Sock it to me

Q. I have been reading your column in our paper for some time. Thank you.
My problem is that the cotton dress socks I buy fade after a few washings (it makes no difference who the manufacturer is or how much they cost). Is there a wool solution that is worth the money, or do I just need to constantly repurchase socks? I’ve found only blends that include nylon, which are heavy weight and seem to have a bullet-proof look to them. Who makes, and where do I get socks that won’t fade, will be cool, and look dressy?

A.The answer to where to find socks that won’t fade is easier than you might think, because the problem is not the socks, but the detergent you are using. Dark socks and, in fact, all washable dark garments (whether they are cotton, wool, or blends) are likely to fade to some degree and lose their deep, dark color after a few washings in standard detergents. Since this is a problem that people have been having for years, the laundry industry has come up with a solution: a product that can be used for both hand laundering and machine washing is called Woolite Darks. And it really works.

Of course, you still can if you like buy wool socks, but you don’t need to switch from cotton to keep your socks from fading. And you should know there are a lot of wonderful wool sock options that are neither heavy nor hot and that certainly do not have a bullet-proof look. In fact, some are of such a “fine hand” and light weight that they hardly feel like wool at all. But they are rather expensive . . . sometimes as much as $35 a pair. They’re not that hard to find; just walk into one of your city’s luxury men’s shops or check out such stores as Bergdorf Goodman Men’s Store, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, or Paul Stuart. Brand names you might look for are Canali, Bresciani, and Pantherella (sometimes the top stores sell these brands but put their own store’s name on them). The best ones are imported, Canali and Brescaini from Italy and Pantherella from England.

Quality blends do not need to include nylon. They can be blends of wool-and-silk, wool-and-cotton, cotton-and-silk, or a high percentage of a natural fiber mixed with a small percentage of a synthetic.

If you are going to spend a lot on dress socks made of the finest yarns, you will want to take care of them properly so they will last for years. The laundering directions on fine socks usually say: machine wash in warm water (actually, I recommend cold water), do not bleach, and tumble dry on low (although I would hang them to dry). In addition, I would put my good socks in a mesh laundry bag to keep lint from getting on them.

Here are some guidelines about dress socks. Traditional business custom has removed all but a few elements from your sock-buying decisions: Socks should be mid-calf length; their color should be solid (or near-solid subtle patterns) and dark. These days, traditional over-the-calf length is a bit out of date. Today, as always, avoid anklets; there must never be any skin showing when you sit down and cross your legs. I’m sure you must be thinking, “but the men’s fashion magazines show colorful socks in all manner of eye-catching patterns.” These are fine in casual and purely social settings, but they are not the best choice for serious business settings and/or for really dressy social occasions. Use good judgement.

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