary when wearing dress shoes.
But what hasn’t changed is that going sockless with dress shoes is still considered more casual than having dress socks on.
Here are some instances in which you may be able to go sockless with dress shoes:
- In a culturally casual work environment. Still, your boss may appreciate you wearing dress socks during client meetings. And, of course, this depends on the industry (hence the term culturally casual). Silicon Valley tech company? Probably. Wall Street banking? Probably not.
- At certain smart casual or business casual lounges, bars, and social gatherings. These days, it’s unlikely you’ll get kicked out of drinking and dining establishments for going sockless. But reading the room and respecting any unspoken dress codes is essential.
- In warm weather or on-holiday contexts. Think cuffed linen pants with loafers or canvas shorts with brogues.
So, as you can see, it’s so much easier to wear socks than not to wear socks. There’s less to navigate, you’ll never offend anyone, and it’s the traditional but not stuffy way to go.
Breaking Down Some Style Rules
1. Match Your Socks to Your Dress Shoes
There are two main style camps when it comes to what item of clothing you should match your socks to. One of them believes you should match your socks to your dress shoes.
This is a great way to create an extension of your shoe and give it almost a boot-like effect—at least when it comes to color.
You can also do this if they’re similar but not exact in color, as long as your socks are darker. This is a good approach if you wear loafers and want to make them look more formal. It helps blend the collar in with the sock, so it doesn’t look as low-profile, therefore giving a visual effect similar to an Oxford.
It’s the same if you’re wearing a casual outfit. So, if you’re wearing jeans with dress shoes and you want to bring some formality to the mix, match your socks to your shoes.
Black dress shoes and socks paired with charcoal jeans would look cool and urban, while blue jeans with brown socks and brown suede dress shoes would look Americana.
2. Match Your Socks to Your Pants
The second school of thought when it comes to socks and dress shoes is the one that believes your socks should match your pants. This aligns your socks more with your pants and makes your shoes feel more like a statement piece or an accessory in a suit situation.
This makes your outfit look more streamlined, can make your shoes pop a bit, and, if you’re a shorter guy, adds some height.
I like doing this when wearing monk straps or bit loafers because it helps the ornamentation stand out.
And you can always go for socks in a similar color to your pants but a different shade, as long as the socks are darker.
One of my favorite examples is olive trousers, forest green socks, and brown dress shoes. It’s unique yet still elegant and professional.
3. Use Subtle Contrasts or Match to Accents
The third way to style your socks and dress shoes together isn’t a particularly professional approach in the strictest sense, so proceed with caution. You can definitely take these approaches on a night out, at certain networking events, and maybe even at the office if you work in a creative industry that encourages fashion-forwardness.
You can either go for subtle contrasts or match your socks to outfit accents. The former is less unconventional, so let’s start with that.
Contrasting colors are on the opposite side of each other on the color wheel. But, if you pair subtle versions of these colors together, they pop without being too loud.
Primary yellow socks with primary blue pants are a bit too loud. Dark navy pants and a brown-leaning mustard, on the other hand, are a beautiful fall combination. My favorite examples are red and green. True versions of each color only belong on Christmas trees. However, burgundy and olive together are unique yet sophisticated.
And finally, you can always match your socks to accent colors on your outfit. This is definitely a dandier look and can range from fairly understated to pretty darn loud.
A moderate example is if you’re wearing Shetland tweed pants that are mostly gray but have orange and brown accent weaving. Here, you can go for orange or brown socks.
Remember That Materials Matter
To optimize the sophistication factor, go for dress socks. In fact, just always go with dress socks and avoid athletic socks when wearing dress shoes.
Yes, this includes black athletic socks. The heavier fabric looks sloppy when it starts to inevitably bunch up.
Dress socks are either thin or midweight (just say no to super thick wool socks) and made with wool or cotton, and can even be infused with bamboo, silk, or cashmere for extra shine and softness. They’re well-structured and stay in place without you having to pull them back up constantly.
Consider Sock Length and Style
The two acceptable dress sock lengths are mid-calf, which stops a few inches below your knee over your calf muscle, or over the calf, which stops directly under your knee.
It’s all about preference. I like an over-calf because it allows my socks to slide down a bit without looking messy. When you’re wearing a regular-cut pair of trousers, you don’t want the tops of your socks showing that often.
Appropriate patterns depend on how formal the dress code is and how subtle or loud the patterns are.
Solid socks are the best option for strict professional occasions, as well as formals ones. So, if you’re thinking of doing sockless in your tuxedo shoes the next time you’re at a black-tie event, maybe think again.
Some professional contexts might allow for subtle stripes or a classic diamond motif on your socks. Argyle might be appropriate at cocktail or semi-formal events, depending on the hosts and theme. For example, argyle will probably be okay at a preppy beach wedding in Nantucket, but not an evening church wedding.
Meanwhile, Fair Isle patterned socks, though classic, are strictly casual. Once your sock patterns get to this level of complexity, you should save them for relaxed dress codes.
The funny thing is if you search men’s suit style on the Tik Toks and Instagrams of the world, you do see a lot of sockless gents rocking some dress shoes.
That look, however, still needs to go in and out of style a few more times before it reaches classic status.
Meanwhile, dress shoes with socks will always be around. It’s just a matter of doing it right so you don’t look out of touch or even unfashionable.
Can you wear socks with dress shoes?
Yes. Traditionally, you’d wear dress socks with your dress shoes. It’s stylistically safer than going without socks, and a requirement if you wear a formal suit.
Can you wear ankle socks with dress shoes?
In certain smart casual or warm weather situations, you can wear ankle socks with dress shoes as long as they barely show. Ideally, they wouldn’t show at all.
Are no-show socks OK for dress shoes?
Again, you can wear short socks with dress shoes in more casual dress codes or summer contexts. No-shows are better than fully exposed ankle socks since they look more intentionally casual.
Are patterned socks acceptable with formal attire?
Patterned socks can be worn in certain professional dress codes, depending on the event or office culture, and as long as they aren’t too loud. For black-tie formal events, solid socks are the safest bet.