Are Socks the new Ties?

The Well-Stocked Sock Drawer

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Who knew that socks are important enough to write about twice in the same week? While not your most significant sartorial concern, socks are getting a lot of attention right now.

Many men, every year or two, simply replace all of their socks in one fell swoop. Out with the old and in with the new. They also tend to keep the selection very simple: a dozen or two, over-the-calf, wool blend, all the same color – usually black. Super easy. A “no brainer!” No worries about having to match one sock to another. They all match! That approach is overly pragmatic and rather dull for my taste, but I get it.

On the other end of the spectrum, more than a few modern men are collecting an array of socks that rival some of the world’s great neckwear collections, with a wide variety of color and pattern. I’m not saying that socks are the new tie, because the wearing of ties is once again on the rise. However, expressive socks reflect the strengthening trend of men adding more color to their personal style. This fits nicely with shoes that are more colorful: from the upper to the soles, insoles, and laces. More on that in another post coming soon.

My socks are organized by color for those that are solid or have very subtle patterns. I also organize them by length because I prefer to wear the longer, over-the-calf (OTC) socks when the weather is cool and the shorter, mid-calf socks on warmer days. That isn’t necessarily textbook advice, but my personal preference. The more colorful and patterned socks I keep separate. Most of them are mid-calf, but are of a quality that they stay up during the day really well. At the rate I’m going it won’t be long before that part of the collection will need its own drawer.

Q. Other than the length of socks, the most common question I get is what fabric is best? Wool? Cashmere? Cotton? Some kind of blend?
A. The answer to that is a little trickier because fabrics keep changing through continual innovation and improvements. For one, a lot of wool knits, socks included are not nearly as “itchy” as they used to be. In general, wool is considered to be more durable and able to keep its shape better than cotton. Wool certainly can absorb more moisture throughout the day without feeling damp.
One of my mid-southern partners wears 100 % cotton OTC in the summer, but switches to wool in the colder months. Fine quality cotton takes to color better than wool, so most of the more colorful socks that are growing in popularity are made of cotton. A blend of around 80% natural fiber, 20% synthetic is about right, with the exception of the very finest socks, which are mostly made from 100% natural fibers.

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Q. How do I decide what color to wear?
A. With a suit, the most conservative option is to match the leg of the trouser, or the color of the shoe, whichever is least conspicuous. For a more fashionable statement, harmonize (but don’t match) with your tie or a color in the pattern of your shirt. Just remember, it’s hard to take your major presentation seriously with “silly” socks. Give similar consideration to your more colorful socks as you would when choosing a tie, don’t let the colors don’t clash with the rest of your outfit. For dressy evening events, black shoes and dark socks only, please! For daytime wear, or casual social settings, knock yourself out, just stay harmonious with your color schemes. For black tie occasions, the proper choice is black solid, or subtly patterned. The fabric? Silk or silk blend. OTC is a must.

Q. So, how many pair of socks does the well-dressed man need in his sock drawer(s)?
A. Well look, no one wants to have to worry every Sunday evening whether or not you have clean socks to wear the next week, so for the most practical of reasons, two weeks worth would be a bare minimum. As a basis to work from, here’s what I would suggest for….

  Solids and Simple Patterns
  Over-The-Calf
Wool or Cotton
Mid-Calf Cotton
Black 4 2
Navy 4 4
Dark Gray 4 4
Medium Gray 2 4
Brown 2 2
Olive 2 2
Tan 2 2
  Socks with more Color and/or Pattern
No particular rhyme or reason to this part of it. Add a few Stripes, Dots, Geometrics, Argyles, whatever you like.

So, that comes to around four or five dozen pair of socks. Of course, you may want to adjust the color mix based on what color pants/suits you wear most often. With that kind of inventory you are always prepared and only have to update a few each year to keep it fresh.

Note: Personally, I replace my basic socks as necessary. You know when you put them on. Can you see part of your bare heel through that fabric? Are they getting a little “crusty?” Time to toss those bad boys.

Put your Best Feet Forward

Wear Great Socks

When suggesting that you put your best feet forward, I don’t mean to say your actual, bare feet, but your properly covered feet. I know that there has been a trend of late for going sockless, even with shoes and clothing that previously would have always demanded socks. I’m actually wearing shoes without socks as I write this. But there are distinct instances when that is appropriate (like when wearing boat/deck shoes with pinwale cords and a cashmere crew, hanging around the house on a Saturday morning, writing a blog post.) On the flip side, I also recommend against socks when wearing summer loafers, sandals, etc. That would be like wearing a belt and braces (suspenders) at the same time. You just don’t do that if you want to maintain even a shred of cool and sophistication.

