Jun 05, 2018

Once and For All, Let's Figure Out How to Wear Socks with Shorts

As I wrote in my post about bow ties, I used clothes as self-expression when I was younger. I was a kid who was self-consciously weird, interested in art, with eclectic tastes; my wardrobe reflected that. I was never sure what to do with socks when wearing shorts, so I did what any self-consciously weird/arty/eclectic kid would do, and chose socks that drew attention to themselves: argyles, stripes, colorful prints of anchors and hamburgers.

I still do wear colorful socks—under jeans to the store, with dress pants and a jacket, and everything in between—but after a recent refresh of my shorts rotation, I started wondering how to truly master sophistication with my summer getup. Read on for the full report!


Here were the options:

1. Keep on with colorful, calf-height socks.

I could have just plowed forward with what I'd always done, but the whole point of this exercise was intentionality. Unconscious style choices tend towards the juvenile side of things—it's why you see guys in their thirties still sporting 1999-era crispy hair gel. My main problem with colorful socks as a consistent pairing with shorts is that it was faddish for the first decade of the 2000's.

As a design choice, keeping your splash of color to a minimum helps your outfit stay balanced; they work with long pants because you only show peeks of your socks when walking or sitting, rather than the whole thing. Don't play your entire hand on your feet!

2. White ankle-length socks

I could have just turned the clock back to the mid-90's, AKA the dark corner where 80's style limped off to die, right? No.

Besides, I was going for taking the attention off of my socks here, not adding sunlight reflectors to my legs. 

3. Athletic socks.

When I make intentional design choices, I like to go back to the maxim popularized by the 1920's-50's era design school Bauhaus: form follows function.

Athletic socks are designed to pair with athletic uniforms. That goes for calf-length striped tube socks (this isn't the 1980's and you're not Larry Bird), for ankle-length heel-tab socks, and definitely for the black mid-calf-length Nike socks that I've been seeing recently on teen boys. Nothing says "I have no idea what I'm doing" at a business lunch if your feet look like you left them back at the gym.

4. No socks.

OK, I don't care what anyone says: Gold Bond and bare feet ain't cutting it. The funk will find you and will punish you without mercy. Don't let it happen to you or to everyone around you. Plus, there are times when you need to be shoeless but still maintain some kind of foot barrier, like airports or no-shoe-rule houses. 


So, after exploring my options, researching, and confirming my findings with the Consortium of Style Wizards, I discovered one resounding consensus...


...no-show socks are the only sock you should be wearing with shorts.

The solution is simple: ditch the socked look altogether with no-show socks, also known as sock liners or liner socks.

The deal here is that it's a cleaner look. It sums up German designer Dieter Rams' philosophy: "Good design is as little design as possible." If you're going to be intentional about what you choose to wear, ask yourself: do you need to show those socks? Let's face it, dudes' legs just aren't sharp-looking. There's something about having that visually fuzzy sock edge end at a hairy leg that doesn't look as clear-cut as the sharp shoe edge on the usually hairless ankle.

So, thumbs up the no-show sock: you get the clean sockless look with the blessed sweat barrier.


Shopping for no-show socks:

No-shows by Wander

But not all no-shows are created equal! Here are three important considerations to keep in mind when shopping for no-shows:

1. Will they actually not show?

Either show, or don't. If you can see even a sliver of your no-show socks, you may as well be wearing something longer.

2. Will they slip?

A quality pair of no-show socks are built to stay in place, so they should include rubberized material that holds onto your foot so the socks don't shimmy down into the toe of your shoe and drive you bonkers every 15 minutes.

3. What color? It depends—the whole point is blending your socks into the background. If you're going to be wearing white shoes, go for white no-shows. If you're going for a general use and, like me, you're a white dude with pasty feet, tan or grey is your best bet. Black works, too.

My research led me to checking out a pair of tan Sheec brand no-shows and leveled up my summer sock game.


What Shoes to Wear with Shorts? 

Since this post is about being a bit more intentional about what you put on your feet, let's talk about some classic summer footwear. For the purposes of this post, we're skipping the most formal end of the spectrum, but do bear in mind that you can totally rock a sweet pair of brogues or oxfords with shorts.

Row 1: Rockport loafers, Sperry Topsiders, Clarks desert boots

Row 2: Vans Authentics, Onitsuka Tigers, Converse All-Star low-tops 

1. Loafers 

These are the most formal shoes in our list. They'll keep you comfortable and add a bit of panache to your look. If you're just getting started, check out these classic "penny loafer" style offerings from Rockport, Bass, and Cole Haan.

