The recent story in the New York Times about how some guys have taken to wearing high socks with shorts got us thinking. The matter of men and socks isn’t as black and white as it used to be.
These days, men can wear colorful, patterned socks as a fashion statement. They can opt for no-show or low-cut socks or pull on a pair of white tube socks with stripes. Or they can wear no socks at all – with casual clothes, of course, but also with suits.
And now, custom clothier Tom Barnett tells us that some men are wearing shorts suits – a tailored jacket with matching shorts – sometimes paired with over-the-calf socks.
“I’m seeing it in New York almost exclusively,” said Barnett, a Western New York native who has business locations in Snyder, Manhattan, Beverly Hills and Washington D.C.
“It’s a relatively new look. I’ve worn a blue blazer or great summer jacket with a pair of linen shorts forever and ever. That to me has always been normal. But having a shorts suit – a matching garment top and bottom – is relatively new,” Barnett said.
But, he added, “we’re talking a microcosm at this point. A sliver of mankind.” For a guy to pull off the look, he needs to be pretty comfortable in his skin.
Socks or no socks, men need to make choices – and there are many.
“I’ve never seen a hotter time for socks,” said Ethan A. Huber, from O’Connell’s, 3240 Main St. “As recently as 10 or 20 years ago, it used to be black, tan, gray, olive; short or long; wool or cotton. That was it.”
Now it’s stripes and polka dots, midcalf and over-the-calf, cashmere and linen, Huber said. No-show socks – again in snazzy patterns – are very popular for men who don’t like the feel of bare feet in shoes.
Barnett noted an interesting trend among men in weddings. Some men are opting out of tuxedos and instead choosing to wear navy or gray tailored suits and colorful socks. “If there are 14 guys in the wedding, they want 14 different color socks,” he said.
Come summer, Barnett also sees men in business suits – with no tie and no socks.
“The ties and socks have kind of flown the coop. Do we want to call it acceptable? I guess that’s a word we can use,” said Barnett, who often goes without socks in summer and jokes it takes him back to his preppy youth.
The key is to wear respectable shoes in a slip-on style – Italian loafers, drivers, Belgian slip-ons. Not a tie-up – even though one sees it on runways and elsewhere.
“To me, it would be an inappropriate look to wear a tie-up shoe or dress shoe with no socks. You would hand in your style card on that one,” Barnett said.
The suit-with-no-socks look (including with rolled-up trousers) has gotten much attention.
A headline on an article by Joshua Fruhlinger on Mademan.com reads “Guys: The Dress Shoes with No Socks Thing Has to Stop.” “When you wear dress shoes without socks, you look unfinished. You look like a man-boy in a short suit. You look like a guy named ‘Blake’ (apologies to the nice Blakes out there) who wants to tell you about his yacht that never leaves the slip. You look like Don Johnson in his Ferrari days ...”
And Michael Kaplan wrote this in the New York Post last summer: “I’m no fashion prude – boat shoes and sneakers, even fancy sneakers, sans socks are A-OK. But ruining a nice suit, and the nice shoes, amounts to a fashion felony.”
As for all the talk about shorts worn with high socks, let’s not forget that it’s a traditional look in Bermuda.
As Condé Nast Traveler explains on its website: The “Bermuda rig,” or formal men’s outfit, includes a blazer, shorts and knee socks. It dates back to the beginning of the 20th century when British military officers stationed on the island found their uniform trousers too hot and were given permission to snip them off at the knees. The trend took off by the 1920s.
“But, in keeping with the air of English formality, the shorts came with a few strict rules: Bermudas couldn’t be more than 6 inches above the knee and they had to be worn with knee socks – while a jacket and tie was the only suitable way of dressing them up for business,” Lindsay Talbot wrote in the article.
As for going sockless in summer, there’s the matter of sweaty feet and potential damage to shoes. But for men who find it liberating to go sockless and like the look, it’s worth a little extra sweat and care for the shoes.
“You need to put wooden shoe trees in them at night. You need to treat them well. In the long run, shoes worn without socks don’t last as long. They get ruined faster, worn faster. It does take its toll,” Barnett added.
So ideally, socks should be worn.
“But honestly I have broken those rules myself forever. I wear a lot of no socks in the summertime,” he said.
GQ recommends the following for going for the sockless look:
• Allow each pair a 24 to 48 hour resting period before wearing again.
• Wear no-show socks.
• Consider odor-eating powders and sprays made to keep shoes fresh.
• If you’re a heavy sweater, try dusting the inside of your shoes in talc powder to soak up moisture.
Investing in high-quality leather-lined shoes also helps, said Barnett, who never wore socks with his hockey skates, either.
“You get used to that leather forming to your feet,” he said.