Socks seem to be everywhere right now, even on the red carpet. But is it really possible to wear them as a grown-up to work and other public situations without looking like a schoolgirl? — Yael, Bronx, N.Y.
Socks are, as far as I am concerned, one of the most undervalued, and enjoyable, accessories available. Though socks have long held a place of honor in men’s wear as one of the few acceptable ways to express personality, they have played a less meaningful role for women.
That may be because for decades socks were associated with lower- and middle-school uniforms. Being able to shed them in favor of stockings (or hosiery) was thus a sign of adulthood, like moving from being a child to becoming a full-on sexual being and getting your legs out: You have graduated beyond the sock! So socks never attained the fashion status they deserve. But that may be changing.
There have always been a few sock champions among the fashion glitterati, most notably Miuccia Prada, who, at age 74, has made something of a signature of wearing short socks with her pumps. Other proponents include Gwyneth Paltrow, who wore sheer black ankle socks with her black heels and black pants to the Armani couture show last week; Billie Eilish, who wore pink ankle socks with her Mary Janes and Willy Chavarria look at the Golden Globes in January; and SZA, who wore lacy white anklets with her pointy black heels to the WSJ magazine innovator awards late last year.
To join their ranks, you simply need to get over the psychological hump of associating socks with the powerlessness of unformed youth, and your own past, and see them for what they are: comfortable, practical and useful in multifarious ways to build an outfit. Then wear them with that in mind.
Socks can add a pop of color, or a delicate grace note, to a look. They can change a silhouette, elongating the foot if worn in the same color as a shoe and effectively transforming your footwear into an ankle boot. (There’s a reason designers invented sock boots.) Or, if worn in a contrasting color, they draw attention to the shoe, like a punctuation mark. Also, they prevent blisters!
I don’t think it’s going too far to say that socks can be a clever form of self-care, a fast, relatively accessible way to make yourself feel good.
Of course, not all socks are created equal. Socks come in cashmere, cotton, silk, tulle and lamé. Crew socks call up different emotional and historical associations than, say, ruffly ankle socks or sheer black socks with matte bands at the top, which have a garter belt vibe and are a little kinky.
White socks with loafers will forever be linked to Michael Jackson, who made the look a signature. That’s not to say you can’t wear them that way; just understand the associations. The same goes for crimson knee socks, which are pretty much shorthand for papal cardinals. (If you want to know where they get their socks, it’s Gammarelli, in Rome.)
As for knee socks and pleated skirts, that’s when you run into the schoolgirl problem. It’s possible to wear the combo with irony, but it may take more effort than it is worth to communicate that attitude to the judging world.
And on it goes. Over-the-knee socks do not serve the same purposes as short socks. Very thick socks send a hiking/outdoor rec message.
Though fashion has, not surprisingly, gotten into the sock action — Chanel sells a little white pair for $375; Gucci has logo-bedecked versions for $220 — there are plenty of more affordable and inventive options. Tabio even personalizes socks — not just with initials, but also short texts.
Whatever kind of socks you choose, just make sure they don’t have any holes. That kind of ruins the adulting effect.
Your Style Questions, Answered
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