Integral to taking an interest in style is maintaining the minutiae of one’s appearance: an ironed shirt, polished shoes… and erect socks.
Socks count among the usually invisible elements of the well-dressed formula. Crumpled around the ankles or in whichever state, socks are unlikely to be noticed unless your legs are crossed, and the fabric is particularly bright in colour, or a photograph captures you in an acrobatic dance move. Introducing refinement to the conversation, a glance to the past and to classic dressing will reward the curious with an effortless and elegant means of displaying an ankle pleasingly and evenly covered by hosiery.
In the words of Arnold Gingrich, co-founder of Esquire magazine, and its editor during its first 12 years:
I’ve always thought, myself, that… the one dividing line between the men and the boys in the art of wearing clothes is the avoidance of the exposure of a length of calf between sock-top and trouser-bottom when seated.[i]
‘Hosiery’ is a unisex term, no longer often employed, that denotes any underwear worn to cover the feet, ankles and legs. Contemporary dressy hosiery design favours a short sock the fabric of which rises to cover only to the lower- or mid-calf. Picturing the anatomy of the lower leg, it’s shape is not complementary to the mid-calf length sock’s design. Gravity and the calf muscle conspire to loosen the mid-calf sock’s hold from where it retreats to the ankle. Simon Crompton pithily contextualises this delinquent behaviour:
Shorter socks don’t stay up; they always fall down, they always bunch, and that is not a good look with a finely pressed suit in rather fine worsted.[ii]
A trendy alternative is the ‘sockless’ look’, notably indispensible in summer and for tenue involving shorts. Inescapably, however, one finds oneself entreating the unseen sock not to slip down the heel to be lost in one’s shoe.
Enter the over-the-calf sock. ‘Over-the-calf’ is the rather awkward denomination for a longer sock that extends upward over the calf. It holds itself in place around the narrower circumference below the knee, supported by the calf muscle below it. When I was growing up, I associated over this phenomenon with bus drivers, specifically in summer, as they were the only people that I ever saw who wore these socks. With shorts, evidently, otherwise they would not have been visible. Unbeknownst to a younger and less sophisticated me, there were likely many others wearing over-the-calf socks concealed beneath trousers. Retrospectively I imagine a generation blissfully liberated from incertitude as to the tautness of their hosiery.
Initially unconvinced of the over-the-calf sock’s ability to endure, particularly when dancing, I tested an arsenal of three pairs. At the end of six months of characteristic festival conditions—long nights, hot ballrooms, and intense leg movement—they remain in place for hours with only minor readjustment necessary. My socks are pure, long-fibre, Giza cotton, manufactured in Turkey by Viccel.
My first sensation when leaving home was “What is that clinging to my leg?” Now I revel in my newly-discovered ability to perch my ankle on my knee with insouciance, entirely unconcerned as to the state of my hosiery.
[i] Arnold Gingrich, Toys of a Lifetime, Knopf, 1996.
[ii] Simon Crompton, ‘Long socks or no socks at all’, Permanent Style, 25 April 2015.