Sock it to me

Sock it to me

Q. You seem to write both that black socks should be the only choice and that “wild, patterned socks” are the one place a business man can be creative. What are the rules, or at least the expectations, regarding socks in an interview and office setting that involves suits?

A. I’m glad your question included a reference to interview dressing and office settings that involve wearing a suit. It shows that you understand the difference between rather staid business dress and more relaxed social dressing.

You are almost correct that I believe black socks are, not the only, but definitely the safest, choice. I cannot think of many situations where they would be “wrong.” Still, that does not mean I recommend you ignore other options available to the guy who likes to add some individuality to what he wears.

Business custom has removed almost all elements of sock-buying decisions. In terms of length: Socks should be to-the-calf. There must never be any skin showing when you sit down and cross your legs. It is true that many men wear short socks, just as many men wear short-sleeved business shirts. But a well-dressed man wears his socks to the calf or over it. In terms of color, they should be dark and almost solid; this requires further guidance.

Here are some helpful guidelines.
1. The first rule is that your socks should be in the same color family as your suit or your trousers; they don’t need to match exactly in shade or darkness, but they should logically continue the color of the pants leg. When you are sitting or walking and your socks show, a consistent sock-and-pant color works nicely.
2. Another rule is that you want the sock color to be equal to or darker than your pants’ color, not a lighter or brighter shade. So, with dark gray pants, wear charcoal gray or black socks.
3. On the other hand (or foot), if your suit or trousers are on the lighter side of the color scale (such as tan or khaki), you can match your socks to the color of your shoe, instead of to your pants. As an example, with chinos or khakis, you can choose brown socks that repeat the color of your dark brown shoes rather than beige socks. Light blue trousers would work with black shoes and socks, since no well-dressed man wears any form of blue dress shoes.

Europeans and adventuresome Americans sometimes move away from the solid, dark-color rule in socks. I have admired subtle tweeds, bird’s eye, and mini-herringbone patterns in their hose, in dark gray and burgundy as well as blue and brown. These understated patterns are not always easy to find, but they can be worth the effort. Upscale men’s shops are good sources. Bolder patterns such as argyle, and today’s popular wild and goofy bright patterns are best left for casual wear and for some social suit occasions.

The code of dressing for executives is quite rigid when it comes to the color of footwear. Shoes for business are rather strictly limited to black and brown. Try to match/coordinate socks with the suit (although the shades of gray, blue, olive, etc. certainly do not need to be an exact match). With gray suits and black shoes, wear charcoal gray or black socks. With blue suits and black shoes, wear either navy blue or black socks. With tan or khaki suits and dark brown or cordovan shoes, wear brown socks. Socks are generally darker than the trousers. Black socks are darkest of all, and therefore, always safe.

With regard to the more exciting sock options, these days, a lot of men are enjoying the new style of wearing fun, multi-colored socks. These may include eye-catching patterns (argyles, stripes, etc.) or brightly colored socks that don’t seem to really match anything else in the outfit (or that only vaguely tie in with the color of a pocket square or tie). While this style may be fine when dressed in casual clothes or for relaxed social occasions, it is not considered professional and is way too playful for an interview. Of course, in a world where some offices have dressed down to polo shirts, Hawaiian shirts, or even clean T-shirts, it would be hard to say that these socks are out of place.

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