Style Rules for Wearing Colored Socks
Remember the reason for the “rule” about matching socks to trousers: it’s neutral. Colored socks that don’t match the trousers, by definition, are not neutral. They’re a contrast, whether you planned it or not. (That means you want to plan it.) Here are some good, simple guidelines for making it work out well:
When in Doubt, Go Classic
If you’re just getting started breaking out of the matching trousers/socks mold, cut your teeth on some traditional patterns. These liven things up a bit, but are still usually two- or three-tone at the most, and generally not too radically colored.
So what’s a “classic” sock pattern? Argyle, for one (the angled plaid pattern of diamonds and lines) — that’s been a traditional men’s sock style for the better part of a century, and you still can’t go wrong with it. In terms of sock color, argyles can start at a very simple black/gray combination and go all the way on up to vivid oranges and greens.
Solid colors with small figure patterns like paisley are also a good, traditional option, as are simple stripes of an equal width. If you start with those, and keep the colors at least somewhat restrained, you should be able to slide into colored sock habits very easily. It’s not quite as thought-free as matching your trouser color, but it’s close.
Coordinate with the Rest of the Outfit
Keep in mind that “coordinate” doesn’t mean “match” — your socks don’t have to be the same exact color as any other piece of clothing on your body. But it is nice if there’s some natural sympathy, so be thinking in terms of colors that work well together. It always looks good if your socks fit into the same general theme as the rest of your outfit.
That can be as simple as picking out one of the colors from your shirt or jacket pattern, and wearing socks in a similar shade. It doesn’t even have to be something that people consciously notice as coordination — their eyes will see it as a “good match” even if they don’t think about it themselves.
Be Aware of Your Contrast Levels
“Contrast” is the change from one adjacent color to the next. We all have some contrast, both in our natural complexions and in our outfits. Broadly speaking, you want roughly the same amount of contrast throughout your whole appearance. That means that if your upper half is very subtle and low-contrast — a jacket in the same color but a slightly different shade as the shirt under it, say — you don’t want eye-popping color changes on the lower half.
As a helpful rule of thumb, try to keep the contrast between your trousers and your socks at about the same level as the contrast between the trousers and the shirt, up at your waistband. That way viewers are seeing the same basic visual impression all the way up your body.
Getting Your Colored Socks Collection Started
The final step in wearing colored socks? Having a couple to choose from that work well with multiple outfits! If you’ve never worn socks that don’t match your trousers before (or, worse, if you’ve been wearing white crew socks no matter what your trousers look like), start at any decent mens clothing store. Most will have at least a few selections of simple, traditional patterns like argyle.
From there, head to the internet and start indulging your own tastes. Be thinking in terms of the outfits you’re likely to be pairing your socks with — look for colors to complement your favorite shirts and jackets, for example, or some pocket squares that you’ve been wanting to work into outfits.
And above all, have fun. Life’s too short to never enjoy a colorful sock.