Pairing socks with shoes and the rest of the outfit is something I haven’t thought about for a while because it comes naturally.

But, I understand there are a bunch of guys still unsure about which socks to choose when figuring out what to wear for the day.

Some questions you may have: Do I match them to my shoes or my pants? What about my shirt, can I match my socks to that? Should my socks match my underwear? Since my belt and shoes match, should I match my socks to those?

Okay, I was exaggerating a little (hopefully none of you are going out of your way to match your underwear), but some of those questions are valid, and you may find yourself asking them once in a while.

(Side note, I despise the idea of “matching” your socks to anything, and you’ll see what I mean by the end of this article.)

So, if you’re a fan of these Back to Basics articles, you might find this one pretty useful.

Looking for the full-sized version? (right click, Open in New Tab)

So here’s a quick summary:

  • Athletic socks (white and black no-show socks, first sock column) for athletic shoes / casual sneakers only
  • “Dress socks” (everything from the second sock column, on) for every shoe other than athletic shoes
  • No thin / fine dress socks for athletic shoes
  • No white / black athletic socks for dress shoes
  • color tip: Be bold! Don’t worry about matching pants to socks
  • color tip: Pair socks with colors in your outfit, be a little experimental
  • fabric tip: Cotton and cotton blend striped and patterned socks for casual sneakers, casual or dressier leather shoes
  • fabric tip: Thicker cotton and wool varieties for casual leather shoes
  • fabric tip: Fine wool blend and cashmere dress socks for leather dress shoes

See what I did there? There’s absolutely no matching involved between socks and shoes. It’s about pairing socks with colors complementary to the rest of your outfit.

The “Match your pants to your socks” Rule

“But, B, isn’t there a rule that says you should always match (ugh) your socks to your pants? Black pants, black socks? Navy pants, navy socks? Brown pants, brown socks?”

This rule exists 1.) to give the simple-minded, “no gray area” type of guy guidelines to follow, and 2.) because visually, it elongates the leg (a good thing), whereas when you’re matching socks to shoes, it doesn’t do that.

This isn’t a bad rule to follow. In many cases, it’s sufficient.

However, you read the Effortless Gent. You’re not a simple-minded guy, and you know that the gray area most guys avoid is where you can have lots of fun, and where your personal style is developed and defined.

I say forget about this rule. I never deliberately match my socks to my pants. Instead, pick awesome socks with colors that are complementary to whatever you’re wearing. Most of the time, guys don’t have a chance to be too loud or daring with their clothing, but socks are one place where you can have a little fun.

How do I pair my socks with my clothes?

If you’re unsure how to pair your colors together, you may have to think back to art class in elementary school, when the teacher taught you about color relationships. Those same rules still apply.

To keep it simple, you want your colors to be complementary. Which colors are complementary? Bust out your color wheel and choose two colors opposite each other. If that’s too rigid a rule, you basically want the colors to feel good together.

Here’s how to figure out what feels good together. Check out this site, which lists all the basic types of color pairings.

Don’t be afraid of color

I’m a big proponent of color. Most guys don’t wear enough. Most guys stick to blue jeans, black up top, black shoes. Holy effing boring!

I’m encouraging you to explore color as you develop and define your personal style. Color is super important and keeps things interesting. As a refresher, check out the Back to Basics article about color that looks best for your skin type.

Looking for color pairing inspiration? Look through this site’s archives, browse other men’s style sites, check out the menswear stream on Tumblr.

Hopefully this Back to Basics article and my pep talk about going above and beyond your basic black sock convinces you to experiment more in the new year.

Let’s talk more about it

Hope that helps!

Leave a comment below, or we can continue this conversation over on our Facebook group.



socks: Hanes, Corgi, Happy Socks, J.Crew // shoes: Nike, Keds, Sperry, Tod’s, Clarks, LL Bean, Alden // credit: photo, photo

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45 Responses

  1. Martin on

    Good read.
    I have a request for another back to basics article (i guess that category fits). Could you please write about jackets? What are the differences (blazer, sportjacket etc.) and what does one have to look out for?

  2. Favre Bernard on

    I asked my father the same question nearly forty years ago. This is what he said:
    “In winter, you wear knee-high woolen socks.”
    Me: “Which colour?”
    “Black. Mid-season: light wool, knee-high”
    “Which colour?”
    “Black, of course. Summer, light wool, ankle-high, make sure your trousers aren’t too short .”
    He waited a bit, but I did not ask about the colour, this time, I knew.
    I am afraid I had only daughters, nobody ever asked me about socks…

  3. Dan on

    Whenever he spots someone wearing black shoes with white socks, my roommate dubs that person a “Michael Jackson.” I did it once and will never do it again.

  4. Michael Rieger on

    Loved this one. Other than a tie, your socks are one of the places where you can express yourself, while still looking professional (if that’s what the situation calls for).

