Covering everything you need to know about the seven types of socks for men, as well as five materials that can change which season each pair is best for.
If you look in the sock drawer of the average man, and you’re likely to find just three options:
- An everyday workwear sock,
- Maybe something tighter fitting for at the gym,
- And a few pairs of heavier wool socks for the winter.
While these three are fine for most purposes, they only scratch the surface of everything that choosing the right sock lengths and sock types can do for you.
The 7 Men’s Sock Lengths, Explained
Choosing the best types of socks for every outfit and season comes down to two things: Their length, and their material. For a full picture of how to match your socks to any occasion, let’s look at the seven major styles from shortest to longest.
1. Sock Insoles
OK, technically this isn’t a sock, but an insole. A sock-like insole. Barron swears by these insoles, especially in the summertime.
If you’ve ever wanted to have the sweat-absorbing qualities of socks, without the added warmth of having your feet covered, or the annoyance of no-show sock-slippage… sock insoles are the right answer.
These insoles work to fight foot odor, while absorbing moisture to keep your feet both fresh and dry! Not only do these insoles provide long-lasting protection against odor and moisture, but they also cushion your step for added comfort.
Equipped with latex soles underneath a fabric top, sock insoles put a layer of moisture-absorbing cloth between your shoes and your feet.
Just like insoles, they’re easy to slip in and out of your shoes. Unlike more padded insoles, however, sock insoles are designed to be removed, washed, and reused again and again.
- When to wear it: Late spring and early summer
- What to wear it with: Cuffed jeans or chinos, shorts, any low rise shoes
2. No-Show Socks
Offering more coverage than sock insoles, some men swear by these low profile socks because they are truly hidden, with no material peeking out above your shoe. You’ll also hear them referred to as loafer socks, since they look great with loafers or boat shoes, anything with a lower vamp.
Ideal for casual summer wear, no show socks look great with everything from cuffed chinos to shorts. Unless you’re particularly daring, though, they’re usually not a great look with anything more formal.
For any of the hotter months of the year, a few pairs of no show socks will go a long way towards keeping you comfortable and looking great.
- When to wear it: Late spring into summer
- What to wear it with: Cuffed pants, shorts, any low rise shoes
3. Low Cut Socks
Noticeably taller than true no-show socks, low cuts will come right up to the top edge of most low top shoes. The socks’ ribbing usually ends right at the ankle bone, while still leaving a nice clean line when worn with cuffed pants or shorts.
If you’ve worn no-show socks and ended up with painful chafing or blisters from your shoes, low cuts will provide a welcome relief. That extra inch or so of material is exactly the amount that you need to protect sensitive skin.
Additionally, the length of most close-fitting athletic socks starts at a low cut. Unless you’re wearing joggers or athletic pants to work out, low cut socks like FootJoy will be your best bet.
- When to wear it: Spring and summer, or anytime you’re working out indoors
- What to wear it with: Cuffed pants, shorts, low or mid-rise shoes and boots, and any athletic shoes
4. Ankle Socks
This type of sock length is the choice for most athletic endeavors.
But, style-wise, ankle-length socks fall in an odd middle ground between no-shows and crews. They’re stable and secure when worn, but far from being a desirable fashion statement with shorts or cuffed pants.
Still, any active man should have a place for at least a few pairs of ankle-length socks in his wardrobe—they’re totally fine with joggers or track pants when working out. Personally, we like these from Mack Weldon for just about any physical activity.
If you can find a smart casual outfit that looks great with socks of this length, more power to you; however, we reserve ankle-length socks for running, hiking, and other sports.
- When to wear it: Spring, summer, fall, and workouts
- What to wear it with: Sneakers, hiking boots, and any athletic wear (pants!)
5. Crew Socks
The most commonly worn men’s sock style, crew socks cover your ankle and end at the bottom or middle of most men’s calves.
Because they’re available in such a wide range of materials, you can find a pair of crew socks for every season. Though their medium length isn’t the dressiest, silk or synthetic crew socks can be a comfortable option for everyday wear.
This all-purpose hiking sock was designed for rugged day hikes or moderate backpacking. An arch brace holds the sock in place and adds additional support and a flat-knit toe seam matched with our responsibly-sourced Merino wool helps keeps you comfortable.
Longer-distance runners and hikers often favor crew socks for their added protection and absorbency compared to ankle length or shorter socks.
