Ya Boo Socks

By Film Noir Buff

An interesting view about the relation of socks to the rest of the City outfit:

“Many years ago a noble lord inferred he was socks-conscious. His words were: “A hole in one’s sock is an accident, but a darn is poverty”—an exaggeration, perhaps, but very near the truth.
Socks are a guide to a man’s mental outlook.
A well-worn pair of shoes can retain a cared-for character. Shiny seat or elbows are readily forgiven, but socks with visible darns are different. Why do some men forget that some darns are visible? A sock on a protruding or crossed leg is as visible as an arm—and who would wear a patched sleeve?”1.

I should think an American would generally consider the hole a problem and the darning, the thrifty solution. This strikes at the heart of darkness between our two cultures. Americans believe falling short of being perfect is shameful, whereas, for the English it’s the attempt to be perfect in the first place that smacks of covering up one’s shame.

In England, socks are something of a national passion because the suits are so dark and subject to so few variants that other areas like linings and shirts are constantly used to break up its catholic monotony. In England, the bright socks may be a sign of eccentricity, but eccentricity in England makes one an individual, a creative thinker, and a man.

Things are changing in England. The Island is in a period of experimentation with style in a manner it hasn’t been for a long time. In the last decade, the once plain black, navy and charcoal socks chosen by the ordinary City worker are being replaced with more patterns and colors than ever before. Socks are now another of those “anything goes” items in the English wardrobe and one can literally wear any pattern or color as long as they are still an appropriate cotton or wool material that would ordinarily go with a suit if they were solid.

Even the most staid Englishman might wear a pair of brilliant socks; it shows he’s one of the lads or chaps. In a boardroom of some of the larger public companies, you will see an ocean of dark suits, but if you were to crawl around on the floor pretending to look for your pen, you would view the ocean bottom with its colorful array of socks like so many tropical fish and sea anemonies. The English wear their trousers longer than the Americans do, and these signals are covered up more than they would be here in the land of the highwater.

One is either a wearer of colorful socks or one is not. However, Even if he does not wear them himself, an Englishman will react positively to other Englishmen wearing bold or colorful socks in the City. It becomes a signature of sorts, like the man who wears a pocket square or a certain make of tie. One English fashion expert I spoke with was mad about pink socks and felt they should be worn with every City suit.

Colorful socks play a part in every English shop that sells clothes or furnishings for men, regardless of whether the shop is actual or virtual.

It will never occur to an American man to wear a colorful pair of socks with a dark business suit. For leisure, Americans will go Borneo, but for work? Very rarely one will see someone quirky or dandyish sporting a bright pair of socks, but more than likely it will be a dark, byzantine pattern, which might beg the question-why go through the effort to vary your socks at all? In fact, there is a reason for this.

Americans react very differently to socks in brilliant colors or fancy patterns. Brilliant socks suggest that you are perhaps eccentric or even bizarre. Many in the USA fancy themselves an amateur psychiatrist or detective . In America, the view is that a man wearing a dark suit must also wear dark socks. Dark socks attest to the fact that you are not in sheep’s clothing, that you have no hidden agenda, that you are indeed a serious and solid citizen.

What is interesting about American responses is how quickly they can change. For instance, only a few years ago that you would not dare wear bright or boldly patterned shirts to the office of the conservative industries. Now that attitude has changed and no one notices shirts that might have once elicited pejorative comments. Socks appear to represent the last bastion of this brand of self-conscious conservatism.

Here in their own words, the English explain a small part of their approach to socks. As you read this, I delve further into my understanding of the English style, which seems so simple and yet has so many different layers. With my white rabbit as a scotch drinking companion (it is he alone who bears approving witness to my metamorphosis), I slouch in an easy chair and dream the English dream, immersing myself ever deeper into the Anglo-Saxon sartorial chi.

