Socks are a sneaky form of self-expression. When styled correctly, they can kick up your outfit with a pop of color or quirky design. However, when they’re styled incorrectly, they can leave a grandpa-inspired impression. With the endless combinations of bright colors and bold prints trending in menswear, it can be easy to miss the mark. Luckily, experts like Adam Schoenberg and Cory Rosenberg of the men’s accessory brand hook + Albert and Cash Warren, David Ehrenberg and Alan Stuart of the cool new line Pair of Thieves can help steer men in the right direction. From solid staples to sock drawer expiration dates, these footwear connoisseurs share 10 essential rules men need to know now.
1. Avoid the Gray Area
Hook + Albert admit coordinating your socks with your outfit can be a bit touchy. Rosenberg suggests the “two shade rule” to help avoid the gray area where colors become difficult to differentiate. Your socks should be two shades darker or two shades lighter than your outfit. This is especially important when wearing tricky color combinations like black and blue or black and brown. As Stuart from Pair of Thieves reminds us, the more intentional your color choices look, the better off you’ll be.
2. Stay Seasonal
When it comes to choosing your socks for the day, be sure to consider the season. While floral is fun, if you’re wearing this print in cooler weather, make sure it’s in fall-inspired hues. Pair of Thieves suggests indigo as the go-to fall color, so when in doubt, reach for burgundy or purple tones.
3. Zero Tolerance for Wear and Tear
If there’s a hole in your sock, throw it out. Too often men hold on to worn-out pairs—termed “drunk socks” by Ehrenberg. Once they start to lose their shape, they should be replaced. And Rosenberg reminds us that it doesn’t always take a tear for a sock to be tossed. Also buy new ones just to stay on-trend!
4. Stock up on Staples
According to Schoenberg, “beautiful navy and a dark charcoal socks” should always be in a guy’s drawer. Rosenberg prefers ones with a navy or gray base and a subtle stripe, Schoenberg is a polka dot fanatic and Stuart and Warren believe stripes are the essential print to have. Whether or not your staple socks incorporate a design, it’s important that the background is a muted, solid color that can increase its versatility and compatibility with various outfits.
5. Baby Steps
While loud socks can really make a statement, it’s understood that some guys aren’t quite ready to make the drastic jump from basic, solid dress socks to pink and green checks. If you want to make your first entrée into the printed world, Ehrenberg suggests a darker striped pair that he deems “the gateway sock.”
6. Stick to Beer When It Comes to the 12-Pack
“It’s not just about the design,” says Schoenberg. “You don’t want to go every week to buy a $5 sock that doesn’t fit properly; you need to buy quality.” Likewise, Warren warns against multi-pack socks that come in a single color.
7. Don’t be Caught Nude
When it comes to colored socks, the styling possibilities seem endless, but Stuart warns that there is, in fact, an end point: flesh-toned socks. That’s right, your socks should not act as camouflage for your shins.
8. The Height Should be Right
According to Warren, knee-length pairs are out. When it comes to dress sock length, yours should hit mid-calf. Even when wearing shorts, the Pair of Thieves team warrants mid-length socks, but no rolling! Stuart particularly opposes the eighties-style rolled look.
9. Sock it to Me
What’s the biggest fashion faux pas in the world of men’s socks? You guessed it—it’s no socks at all. Rosenberg maintains that nothing good comes from a sockless foot. From odor to what Stuart calls “hot foot,” socks keep feet dry, fresh and stylish. Hook + Albert even offer a line of no-show loafer liners that can be worn with Vans, boat shoes or any other shoe typically worn without socks. So unless you’re on the beach, keep your feet protected.
10. Toss Convention
Neither the Pair of Thieves team nor hook + Albert believe in playing it safe when it comes to your socks. Ehrenberg believes the only thing you should really look to coordinate with your socks is your mood. “If you’re feeling energetic, sexy, bossy, goofy or electric,” let your sock reflect it. The bottom line is this: when it comes to covering up your feet in 2014, it’s truly time to knock your socks off.