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Socks show whether you care

8 August 2008

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I always liked the saying “If you want to know if a man is well-dressed, look down.” But while this refers to footwear, and it can tell you a lot about how well-dressed a man is, I prefer to consider his socks.

A man’s shoes tell you about how much money he spends, perhaps about his taste and certainly about how well he looks after his clothes. A man with well-turned, well-polished brown brogues under his blue suit demonstrates a certain interest and investment in what he wears.

But socks tell you something different. Socks tell you immediately whether someone can be bothered. In the City, most suits are dark. Most men wear black shoes. So if they wear black socks every day, they will look smart, professional and have to spend absolutely no time in the morning thinking about their socks.

If, on the other hand, a City man decides to wear socks that match his suit, he will need at least three colours – grey, blue and black (yes, a depressing number of City workers still wear black suits). He will be more stylish and his legs will look longer. But he will need enough of each colour to make sure he doesn’t run out, and a certain time will be needed tin the morning to select the right pair. Travelling will take a little more thought as well.

It’s not a big expense, but wearing socks that match your trousers shows you care. Someone boasted to me recently that he always wears a belt that matches his shoes. I asked him what colour his shoes were. He had three black pairs and one brown. And admitted he usually wore brown at the weekend. Not much of an effort to match his belt to them, then.

Socks, on the other hand, take a little effort. Particularly if you get into the world of pattern, and have some stripes, spots etc. Then you have to consider the pattern on your trousers as well (roughly the same guidelines as ties – create contrast in the scale of the pattern). It all takes a little more time.

Colours of course, are another big jump up. Dark red and dark green are often recommended for grey suits. I’ve always liked purples and pinks with navy. And bright red or yellow seem to fit best with tan shoes, in my opinion.

But this is just one of the factors. As soon as you go for colour, the whole outfit has to be borne in mind. Is matching the sock to the tie a little too affected? Is it better if one is patterned? As with a handkerchief, you probably want something that harmonises without matching, but you are likely to have fewer options with socks than handkerchiefs.

Unusual colours are a quantum leap from grey, blue and black. But look out for the man who can be bothered to match his socks to his trousers. It is the best and quickest sign of someone who cares.