For most of us, most of the time, socks with shoes is the order of the day. So, if you are going to be wearing socks most of the time, may I suggest that you give that part of your attire an extra minute of your time!

As you know if you’ve read this blog before, I like to find stylish ways to break or at least bend the rules of style, but one must first know the rule before trying to bend the rule. The rule for socks is: The color of your socks should match or be darker than the color of your pants. Navy pants = navy socks. Brown pants = brown socks. White pants = white socks. Wrong! No socks with white pants, except on the golf course (and perhaps when playing competitive croquet?) where the physical movement requires socks for comfort and safety.

A secondary rule: the more dressed up you are, the more likely that you should be wearing OTC (over-the-calf) length socks so as to make sure that your bare leg does not show if you happen to cross your legs. The corollary to that rule: the more casually dressed, the more you can take some liberties with the length, color and pattern of your socks. Which leads me to the most common occurrence of sock rules rule breaking of the modern era: colorful and patterned socks being worn with most anything, even dressy suits. It’s a trend that may not have been started with him but has been taken to a whole new level by no less than a former POTUS.

Robert Graham, a designer brand which is dedicated to helping people live a more colorful life, is now making a line of colorful socks, made from the finest Peruvian cotton. If you’d like to add a little “out with the old and in with the bold” to your look, then these are for you. Or maybe you just want to have more fun?

sock-and-shoes

Above is a picture of some of my favorite colorful socks in action.
Do you have a picture of your favorite, colorful socks in action that you’d like to share?
Please send to: facebook@tomjames.com.

Whether or not you choose to embrace the trend for color and pattern, if even just for certain social occasions, it may be time to update what you are covering your feet with each morning. Most men have a sock drawer that looks like a jumbled mess: a mix of old and new, socks missing their mate, all mixed together, from athletic socks to black dress socks. What to do?

1. Go through each pair, making sure that you have a match, there are no holes or obvious signs of wear, they aren’t crusty, and they can still stay up during the day as you wear them. Get rid of everything that doesn’t meet all of the criteria.
2. Organize your socks by color and level of dress. Separate casual and athletic socks from your dress socks. I suggest that you use some sort of dividers or, better yet, specially designed cedar sock boxes.
3. Based on the color of pants that you wear, fill in with colors and patterns to complete a collection that covers your wardrobe from casual to formal.

Now you’re ready. Step out with your best feet forward!

The One Essential Suit

Cary Grant was quoted as saying, “All it takes are a few simple outfits, and there’s one secret – the simpler the better.” For busy people, that should come as welcome relief. With that thought as a baseline, what would be the one suit you would have in your closet, if you could have only one? That suit would have to work overtime and do well in a variety of situations and settings. That suit should get an award!

In years past my answer would have been – without equivocation – a darkblue/navy solid. While that is still a good answer, today I would strongly suggest that one consider a solid, darker shade of gray as that one essential suit. Why the update? Gray tones are especially in step with the times in which we live. The versatility of gray – from somber to social – is unmatched. Why solid? The simpler, the better, right?

Just last week I was helping a young man pick out his first serious suit. It was a college graduation gift from his grandfather. He really liked a subtle windowpane cloth that was among the options on the table, but we kept coming back to that solid dark gray. It just made good sense. Not to mention that his mother agreed, and who really wants to argue with Mom?

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The darker shades of gray (no reference intended toward the series of books that have been recently published under that title) are also uniquely neutral, so you can wear any other color with them and be confident that they are complementary. Yet another option would be to split the difference between navy and dark gray and order up a char blue suit. A great suit color for sure, and one that you won’t readily find off the rack in a store. However, your Tom James clothier can offer you a wide variety.

With regard to style, most men will be best served by a two-button, single breasted coat, with either a center vent or side/double vents, and a flat front pant (with or without cuffs). You may want to add a personal touch by choosing the inside lining of the jacket, or the finishing touch of beautiful horn buttons and working buttonholes on the sleeves; but otherwise you will maximize it’s usefulness by keeping it simple and straightforward with regard to details.

Note: I am not, of course, suggesting that you should have only one suit. The one suit idea is a hypothetical. Most men should own a whole range of suits in a variety of colors and patterns. What I am saying is this: If you don’t have an updated dark gray solid suit in your arsenal, consider putting that at the top of your list for this season’s wardrobe additions.