Pantherella:

Pantherella started in England in the 1930s, where Leicester is the hosiery capital. Sadly there are very few of these companies left. They do their own designs and weaving but they don’t spin the yarn or make their own boxes.

Designs are led by trend forecasts, and, combined with trusted perennials, form the bulk of their stock collections. They do a lot of fancies for special orders.

Cotton is becoming more popular, though it is acknowledged that wool is more comfortable and ultimately cooler than cotton, with its wicking properties.

In the UK, anklet socks tend to be preferred…hmmm. Although in the city of London the over-the-calf reigns supreme while on the continent the mere thought of exposed leg skin is troubling, most of England doesn’t seem to mind if their bare legs show when crossed.

Bright red solid is a classic color, especially for the City. Lilac is also popular because it’s pleasing to the eye under charcoal or navy suits.

Navy, black, charcoal, dark brown, and khaki are the hands-down best sellers. Americans love all the many shades of khaki Pantherella make, probably because they wear tan suits, which the English do not.

Cashmere socks are sold all over the world and are not uncommon for the English, since they help keep out the damp and cold in their under heated environs.

Woods of Shropshire offers the best prices and the owner will inquire with Pantherella about special orders, sizes and other unusual requests, with the understanding that you will order in sets of half a dozen.

New and Lingwood

New and Lingwood have been around a long time serving the public school lads and outfitting them in their West End or City rigs. According to them:

There are two camps the classic camp, which wears short or long socks in dark, plain colors (or bright plain colors for a touch of fun or for the holidays), and the whimsical camp which exhibits altogether more daring in its choice of socks. Striped socks are popular also, originating with Eton, where the public school lads wore different striped socks for sports and for their various clubs and societies. New and Lingwood do a large business in sock because they are now specialists in the field offering thousands of shades, patterns and sizes. English men like to carry this school tradition into the city in order to show that they’re one of the chaps.

Socks are an expressive item; said in some circles to be the new ties. Even the most staid Englishman can venture into this colorful indulgence. The English like a definite break in their trousers so the socks aren’t visible unless one crosses their legs.

Turnbull:

Silk socks originated in the 15th century, when men’s stockings were either silk or wool. Silk stockings were always the more formal, and are still worn ceremonially by the Black Rod2. Turnbull supplied the proper black silk socks for many of the black tie-wearing participants of the Oscars.

Red socks, yellow socks, purple or lilac socks are a tiny bit of personality peeking out, and the English enjoy this small indulgence. Anything goes here; striped socks, paisley socks. Match them to anything you like; shirt, tie, pocket square. This is a splash of color against the black hole that is the English suit. The dark color of the suit is unalterable, it is something that cannot be negotiated, and this explains why so many colorful accessories are employed to nibble at the monolithic void that constitutes the city suit.

Salmon pink socks in just the right shade will be snatched up in dozens by any smart City banker or head of a Public Company. Cashmere socks in winter, cotton lisle in summer.

Corgi:

Since 1892 Corgi has been making socks, not in as fine a gauge as pantherella, but high quality for after hours or weekends and the country. Still family owned and run by the 5th generation. Most socks are made on automatic machines in pure cashmere, wool, or cotton, and all of them are hand finished.

Corgi also make a handmade sock in cashmere in a cable knit. Upon seeing a pair of these socks adorning my ankle, a pretty girl maintained that they were the most beautiful socks she’d ever seen — in the best Daisy Buchanan tradition. I wear them with suits because they are so very eye engaging without being distracting.

They also make the cable sock in grey and blue, but “colors” are very popular.

Argyles, skull and crossbones motifs, initialed socks, and horizontal stripes are all made using 150 different individual colors. That’s 150 colors in each yarn, cotton, wool or cashmere. They include numerous reds, blues, oranges, pinks, lilacs and many others, because colors are important. The beautifully colored yarns have created a fan base for Corgi socks all over the world.

The American and UK markets both like colorful socks in mid-calf, while the continentals prefer over-the-calf lengths. The Japanese, meanwhile, prefer duller, more sober colors.

