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OPINION | MALE CALL: Mismatched socks faux pas; colors hinge on the situation

by LOIS FENTON | October 4, 2020 at 2:21 a.m.

Q In this day and age, how important is it that I wear matched socks? My wife seems to think that this is still important, not me, I literally grab, blindly in the dark of early morning, any two things from the top drawer that feel like socks, and put them on my feet. Is this really a faux pas?

A Well, of course, I think this is a faux pas, but my question is why don't you?

Men work hard in so many ways to present themselves to the world as knowledgeable and capable: to get into the best schools, to excel at their work, to speak intelligently. I can never understand why any man would ignore this oh-so-easy way to make a visible statement that announces that he is sharp. Ignoring the most basic rules of dress generally comes off as unknowing or unwilling, not as creative. The clothes you wear project so much about you and working with them can help express your true individuality.

Generally, men dress as primarily traditionalists, or they are more fashion-forward. Their choices hinge on which of these categories they see themselves. Which of the two varieties becomes obvious; the cut of their suits and jackets, the type of shirts (and sometimes the ties) they wear, and their casual attire usually fit consistently into one or the other.

When it comes to choosing socks, the two types also have different approaches:

  1. The traditional dresser selects socks that match or coordinate nicely with the colors in the rest of the clothes he is wearing. His goal is not to have anyone notice his socks.
  2. The modern (perhaps younger) dresser uses his choice of offbeat, colorful or patterned socks to make a bit of a fashion statement. His goal is to have others notice his socks ... but not to think that he dressed in error.

Depending on which category you feel suits your personality, you can make decisions about which socks to wear. All the classic color coordinating rules still apply, especially repeating some color that appears elsewhere in the clothes you are wearing.

The primary rule for traditional men's socks is an easy one: The color of your socks should match or coordinate with the color family of your trousers. This means with tan or khaki suits, wear dark brown socks. With gray suits and black shoes, wear charcoal gray or black socks. With blue suits and black shoes, wear navy socks. These are always appropriate for serious business and dressy social settings. But for the adventuresome dresser who gets bored with the expected, the new interest in fanciful socks offers many options ... as long as he uses discretion about when he wears them.

Keep in mind that even a man who thinks of himself as a nontraditional, fashion-forward dresser should express good judgment and stay within respectful limitations. He should not try to show the world how cleverly modern he is by wearing funky socks to a serious business meeting or a somber occasion, such as a funeral.

Of course, there are exceptions; some men can break the rules: one is "the boss" (who has always had a somewhat different set of rules of behavior), another is the true celebrity, as well as the knowledgeable maverick who is confident enough to bend the rules, and who does so with flair. But the normal guy is better off following more standard protocol and realizing that brightly-colored socks are designed for social wear, not for business dress.

"Bright" socks can mean a lot of things: bold solid colors, classic patterns such as argyle and paisley, colorful stripes and really funky novelty prints all qualify.

To liven up a simple outfit, a pair of unique socks can change combinations like jeans/T-shirt or khakis/knit polo shirt into something that seems more designed and on purpose. It tells people you don't look this way by accident but planned your outfit.

Also, keep in mind that "coordinate" does not mean "match." Your socks don't have to be the identical color as other pieces of clothing you are wearing. The colors should work well together; your socks should clearly seem to go with the rest of your combination.

Fine men's stores and the internet have wide selections of quiet, traditional patterns as well as the newer, offbeat styles. Think in terms of the combinations you're likely to be wearing. Look for sock colors that go with your favorite shirts and jackets. My advice is that when you do, be subtle rather than flamboyant.

By wearing quietly tasteful dark socks or a variety of the newer colorful socks, a man can express his personality and unique style for a bold, creative look. The purpose of novelty socks can be to remind others how outgoing, fun, and playful you can be.

Please send your men's dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL:

Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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