Your Closet deserves the Concierge Treatment

sock-drawerIt happened earlier this year after a fitting on the newest additions to his wardrobe. Mike and I walked into the kitchen after a brief visit to his closet to get my opinion on his shirt collection. His wife, Shelley, who had just arrived home, was there in the kitchen and looked at us if we had been up to no good. “Where have you been?” she asked. “Oh, just back in the closet for a minute,” I said. Knowing that we had to walk through the bedroom to get to the closet, she replied, “Oh no you weren’t. Please say you’re just kidding.” It’s not that she didn’t know we were going to visit the closet that day, but she had intended to be home in time to supervise and guide the tour. Bedrooms and closets are particularly personal places. Well, she didn’t kick me out of the house and we remain friends, but next time I’ll receive full and explicit permission before entering “the closet.”

Because closets are such personal places, they don’t always get the same attention and scrutiny as the more public rooms in a home. Paradoxically, in my experience, and by the testimony of many others, few things more consistently and effectively impact a great start to each day than a well-stocked closet that is organized such that getting dressed is an easy pleasure instead of a frustrating chore.

What better time to make sense out of everything in your closet than at the beginning of a new year. And with our Time-tested Tips on how to do it, this will be one New Year’s resolution that you can check off the list. Ready? Here’s what to do:

  • Examine the fit, condition, and fashion of everything in your wardrobe. Try-on anything that you haven’t worn in the past six months or aren’t completely sure about the fit. Set aside anything that doesn’t work for whatever reason (doesn’t fit, wrong color for you, doesn’t fit with your personal style or lifestyle, etc.) Be particularly ruthless with accessories (ties, belts, etc.)
  • Divide your wardrobe into Four Categories:
    1. Items that you will never wear again.
    2. Clothing that might be worn again if properly altered, repaired or coordinated.
    3. Year-round Basics. Further divide these items as either dress or casual.
    4. Seasonal, special occasion, and collectible or vintage garments.
    5. Get rid of everything in the first category. Donate items that could still be useful to someone else (no obvious signs of wear, no stains, etc.)
    6. Items in the second category should be altered and/or repaired. You should also get some idea of how you will wear each item and what you need to add to your wardrobe to complete those looks. (Your TJ professional can help with all of that.)

Clothing in the third category should be placed up front or wherever most convenient in your closet because this is your go-to clothing. Consider your dressing habits and lifestyle as you organize this portion. (I.e. button-up shirts that you wear with a suit or sport coat should be separate from others that are more casual.)

Seasonal clothing should be divided into Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer. Keep the current season’s items near the front and properly store the rest. Special occasion clothing (tuxedo, etc.) should be properly cataloged and stored.

Additional Tips for a Functional Closet:

  1. Use identical hangers, all facing the same direction and properly spaced.
  2. Remove dry-cleaning plastic bags. (Use cloth bags that breathe if you need to store something that only gets occassional use.)
  3. Organize clothing (suits, sport coats, and dress slacks) from dark to light: black; navy and other shades of blue; charcoal and other shades of gray; earth tones; all others (orange, red, purple, etc.)
  4. Organize shirts from dark to light; from solid to more boldly patterned.
  5. Knits should all be folded (never on hangers.) Ideally not more than two or three in any one stack, whether they are in drawers or on shelving. An ideal way to store fine knitwear, whether sweaters or socks, are in cedar boxes. Aromatic cedar provides a natural repellent to moths and their larvae, some silverfish, and other pests that might otherwise decide to munch a hole in your favorite sweater or jacket.
  6. Organize shoes from formal to casual; by color, dark to light; and by style, lace-up or slip-on.

I like to store my shoes on stack-able cedar shoe racks, and whenever my feet aren’t in a pair of shoes, a set of unfinished cedar shoes trees are. Aromatic cedar draws out excess moisture and also deodorizes with a forest-fresh scent, providing added protection and longevity.

Now that you have everything in the closet organized to perfection, here is a favorite tip on how to care for that clothing to make sure that it lasts and always looks great: Whenever possible, use a steamer instead of an iron to remove wrinkles. Instead of crushing the fibers into submission with the hot pressure of an iron, steam removes wrinkles by relaxing the fibers. Regular use of a steamer, whether at home or when travelling, can dramatically reduce your dry-cleaning costs and keep your clothing looking great for longer.

During the month of January, your Tom James Clothier is offering a complimentary closet audit and organization. Your clothier will help you through a process similar to the one described above. To make it even easier, he or she will handle any donations, and help with alterations and repairs. Let us be your closet concierge this month, and get ready for your best year yet.

For great closest organization products, check out this month’s 12 Essentials.