- When to wear it: Any time of the year, but not for dressy occasions
- What to wear it with: Casual outfits or activewear
6. Mid-Calf Socks
Also known as “trouser length” socks, mid-calf is the most common length for men’s dress socks. They’re the types of socks businessmen and any man wanting to look sharp and professional will go for (save for over-the-calf, which we discuss in the next section).
Commonly made of thinner materials than any of the shorter sock lengths, mid-calf socks also often sport decorative patterns that look great when worn with dress pants.
Boardroom Socks, currently our favorite brand for men’s socks, has plenty of great mid-calf dress socks.
Oddly, you’ll sometimes see the terms for crew and mid-calf length socks used interchangeably.
Since there’s no official designation for how tall each category of sock is, it’s more useful to choose mid-calf socks based on their material. You’ll find merino wool socks in varying thicknesses, making mid-calf dress socks available for every season.
- When to wear it: Spring and summer for thinner wool, silk, or modal, fall and winter for thicker wool
- What to wear it with: Business attire, or choose colorful patterned socks for any occasion
7. Over the Calf (Knee High) Socks
Not too long ago in sock manufacturing history, the weave of most everyday socks was too loose to stay up while wearing them. The solution? Over the calf socks, where the size of a man’s calves was all that kept their loose socks from falling down and bunching.
Of course, now that you can find socks in a wide range of materials — all with tighter weaves — knee high socks aren’t nearly as popular. That’s a shame, as they’re some of the most comfortable types of socks we’ve ever worn.
Thinner materials like silk or modal are perfect for summertime formal wear, while thicker wool will keep your legs warm all through the winter.
- When to wear it: Spring and summer for lightweight wool, modal or silk, and fall through winter for heavier wool
- What to wear it with: Formalwear year-round (lighter, thinner materials), or casual clothing and boots in the winter (heavier wool)
An Overview of Men’s Sock Materials
After choosing the right length of sock for your needs and preferences, the material will be your next main consideration.
By taking into account qualities such as breathability, cushion, durability, and warmth, plus thinking about seasonal appropriateness, you’ll get a better idea of which sock material is right for you.
Let’s look at five of the most popular and widely available fabrics for men’s socks.
1. Cotton Socks
Undoubtedly the most common material used for most types of socks, you’ll find cotton socks in all seven of the lengths listed above. Some manufacturers will include a portion of synthetic material alongside cotton to improve its durability and comfort.
- Heat retention is great during the winter months
- Really affordable
- Stretches and deforms easily
- Heat retention is uncomfortable for hotter parts of the year
- Tends to hold moisture
2. Wool Socks
The most highly lauded and sought after natural fiber for socks, wool fabric typically is made from fibers spun and woven from sheep’s hair (also goats, and sometimes camels, llamas, some rabbits, etc.)
Merino wool is the highest grade, and featured as the primary material for many hiking socks and base layers.
- Great moisture-wicking and natural odor-fighting capability
- Natural temperature regulator
- Durable over many washes
- More expensive than cotton
3. Modal Socks
A relative newcomer to the textile scene, modal is a hyper-specialized form of rayon that’s often derived from beech trees. The great thing about modal is that it’s super soft and breathable, while also being highly absorbent.
- Soft and silky feel
- Retain their shape through many wash cycles
- Synthetic material may cause allergic reactions
- Lack of heat retention isn’t good for winter
4. Silk Socks
With a history dating back 8,500 years in China, silk has been regarded as an extremely luxurious material for centuries. While 100% silk socks are impractical (and expensive), a small portion of silk blended into other materials can be lovely.
- Extremely smooth and comfortable
- Lightweight but strong and durable
- Generally more expensive
- Degrades when in contact with sweat
5. Polyester Socks
One of a huge group of synthetic fibers, polyester socks are most often blended with cotton to make “poly blend” socks. This adds durability to cotton, while balancing polyester’s natural lack of absorbency
- Can be blended with other materials to good effect
- Not absorbent
- Can cause allergic reactions
Final Thoughts: How Many Men’s Sock Styles Do You Need?
Hope this breakdown of sock styles, lengths, and materials helps! After reading this, which types of socks do you think you need for your wardrobe?
Personally, we’re big fans of building a collection of socks around the no show and mid-calf lengths, and then supplementing with a few pairs of other lengths for more specific outfits.
Round that out with a half dozen pairs of ankle and crew socks for athletic wear, and you’ll have a pair of socks for every occasion.
Feature image by Clem Onojeghuo