Drunk Fashion History: Men’s Socks

Part four in a series that involves drinking and writing. Like Hemingway!


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?

Shock value.

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.

Click here for the Genesis of the Holiday Sequin,  here for the Genesis of Ruffles, and here for the Genesis of Turtlenecks.

Street Style Images shot by Tommy Ton

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  • Quinn Halman

    Again, Amelia brings it with this important piece journalism. Thank you.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Someone’s gotta do it.

  • Dominique
  • I love socks and men’s ones are gorgeous!


  • leonorjr

    you are hilarious. I love you.

    • Amelia Diamond


  • hila

    my husband refuses to wear business socks because he doesn’t want to lose hair on the lower part of his leg (sock simptom). This has been a touchy subject in our relationship. I love business socks.

    in other news, has anyone heard Flight of the Concords Business Time? Socks make a cameo here…


    • Danyelle

      really great reference.

  • Roy

    totally guilty of owning a few pairs of crazy socks…I think they may be borderline repelling? Though it is an art to pick the right pair I think and def not cool when you don’t!

  • Amelia, thank you for uncovering the often-blurry, nevertheless hard-hitting stories that make this world what it is today.

    And re: the pictures of you too laughing: a) I want to be there b) I shed, hefty, bulbous, emotional tear of joy upon viewing the aforementioned.

  • Perry

    Socks – where men are “allowed” to freely express themselves in a heterosexual world without being called homosexuals.

  • Run With Fashion

    Why can’t they be Gents like Milan guys? Because they’re Brooklyn guys 😉 lol
    I’ve always been a fan of patterned socks for guys, it adds style to their outfits 🙂
    & LOL @ SOCK VALUE! Ahhhh how I love your humor! ♥ 😀

  • girlinmenswear

    In Scandinavia, where dinner and house parties are de rigeur, everyone takes their shoes off when they go into someones home. As a consequence, socks are just as an important garment as your trousers/shirts etc. I’ve never seen so many brightly coloured, boldly patterned under garments in my life! That’s why the Swedes are making such a success of brands like Happy Socks – because they’re showing off their socks when they’re out on the pull!


    • Sara

      So good. I didn’t know that. By the way, the same rule is in my house. No shoes in my house!

  • Tracy

    Very chic, I love this trend!


  • Victoria

    I love to wear them!

  • This is the story of why I shop for socks in mens department. 😀 It’s definitely also an attention to details which I find attractive in men.

  • vanitysocks.com

    Gorgeous socks!