Navy socks with pink or bright yellow designs, chiefly horizontal stripes, are a huge seller in London.

The cotton used is Egyptian cotton, which is very soft. Merino wool for the all wools, and for the cashmere socks, Himilayan cashmere for a strong, luxurious result.

A plain sock with a different color heel and toe is quite popular among the English because, again, they enjoy hidden eccentricities more than in any other western culture. One can hardly believe an Italian would want to hide any sense of elegance but the British go into fits of rapture over hidden details like these.

Plain socks were made from 1892, with cable socks coming in the 1930s and the other patterns in the 1950s. As mentioned, navy and pink and navy and yellow are popular across the island. Red is also very popular, mostly as a solid.

Corgi makes other accessories as well; sweaters (cardigans, pullovers) and jackets in 4 or 8 ply cashmere, as well as knit scarves, gloves, hats etc…

To avoid damage or shrinkage their socks should be hand washed and left to air dry. This holds true for all quality socks.

In New York City, Barneys carries a variety of jointly labeled Corgi socks. You can most likely find a stockiest either by going to Sox Wales or by emailing Corgi themselves and make an inquiry, http://www.corgihosiery.co.uk.

The designers Duchamp and Paul Smith make quite a few bright and wildly patterned socks. They make most of them ankle-length and in cotton and the English love the colorful paisleys and block patterns in a variety of pinks, purples, blues and reds, with colors like yellow and orange thrown in for accents. Even smaller and very conservative clothing shops such as Prowse and Hargood seem to carry festive socks in diced or vertically striped patterns. Rest assured that even a solid sock with a contrasting heel and toe color (which would not be outwardly visible whilst wearing a shoe) can drive the English to fits of ecstasy.





Footnotes:

1 Clothes and the Man, Sydney D. Barney ©1951, London

2 Black Rod is best known for his part in the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and the Throne speech. He summons the Commons to attend the speech and leads them to the Lords. As part of the ritual, as Black Rod approaches the doors to the chamber of the House of Commons to make his summons, they are slammed in his face. This is to symbolise the Commons’ independence of the Sovereign. Black Rod then strikes the door three times with his staff, and in reply to the challenge “Who is there?” answers “Black Rod”. He is then admitted and issues the summons of the monarch to attend.


  1. Sartorial Executive - Bespoke Shirts    Jan 12, 16:18    #

    A great item on the wonderful subject of socks. Often underlooked when people put together a wardrobe of quality. I am slowly becoming a big fan of Corgi socks.


  2. — C. Hügli    Jan 14, 18:18    #

    Dear Film Noir Buff, would you wear white socks at all? If so, with what?


  3. — FNB    Jan 22, 10:11    #

    I would wear white socks with work out shorts.


  4. — David    Feb 4, 22:20    #

    great article thanks. Take a look at Stanley Lewis. They sell great socks but have a matching tie as well!


  5. — Kurt N    Mar 16, 03:51    #

    The stuff about American vs British clothing culture makes no sense at all, but maybe logic wasn’t high on your priority list. Nice rundown of sock brands, though.


  6. — fnb    Mar 19, 10:31    #

    Dear Kurt N,

    Can you prove that my cultural comparison makes no sense?


  7. — Kurt N    Mar 22, 05:26    #

    Sure.

    (1) You say Americans think falling short of perfection is shameful, because they’re willing to wear, and perhaps even to be seen in, imperfect (i.e. patched) socks. Makes no sense.

    (2) You say, pejoratively, that Americans fancy themselves as amateur shrinks or sleuths. You have no hard data on this—just your amateur sleuthing/socio-psychological speculations. Self-undercutting.


  8. — fnb    Mar 30, 08:59    #

    (1) Probably makes no sense to you because it hits home emotionally.

    (2) Hard data on a life observation? What a strange thing to focus on in a sock essay.


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