So here’s a fashion dilemma. You’re looking for a way to update your spring/summer wardrobe and have £340 to drop on a little something. You could buy, say, Sophia Webster for J Crew’s printed twill pumps (£320), or a Balenciaga beaded bracelet (£336), or … a pair of socks.
Yup, that’s right, a pair of Saint Laurent beaded ankle socks costing a toe-curling £340. And they aren’t the only luxury legwear on the market this season: Miuccia Prada teamed her feminist sportswear collection with leg warmers (from £200) that wouldn’t look out of place on the school hockey field, if it weren’t for the fact they were covered in jewels, while London designer Simone Rocha matched a black silk drop-waist cocktail dress and flower-patterned mac with calf-high 40 denier pop socks trimmed at the top with fake pearls. And then there’s Chanel’s sock boots (£590), designed to look like a standard sports sock tucked into a black patent court with Perspex sides.
Think no one in their right mind would spend that much on a pair of socks? Think again. Sasha Sarokin, buying manager at Net-a-Porter, says Simone Rocha’s socks – available in nude and black – sold out worldwide on the site in three weeks, and described the beaded YSL socks as “incredibly popular”. Her explanation: these are “an easy way for customers to incorporate that runway look into outfits at a reasonable price. It’s an opportunity to buy into these designers on a more affordable scale.”
Reasonable price is a relative concept, of course, though socks are one of the cheapest items YSL offers. Also, Prada and YSL have such a cult following that their fans would probably buy branded bin liners if they offered them but that is also only part of the story. The bigger picture here is that statement legwear is having a bona fide fashion moment.
Chunky ribbed sports socks, pop socks, patterned socks, silk socks, jewelled socks – tucked into anything from brogues to trainers to courts, boots and Birkenstocks. It’s by no means the first time the look has appeared on the catwalk, or among the fashion crowd. Miuccia Prada, Commes des Garçons and Marni have all pioneered the statement sock, which has a devoted fan in Vogue fashion director Lucinda Chambers. “I’ve been wearing a long ankle sock with sandals and high shoes since for ever,” she says. “I think I love them as I can’t bear the feel of tights. For me, it’s another way to decorate.”
Now, though, the look is reaching a new peak of popularity with everyone from Topshop-wearing teenagers to thirtysomething mums to hipsters. The old cliché about not wearing socks with sandals, if not entirely busted, has certainly been challenged. Sarokin thinks that “women want to experiment with their style and this is a fun twist. Designers are now using socks as a styling essential.”
Simone Rocha says, “I like the layered feeling it gives a look. Also it can make it more tomboyish, which I like as it takes away from the femininity.”
Susie Lau, who writes popular fashion blog Style Bubble, and declares herself “a fan of the socks/sandals combo”, says: “For women, I don’t think it’s really been a taboo – just something that is perhaps thought of as not very chic.”
She believes the look “represents a move away from this rigid notion of ‘chic’. It’s coupled with the rise of trainers, boyish silhouettes and a generally less body-conscious look. Also when shoes are becoming less elaborate and more functional and basic – more flats, trainers and Teva sandals – then the sock becomes a more contrasting counterfoil.”
Statement socks raise questions about the fine line between – or even existence of – good and bad taste. They are a subversion of the understated ladylike look epitomised by the Duchess of Cambridge’s tan tights slipped into tan shoes. For hipsters, a plain white sock tucked into plain trainers or black socks worn with Céline pool slides is the ultimate in normcore – a movement popularised on Twitter for its embrace of all things ultra-bland and normal. Plus there’s the sheer practicality. “It stops new shoes from rubbing,” says Susie Lau.
When it comes to styling the look, Sarokin suggests “A fun printed pair by Falke with boots or brogues for a casual weekend look, or Saint Laurent’s beaded pair with high-heeled court shoes for the evening.”
But, she adds, the most essential accessory is self-belief: “If you are going to do this look, do it with confidence and show the socks off. Whatever you do, don’t hide them.”
Statement footwear: roadtesting the sock look
Luxury socks might be a hit in fashion circles, but do they impress in real life?
When I wear Simone Rocha’s pop socks (£290) – rolled down to the ankle and teamed with pointy black courts – to breakfast at Cecconi’s in Mayfair, they get the desired reception. A stylist friend rushes over and greets my feet before me, photographing them for Instagram. My usual jeans and flats uniform is hardly blogger bait, so I’m pretty chuffed with the response. Despite initial misgivings, by the end of the day I’m a convert. These pearly pop socks are clearly exactly what my plain black Cos shift dress needs for some edge.
On day two of the great overpriced hosiery trial, however, my new test audience – the men of Life & Arts – are less than enthusiastic about beaded YSL socks worn with courts and rolled-up boyfriend jeans.
Responses include: “Are they Christmas novelty socks, or something from Claire’s accessories?” and: “They look like they would unravel and leave bits all over the carpet.” When I say they cost “three forty” (as in £340), someone says he might stretch to paying £4. And then there was the rendition of “Thriller”, indicating that I looked like Michael Jackson from the ankle down (though his look has long been good enough for Balmain).
However, the main area of concern from these surprisingly domesticated men was that the socks might get dyed or shrunk in the wash; a valid point – these are a high-maintenance accessory. Looked at another way, this could provide a handy excuse to get out of any event you’d rather avoid. “Would you like to come and see a six-hour silent film at the weekend?” “No thanks, I’m handwashing my socks.”
More of this week’s Style stockists