2. Boat shoes/topsiders

These are the ultimate summer shoe. Comfortable, easy to kick off and slip back on, and perennially fashionable. Go for the original from Sperry.

3. Desert boots/chukkas

A post-WWII staple that has its roots with Cairo cobblers, this is another versatile formal/casual crossover choice. Since they were designed for, well, the desert, they're lightweight and won't bake your feet. Clarks is the original and best. 

4. Canvas lace-up sneakers

Mister Rogers totally got it: when it's time to dress down but keep classy up, canvas sneakers are the way to go. Check out Keds Champion, Vans Authentic, and Sperry Striper.

5. Throwback sneakers

I don't know what it is about sneakers designed from the 50's–70's—maybe it's that they adhere the more minimal design principles that waned in the maximalist 80's—but I dig 'em. Check out Adidas Gazelle, Onitsuka Tiger, and of course, the evergreen Converse All-Stars low-tops.


Wait a minute, didn't the example of athletic shoes for casual wear break my "form follows function" rule? Technically, yes.


...break the rules!

This is one of my favorite quotes about style:

By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately and well. That is one of the ends for which they exist.

Its writer, Robert Bringhurst, was actually talking about typography, but it applies to everything stylistic.

Style is subjective; make it yours, even if it means taking chucking style guides like this one out the window. (Check out The Sartorialist for perfect examples of how to stylishly break style rules.)

Sometimes, function will determine your socks—I don't think a pair of no-shows would get you very far with hiking boots on rocky terrain—and other times, it's simply a matter of personal taste. But I'd encourage you to get to know the well-maintained highway before you go off-roading, so you'll know when you're breaking the rules, and most importantly, you'll be able to say why

(Even if you decide to do that mid-calf black Nike sock thing that's totally in with the 13-year-olds.)


Happy Summer, ManMade!




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Antonymous on May 16, 2019:

Yeah, the only shoes I find comfortable to wear without socks sometimes are light low cut loafers, but certainly not trainers, I don't know who could actually wear these ones without, but I think they'd wear at least no shows, but then I don't wear shoes with shorts very often :).
Yeah that pic was from Ivy style, I forgot to mention it and thought I did! Dunno if it's the "right" style as that's up to anyone to choose, but it's the certified hystorically recorded one and can inspire.
Knee socks could be worth trying, at least as long as it's not too warm, I'd maybe afraid it's not for me because it's unusual, other can pull it off, maybe I'd look both trying to be older or a schoolboy, but that's a matter of being comfortable with it, when I'll consider it, I'm sure I will and invite anyone inspired to try and not give a damn. Some even pull off fishnet ankle socks.
Btw I like how this is an open and inclusive discussion and not the usual about what a real man is supposedly supposed to look, but exchanging ideas instead :).

DJ Johnny on May 15, 2019:

The first photo is from a very sought after and famous Japanese book showing the the "true", "exact", real, look of "Ivy Style" (What we now refer today as preppie). It was first published in 1965 and is THE SOURCE for the true "New England elite" look. The look in that picture is perfection. The original copies of this book have sold for as much as $2,000 at auction. (Wikipedia)
The guy in the Russ Meyer "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" sports a classic look with his plaid shorts, black socks and white sneakers, untucked polo shirt.

I do also love the Bermuda shorts with knee length or at least calf length socks. Sometimes I wear black dress socks with white dress shorts; but I usually wear black calf length sports socks (no logo) when I wear shorts. I love wearing a pair of plaid shorts or Dickies shorts with black calf length black sports socks and white Adidas trainers (Rod Laver style). I also love wearing argyle dress socks with shorts.

P.S. I just don't like wearing my dress loafers or trainers without socks.
Wearing shoes without socks make stinky feet and invisible socks are very uncomfortable.

Antonymous on May 14, 2019:

Hi Johnny, I checked and I guess you mean the black Nike socks the article post talks of at one point as recently worn by younger boys. I agree with you it's a classic look with shorts, be it paired with loafers or other less dressy and more smart casual shoes, yes, they sort of "always" worn them, although not with Nike logos, of course :), but that I knew, in past it was more about white socks, which are now worn mainly with gym or sport shoes, I myself think they can also look great and sometimes wear them with dress shoes, but rarely with shorts, unless with said shoes.
White socks in the 60's https://i.pinimg.com/originals/92/9e/34/929e34358cfee39db808282a93612c47.jpg, I like the look on him, but couldn't see myself with it, I'd definitely wear his plaid shorts, though. Sure it can work for others, but with loafers I'd probably go for lower and less visible ankle socks, usually not higher than this https://cdnssl02.falke.com/product_images/2091/521/2091-521-campaign-5c3877977654b-large.jpg?20190513, but in early summer I could consider these kind of striped socks https://img.huffingtonpost.com/asset/5783d20f1a000023006f9ae6.jpeg?ops=scalefit_960_noupscale
Do you mean this style of knee highs, If I can ask? https://2lth8w1uv77536l8d72pqh10-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/1956-mens-shorts-1-500x276.jpg , looks cool :).
Thanks for your contribution

DJ Johnny on May 13, 2019:

Many men usually wear darker/black socks when they wear shorts. They have ever since men started wearing them. It's just a great classy traditional man's look.
It's just now become "trendy" to wear black socks with shorts but actually many men have always done that anyway.

