Tuesday, December 4, 2007

On Socks

Socks are under-appreciated clothing items. Most men buy them as an afterthought in plain colors, caring nothing but that they should be as inexpensive as possible. This is a mistake. Buying interesting socks is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to inject interest and variety into an outfit. Think about it: suppose you're wearing a medium-gray suit with a plain white shirt and a lavender tie. Plain medium-gray socks to match the trousers is perfectly correct. It's also perfectly predictable and perfectly boring. What if you were to wear lavender socks to echo the color of your tie instead? That would be much more interesting, but it wouldn't be at all ostentatious. They're socks, and so they aren't constantly on display. Have a little fun. It won't kill you.

And what should you look for when buying your fun socks? First, they should be composed mostly of natural materials. That is, they should be at least 65% of either wool or cotton. (Unlike tailored clothing and shirts, it is possible for socks to be good and still have a certain percentage of artificial fibers in them. In fact, in most cases, at least some artificial fibers are necessary to make the sock durable and able to stay up.) Some people like wool better than cotton, some people like cotton better than wool, and some people have preferences that vary with the temperature. Ultimately, you should wear whichever one you like better (I like cotton -- even the best wool is too scratchy for me). The important thing is that they not be mostly something artificial like nylon. Nylon socks wear well, but they don't breathe. Socks should be comfortable. Which brings me to the second characteristic of a good pair of socks: they should have hand-linked toes. Socks have a seam across the top of the toes. This seam can either be machine-linked (in which case it's very bumpy) or hand-linked (in which case the bump is hardly noticeable). Hand-linked toes are more comfortable. (The Marcoliani socks pictured above have a machine-linked toe seam, but they're so beautiful that I have had to buy them anyway). The third characteristic is that they be over-the-calf. If they are mid-calf and your calves have any degree of taper to them at all, they won't stay up. Feeling socks bag around my ankles is one of the more unpleasant clothing sensations I can think of. This is not a problem with over-the-calf socks because they hit above the point that the calves begin to taper. I think a lot of men believe over-the-calf socks to be uncomfortable, but I have not found this to be the case.

And where can high-quality, interesting socks be found? Well, I have already written about Facenti, which are miraculous and amazingly attractive (although hard to find in the US). Two other Italian companies making great socks are Gallo and Marcoliani. And then there's Pantherella. Pantherella makes a lot of boring socks, and they sometimes struggle with more exotic colors; but they make some great over-the-calf Sea Island cotton socks in a riot of colors. These are among the best socks that I have ever worn, and you would do well to seek them out.

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