Major Sock Types and How to Wear Them

If you’ve been an adult for awhile, you know that life takes you into all kinds of circumstances—from work to play to exercise to travel to celebration. Hopefully, you have discovered that just as there is more than one occasion, there is more than one kind of socks. Pairing the right kind of sock to the right occasion is not only good fashion sense for men—it’s also fun! There’s more to socks than we ever imagined when we were carelessly pulling sneakers over our white socks as kids.

What? You haven’t learned the ins and outs of the different kinds of socks? Then you’re in for a treat! Upping your sock IQ is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to upgrade your sartorial flair. People notice your socks. If you choose the right sock at the right time, you’ll get filed in their memory banks as a guy who minds the details and comes correct.

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1. No-Show Socks

“No-show” socks, sometimes called “slip-ons” or “slip-on padding,” are the lowest-profile socks, only coming up to mid-foot and not even reaching the ankle.  They’re what you want to wear if you really want to present the image that you are wearing no socks at all. Women pair these kinds of socks with low-cut pumps and heels, as well as ballerina slippers. Men often pair them with low-cut loafers or moccasins. This can be a rakish, devil-may-care look that communicates unshakeable confidence. Socks? Who needs ‘em?

If that’s the sentiment, do you need ‘em? Why not go sockless? Think twice. Not only do socks make even the lowest-profile shoes more comfortable, but they also wick moisture away from your feet and keep them from stinking, which in turn prevents your shoe from acquiring a permanent stink. If stinky feet concern you, wear socks, even invisible ones.

Since no one will see them, the color of these socks does not matter. However, since there’s a chance they will poke out or you might kick off your loafers, you might as well be on point. Pick a color that matches your outfit and avoid white socks unless you are participating in an athletic event.

2. Ankle Socks

Ankle socks are similar to no-show socks—low profile, but they do rise high enough to cover the ankle. You might pair these with sneakers or boots to achieve the no-sock look while preventing chafing on your ankles. 

All things being equal, there’s a greater chance that ankle socks will be seen, so be on point with color. Match your outfit and skin tone. Solid colors are the way to go—a pattern will barely be noticed but will look too busy in too small a space if it is noticed. Black ankle socks are a safe choice. You’ll hear this again and again, but it bears repeating—white socks are only appropriate for the gym, the track, or the sports court. 

3. Quarter Socks

Quarter socks rise up over the ankle and partially cover the lower calf. They are a little too casual to wear to work or a wedding, but make a great impression at summer picnics and parties, especially in snazzy colors. You can pick a simple pattern or novelty graphic for this kind of sock, but the more you try to cram into this small space, the less effective.

4. Crew Socks

At 6-8 inches, crew socks are the lowest socks you expect to see people wearing in the winter. They’re still a little casual for the workplace or a formal celebration, but they work great at an upscale party. Patterns and novelty graphics work well with these socks, as do pairings with lace-ups, loafers, or boots.

Athletic socks may be crew-length and knit from heavy cotton to be more durable. White crew socks are quite common. You may be tempted to buy one package of white crew socks and wear them both to work out and attend parties. Don’t! White socks are for exercise only.

5. Mid-Calf Socks

According to No Cold Feet, the best formal and workplace socks are mid-calf-length. As advertised, they come up to the middle of your calf, right where it is at its thickest. Without the taper of your calf to hold it up, these socks require strong elastic. They may be knit from heavy cotton to last years, but if they are more formal they may be knit from a finer cotton. These socks won’t last as long, but they feel more luxurious, more appropriate for a formal event like a wedding or a ball.

You can really have fun with mid-calf socks in terms of color or novelty graphic, as well as patterns like thin or multi-color stripes or more sober patterns like checks or argyle. These fun but sober patterns add just the right amount of pizzazz to your office attire.

6. Calf Socks

With the calf sock, covering the entire calf just below the knee, we enter a realm of socks primarily limited to athletic applications. These are the socks to wear for a game of baseball, soccer, or rugby. They keep the calf muscle warm and loose and prevent blood clots.

These socks, usually knit from heavy cotton and elastic to prevent tearing or bunching, come in a variety of cool colors, usually solids. Team colors are popular, as are “barber-pole” dual-color stripes. White calf socks are acceptable, although a stripe of color near the top of the calf adds extra athletic flavor.

7. Knee Socks

Knee socks and higher are most commonly worn by women, under knee-high or thigh-high boots. There aren’t too many generally-accepted reasons for men to wear knee-high or thigh-high socks–but rules were meant to be broken. If you’re feeling adventurous, go wild!


Hopefully this guide has filled your imagination with ideas on how you can expand your sock acumen and maybe even shed light on some footwear faux-pas you never even knew you were making. (No white socks!

It’s never too late to get your sock game on point. Pick a style that suits you and get on your feet!

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