It wasn’t until the hipster movement of 0’whenever that men started to show their naked ankles. I didn’t mind it during the summer — it was hot and humidity is sartorially oppressive. “Expose yourself!” I would often yell in the name of nude-ankle encouragement at be-socked, sweaty men.
But what did bother me were the naked ankles of fall, winter, and whatever you want to call this bullshit category of mid-March. These bearded Brooklyn men were, in all honesty, making me cold just by looking at them. “PUT YOUR SOCKS BACK ON!” I wanted to shout…but couldn’t seeing as I was issued restraining orders the summer prior. (“Expose yourself,” it turns out, is an unacceptable subway sentence.)
I couldn’t bear to see these men. They were handsome, sure. But they were reckless and unafraid of chapped skin and they knew it.
Why couldn’t they be more like the gents of Milan? The dapper street crusaders who faced bold winds with thick cotton socks and determined faces that said to the cold, “Come at me, Bro.” Only they said it in Italian. And they said it in patterns; theirs were the ankles festooned in polka dots and stripes, in chevrons and stars and lobsters and bikes.
Why, I wondered, were these Milanese men more apt to don socks whereas the American style contingent seemed so intent on the opposite?
One evening, in the name of investigative journalism and the boredom that comes with a bit too much wine, I called up every Italian man I’d met during a summer abroad to debunk this mystery.
And do you know what their unanimous answer was?
Or should I say, sock value?
I should enunciate the fact that they all meant electrical shock — as opposed to the PG version of suck: the kind that occurs when you scuff across the carpet in socks and then zing a friend (either out of good humor or spite, that’s at your discretion).
Sock-Shocking began as a salon game back in the heyday of 1700’s European aristocracy. Noble men and women alike would choo-choo across rugs in the most fabulous of knitted footwear, then tap whomever to create a ZZZZz!ZZZ!!!! Everyone’s hair would stick up and it would hurt to touch doorknobs and the whole thing was one strange exercise in how easily humans can be amused without television.
Exactly why it didn’t catch on in America may have something to do with the fact that we weren’t an official nation until 1776, and by the time we were like, “Hey we want to play too!” everyone else was kind of over the game.
Like Apple to Apples. That tends to get old fast, right?
But fancy socks remained a tradition, especially among Milanese men, and to this day thanks to the impeccable air of style they emanate, said men have realized exactly how spectacular a pair of knit knee-highs look when paired with a loafer.
Us women have too.
And as for those bare-ankled Brooklyn boys, well, one can only hope that come snowfall in October, they’ll have caught up.
Street Style Images shot by Tommy Ton