Antonymous on Apr 08, 2019:

Ok cool, you have your unique look off the map. While this is your signature look, you have different ones? Nice idea.
But this question would be ot, as I guess this describe your spring/summer look with shorts, not all of your looks.

Phil on Apr 07, 2019:

Yeah sort of but white socks they probably knee or higher socks but I ruffle them down to half calf level for a chunkier look very hard to describe can’t really find matching image

Phil on Apr 06, 2019:

Anonymous I’m talking about timberland 6” boots in the wheat colour with white tube socks and light blu denim jean shorts a classic 90’s street style

David T on Apr 06, 2019:

I always go for the over the calfs with dickey shorts that go below the knees. The way I see it. It turns in an modern day old school knickers look. I have argyle, fun compression socks, and for solids best to use are soccer socks. Let's you Express yourself and it's super comfortable, especially in the suprun and fall when it can get a little cold at night. It's all about having fun. Also if you have socks that like to fall down, sock suspenders work great.

Antonymous on Mar 23, 2019:

Hi Philip, I think it can be great to revive some aspects of a style from the past, like 80's and 90's and making it our own we might pull it off with taste, making it vintage or a classic, to some extent, but eventually what matters if you like it yourself and find it stylish or are confident with it. It can be a personal touch to your style.
If you don't mind my curiousity, by tube socks you mean knee high or just a bit above ankle socks, less than halfway your calves.
Assuming that the Timberland's you wear are the classic loafers with strings, personally, when I wear loafers with socks and shorts, I couldn't wear anything much higher than ankle, as I don't want to cover part of my legs but also minimize the heat :). On one hand I'm also in part influenced by the guideline for which the sock shouldn't be too visible and I often don't feel the need to wear them, on the other hand when I do, I sometimes like to highlight them as style elements, going for dark emerald, blue and black stripes and I'm thinking dark about violet and red, other times just black, navy and anthrax grey, hence it's almost like not having them, though ^_^. Which colors and patterns you go for and ever tried without socks as well?

Phillip Fensom on Mar 23, 2019:

I like to wear tube socks with my timberland's when I'm wearing jean shorts I know it might be a look from the 90’s but I still think it rocks

Antonymous on Mar 17, 2019:

I wanted to wear shorts but didn't for long time as I knew about socks not looking the best. I considered then, at one point opting out of shoes and wearing sandals, although not really liking the idea of it and never having worn them besides as slippers for beach and for pool. I thought of course of some more stylish and presentable leather sandals, but still mainly just to fall standing and to not wear socks with shorts as an acceptable compromise. In the end I realized they looked quite good and stylish with shorts, becoming my favourite footwear to pair witht them.
But at one point even ankle socks with loafers were not so bad, but even without socks the right one can be comfortable, just like women don't wear socks with flats.

JoelSelby on Aug 15, 2018:

@Mike — It is! The ones I have in this post have never slipped, so check 'em out!

Mike on Aug 14, 2018:

I do like no-show socks though it is tough to find ones that don't slip. I don't think I have the legs or the confidence to pull off mid-calf socks and chukkas with shorts. Wow!

Anonymous on Jun 13, 2018:

NOPE a thousand times NOP - SOCKS are required - full length calf socks!!!!! ALWAYS

JoelSelby on Jun 06, 2018:

@bruno — Thanks! Yeah, I'm not really a gigantic fan of flip flops either, unless I'm poking around the yard or at the beach, so the no-shows were a welcome addition. (Of course, I do occasionally break my own rules and sport the stripes with shorts, ha!)

bruno on Jun 06, 2018:

Thanks for this one, Joel. I'm surprised how many good tips I picked up in this post. I too, am a fan of the colorful/funny dress socks (melty-snowman, space invaders, etc.), but not with shorts, obviously. Honestly, most of the time, in the summer, I end up wearing flip flops, not because I love them (they're kind of ... lazy?) but because I don't know which other shoes/socks combo to wear with shorts.

I think I'll give the no-shows + sneakers a try. Thanks!