Why socks are the new ties – and what yours say about you

Two years ago, Country Life decried the wearing of lilac socks. But times change, and so do we: it's time to acknowledge that socks are the new ties, as Katy Birchall explains.

When it comes to the topic of a gentleman’s hosiery, you might assume that Jeeves and Country Life are in cahoots. As P. G. Wodehouse’s ‘gentleman’s personal gentleman’ plucks ‘jolly purple socks’ out of a drawer on Bertie Wooster’s insistence, he performs the task with the marvellous distaste of ‘a vegetarian fishing a caterpillar out of his salad’. Some 100 years later, this magazine declared that a gentleman not only polishes his shoes, but also ‘avoids lilac socks’ in its ‘39 Steps to Being a Modern Gentleman’.

Now, however, we have an uprising on our hands. Purple, along with its various shades, is, dare I say it, ‘in’ and it doesn’t stop there. These days, a flash of ankle beneath a Savile Row suit is more likely to reveal a dazzling colour than ever before. The sock as an every-day item of clothing is a thing of the past – it’s time to officially declare it an accessory.

What your socks say about you

Black or navy blue

Classic and trustworthy, you have an aura of quiet authority that commands respect. You drink neat Scotch and are underrated on the dancefloor.


A worthy challenger to Casanova, you’re sharp in the boardroom, but your real king-dom is the Madison rooftop bar.


Renowned for your witty one-liners, you’re never one to shy away from getting in the next round, but are really happiest at home with your Labrador.

Flamingo pink

With chat as smooth as your hair, you’ve always attracted an adoring crowd, especially if there’s a piano at a party – you didn’t go to the trouble of learning the Titanic soundtrack for nothing.


A Shoreditch trendsetter, you like bands no one has heard of, restaurants that no one can find, bars that don’t serve drinks, fashion that isn’t fashionable and coffee that’s secretly tea.


Adventurous and daring, you unashamedly grab life by the horns (quite literally, in fact, last year, in Pamplona. That bull came out of nowhere).

No socks

Aloof and carefree, you’re never in a hurry and have a welcome, calming aura – although you put this down to the one-of-a-kind beaded bracelet you picked up in Thailand.

Not that this should come as a surprise – its style-statement potential has always been there. In the 14th century, the length of a man’s tunic permitted his hose to be loudly on display. By the 16th century, fine, expensively knit stockings were such a source of pride among men of all classes that Philip Stubbes, in The Anatomie of Abuses, unleashed a tremendous tirade on such frivolity: ‘And to such impudent insolency and shameful outrage it is now grown, that every one, almost, though otherwise very poor… will not stick to have two or three pair of these silk nether stocks, or else of the finest yarn that may be got.’

The report, The Red Sneakers Effect, concludes that those who wear colourful, eccentric socks are considered non-conformist and thus generally viewed as superiorly competent, creative and successful. Singer Justin Bieber, actor Tom Hiddleston and newsreader Jon Snow are all fans of jazzy socks – there is even a Facebook fan page dedicated to the latter’s natty sock-and-tie combinations. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt always sports a mis-matched pair.

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Today’s poster boy of colourful socks is, undoubtedly, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose penchant for an eye-catching design about the ankle has given rise to a new political tactic: ‘sock diplomacy’. From the Star Wars socks he wore on ‘May the Fourth’, to the NATO pair sported for a meeting in Brussels and the rainbow-striped numbers he marched in at Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade, Mr Trudeau is always making a statement – and it seems to be catching on. Ireland’s Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, welcomed Mr Trudeau to Dublin earlier this year in a pair of Canada-themed socks.

Ryan Palmer of the London Sock Company praises Mr Varadkar’s gesture: ‘There’s something about colourful, stylish socks that puts people at ease.’ Mr Palmer co-founded the brand (www.londonsockcompany.com) with Dave Pickard four years ago, inspired by the elegance of London gentlemen in the Victorian era – the penny-farthing features in the company’s logo.

Their mission was simple: to ensure that modern gentlemen – such as famous fans Daniel Craig, Colin Firth and David Gandy—are noticed for their stylish socks. Mr Gandy, who’s collaborated with the company on a collection of designs, enthuses that ‘style is all about being an individual and socks are a great way for men to express personality’.

Mr Palmer admits that making the leap to eye-catching socks can be a daunting experience. ‘Customers may start with a traditional black or navy before getting a little more adventurous, perhaps choosing the Routemaster Red or Midnight Blue. Then, the positive comments start flowing in and, next thing you know, they’re proudly showing off their East India Saffron,’ he laughs.

‘That confidence is then translated through everything they do. When our customer pulls up his socks in the morning, he feels that, whatever he’s approaching that day, he’s going to smash it.’

With such mighty ramifications, perhaps a not-so-humble pair of socks really could change your life.