    • Barron on

      I really like the socks from Corgi Hosiery is also really nice. Paul Smith has great socks. On the lower end, just hit up Urban Outfitters or J.Crew (they carry Corgi as well). Amazon carries some of the Happy Socks line.

  5. Themb on

    Don’t you think boat shoes, mocs and other types of similar shoes (casual so to say) could be worn with no-show socks (the ones that actually do not show) to create a sock-less impression? I am imagining some really nice combinations with those.

    • Barron on

      You could, technically, but to me, those socks that look like footies are pretty girly. I always imagine that the one day I wear them will be the day I have to take off my shoes somewhere, and everyone sees I’m wearing footies.

      I would just go sockless. But, from a utilitarian standpoint, you could wear them, as long as you’re cool with em.

      • Style Girlfriend on

        no-show socks are like that girl you hook up with sometimes but know you don’t want as your girlfriend. They might feel good at the time, but you really don’t want anyone to see you with them

          • Antlet on

            hi and tnx.

            Maybe because I’m a boy and skinny, I dunno, I don’t seem to have problems with short socks :), as long as they are not sandals I think they are fine, at leats, but I know they are also very cool to wear sockless sometimes, unlike other mor high cut and heavy shoes, and I do, I’ll maybe try to do it more often, but I nevers see anything wrong wearing them in black socks and shorts (and gonna try other colors), no show socks look uncomfy, to me. I agree about white socks, not bad, but maybe too collegial :D. Maybe it’s cause in Europe, where I live, they are more perceived as part of the look.

  6. Christopher Dravus on

     If i may say, stellar pairing of those pants (Dockers or Bonobos Chinos?) with those socks. 

    To me, socks are one those accessories that men don’t even consider an accessory. We have so few options to spice up an outfit compared to our gorgeous lady counter parts and socks are overlooked all the time. Macy’s Clubhouse brand and actually target’s Merino in house label are great sources of socks.

    I completely agree with your stance on socks sir. I append to have an article up about my passion for argyle. The thing i like about argyle is that you can get a color that matches with the pants but at the same time you have great contrasting options that draw the eye to your ankle, and hopefully to some great looking shoes. 

    Another awesome article sir, thanks for the write-up


  7. Adil on

    Barron your exaggeration of matching socks with the underwear is very cooool idea. :). I gona try this. Even no one will see it, but at least I will have a inner feeling that I am perfectly matched. 🙂 HAHAHA.

  8. Adil on

    Barron On a serious note, I want to appreciate you for the level of simplicity you keeps elaborating the style solution is praiseworthy. Like you suggested to match the socks with the rest of dress as we learned the colour matching in school. This simplicity, uniqueness and quality of suggestions charges me to come up to you blog again & again. Keep it up buddy. Thank

  9. tuba on

    Question about the shoe pairing with brightly colored socks- Can someone tell me if this is just a trend similar to replacing your dress shoe laces with a brighter hue? Or will this style stay as classic? Please let me know before I stock up on “happy socks”

  10. TezlaCoil on

    Question: I’ve accumulated over the years a non-trivial pile of solid white and solid grey “crew socks”, from the days before I really cared what I wore. Is there any situation where those are useful, or should I thin them all from my dresser?

      • beardedman on

        You pretty much need to get off this discussion. Come back when you’ve learned to hold an adult conversation.

  11. beardedman on

    My favorite sox for just about anything non-hiking/athletic is a Ralph Lauren argyle in a darker overall color and various highlight colors to go along with what I’m wearing. IF I have a reddish tie on, the sock pattern will have reds in it, etc. It’s a good combo with suit or chinos. Minimal thought required.

      • Aquilinus on

        What’s wrong with argyle? It’s a great pattern that adds some visual interest to colors; it’s classy and classic, but can be used for some effective boldness. I think I’ll look for some argyle socks.

        • grevyturty on

          It’s a cheap looking diamond pattern that significantly ages anyone who wears it. Unimaginative, dull and not worthy of sartorial consideration. Do you really not understand that?

          • beardedman on

            I understand you are entitled to your opinions. They may stink, but you’re entitled to ’em. 😉 And you should call me ‘Grandpa’ with a capital G you whippersnapper!

          • beardedman on

            You are the one who started this thread by calling me a “Fucking retard”, remember? I know you’re a Troll and I understand you don’t even have an opinion on argyle, or even clothing. You’re just bored and want to stir things up and see what happens. It’s OK. Enjoy yourself. 🙂

          • grevyturty on

            I certainly have an opinion on argyle – it’s dated, tacky and unimaginative…much like the people who wear it. I love that you can’t seem to understand that someone can disagree with you without “trolling”.

  12. The Moja Club on

    Great Tips! Currently funky socks has been emerging trend among youngsters. You can also call funky socks as latest fashion everywhere. Matching pair of socks with casuals can give a cool look.