4 Rules for Wearing Socks—and How to Break Them

Although fashion seems governed by a plethora of unspoken rules for what looks good or appropriate, many of these rules ask to be bent on occasion—if not broken entirely. And whether you prefer to dress by the book or blaze your own trail, your choice of socks in particular can say a lot about your attitude towards your personal style. For one thing, there’s a surprising number of rules around how to wear socks, encompassing everything from length to colour to the kind of footwear you pair them with. Are you the type to go with the flow when it comes to these fashion rules, or are you inclined to be a rule-breaker sometimes? 

Familiarizing yourself with common sock rules can help you decide when to abide by them and when to shake things up. Here’s a rundown of the four best-known rules for wearing socks—and the case for breaking each of them.

Avoid Brightly Coloured or Patterned Socks

Many believe that socks are meant to supplement and streamline an outfit rather than catch the eye. Matching your socks to your trousers, for instance, creates an unbroken silhouette along the whole leg, which can produce an elegant, pulled-together look overall. With this in mind, a lot of traditional style wisdom deems it in bad taste to wear loud socks, especially for formal occasions.

If you’re the type to enjoy a fun pattern or a pop of colour on your outfits, however, there’s no reason for you to listen to what more traditional-minded sock purists say. The best part is that you’re not alone by a long shot. Whether you like to play with offbeat prints, varied textures, or bright hues, you’re sure to find all sorts of fun socks for women in stores today. 

Wear White Socks Only When Exercising

Let’s not forget that socks serve a functional purpose in addition to being fashion accessories. They’re meant to protect your feet from painful chafing and blisters, absorb sweat, and prevent unpleasant foot odours and fungal infections. And if you’re playing sports or working out, you’ll probably need your socks for these purposes more than you need them to look good. This is why plain white socks are generally recommended for athletic activities.

Some will take things a step further and say that there’s no reason to wear white socks outside athletic activities, but that perception is rapidly changing. A pair of white socks can look crisp and clean as part of a casual ensemble, especially if you match them with off-white sneakers or some preppy pants in beige or cream shades. The rise of athleisure has also led more people to take their exercise gear out of the gym and onto the streets, and there’s no reason white socks should be an exception to this rule. 

Don’t Wear Socks with Shorts

In line with the conventional belief that socks aren’t meant to be seen, wearing socks with shorts is typically thought of as a fashion faux pas. If you’d like to wear sneakers, loafers, or other closed shoes during shorts season, style experts will typically advise you to pair them with some no-show socks. These are designed to hit right at the top of the shoe, so that your socks are fully out of sight but still provide your feet with the necessary protection.

Of course, when you get right down to it, the question of how visible your socks should be is a pretty arbitrary one nowadays. If you like a laid back, sporty look, it’s perfectly fine to wear socks and shorts together. High-rise socks that hit at mid-calf or even just below the knee can also highlight the contours of your legs flatteringly when paired with short shorts. If your legs are in good shape and you’re raring to show them off, rocking this style is the perfect way to do so.

Never, Ever Wear Socks with Sandals

If there’s one sock rule that even the most daring fashion mavericks probably abide by, it’s this one. Most people believe that there’s no occasion or situation where pairing socks and sandals is a good idea. Besides just looking weird, they often argue that wearing socks with sandals defeats the purpose of both items. After all, socks are made to protect your feet from friction and disagreeable odours—problems you’re especially likely to have when wearing closed shoes. And sandals are expressly designed to look good on your bare feet, so it makes no sense to wear them with socks.

That said, there’s also a fair number of people out there who insist that embracing this polarizing look is actually a fashion-forward thing to do. Being willing to buck convention because you like a particular look or simply because you just don’t care bespeaks a confidence and an intentionality about your fashion choices that those who see you are sure to envy. Even the most vocal haters of socks with sandals will probably be able to muster up some respect for your boldness.

At the end of the day, what fashion rules you choose to follow, bend, or break should come down to your personal choice. You should be the final arbiter of what looks and feels best to wear. So as long as you’re pairing your favourite socks with outfits you love, you can’t possibly go wrong.