When the flash of bright red just has to go…

Socks are tricky. They’re so very, vey tricky that even writing an article on them has taken me twice as much time than my usual sartorial rants do. But there is a reason why, when putting an outfit together, I spend more time looking perplexed in front of my sock drawer than on anything else. Just  as there is a reason why whenever I get a new suit my first thought is inevitably ‘wait-what footwear can I wear this with ?’ (I now have a socks budget, just to be sure). The point is : socks are the most complex part of an outfit, and brilliantly so.

There is, however, a premise I need to establish (I believe this article had a point when I first started it) : plain, flashy, socks in any bright bloody colour should probably be put aside for a moment. Or eternity. I know, I know- they seem to display just that sense of young, impetuous attitude ; that envigorating feeling of ‘who cares what the world thinks, I’m just going to sport red socks today, because red socks are the new red trousers.’ But they’re also bad form, and, come to think of it, cheapen an outfit considerably.

At this point in what the pedant inside me hopes is a contra mondum article, I should like to point out that I am well aware of my own sins. Painfully so. Memories of those days when I thought I’d try to fit in and get myself the whole spectrum of colours in sock form still haunt my dreams. I remember that sunny day on the Continent when I thought it would be a good idea to sport green socks with red chinos. I think there is photographic evidence somewhere on the internet, and I dread to think what Mark Zuckerberg might do with it. If these pictures leak I know I can never write for Vogue (not that I really wanted to anyway).

I should really get around to burning them all, but I like knowing that they are there, lurking in the remote darkness of a drawer like some heathen token of bad taste, forever reminding me of my past transgressions.

I once read on a blog called something pretentious like ‘nouveau fashion’ that ‘socks are supposed to go with your shoes, not your trousers’. The man was only half wrong : they should go with both. In fact, they should work in harmony with the whole outfit, serving as a link between trousers and shoes (the most alien part of an ensemble) and complementing the rest. The complexity of socks is that their role is dual- both practical and aesthetic ; but wildly throwing a piece of bright fabric at the most significant point of junction is no way of solving that complexity. An outfit is, I believe, a series of variations on a theme within which socks should accord with the dominant key. They lie in that subtle inbetween where they must speak quietly without making themselves forgotten, harmonise with the outfit while adding something to it. If an outfit were to be translated into a sentence, socks would be its punctuation, at once structural and evocative. (My English tutor has ordered me to keep my essay language purely academic, so this is my new space for pseudo-poetical effusions now.)

The point is : play on subtler colours and on patterns. Scotland is probably the best place in the world to sport Argyle socks, but so many more are worth experimenting with : diamonds, horizontal stripes, vertical stripes, check, dots- to name a few. Cartoon characters are usually acceptable if you’re either eight or a bank clerk going through a midlife crisis.

I think I’ll leave you with Edward VIII again. There are a thousand reasons why I want this picture framed and hanging over my bed, but just have a look at what he sports with his grey, subtly checked double breasted : brown check socks (obviously worn with brown shoes before Wallis and he decided to be cheeky for a second). Check on check ? Bold move, Eddie, but it really works. And remember : if the best-dressed Royal doesn’t need red socks, neither do you.


Peter Zahnd

Images by New Vintage