Jude Law does it. So does Kanye West. Sir Roger Moore does too, not to mention seemingly every male on the spring/summer runways. What is this universal trend? Socklessness. It’s not just for teenagers on the beach anymore. As Cole Porter once sang: “In olden days a glimpse of stocking/ Was looked on as something shocking/ Now heaven knows, anything goes.” He was talking about women but these days the lyrics apply just as well to men.
“Going sockless in the summer, even with formal shoes, is a growing look for men,” says Nicholas Lew, a former City lawyer and founder of men’s sock label Nicholas Life. “It gives an updated air of easy elegance, not to mention a streak of rebellion against classic sartorial codes.” And, as temperatures rise, it promises cool.
Yet is it really appropriate? Wearing no socks with deck shoes and loafers has been an accepted Euro-cum-preppy style for some time, but this new wave of naked feet with more structured footwear may not translate easily to day-to-day life. Especially in the office.
“Wearing no socks with a suit? That’s just wrong – well, at work anyhow,” says Michael Gregory, a City analyst. And he’s not alone in his sentiments.
“It wouldn’t be worth the ribbing you would get from your workmates,” says bond trader Isaac Richards. “They’d be saying, ‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’ Or making jokes about how you couldn’t find them in the rush to get from some inappropriate overnight stay.”
Beside the etiquette, there is a question of functionality. “Uncomfortable feet against hard leather in the cold of an air-conditioned office?” asks Kashif Khan, a risk manager. “Nope, not practical at all.”
Thom Browne, the American designer popularly credited with introducing the trend for not wearing socks with tailoring, has a secret solution to this problem: “Despite what people think, I actually wear very short socks, like the ones you wear with running shoes,” he says. “And when the temperature drops below freezing, I revert to wearing knee-highs.”
But for some even a trainer-sock is not acceptable with straight tailoring. “For me, a gentleman always wears socks with suits and formal wear,” says Luca Rubinacci, the third generation of Neopolitan tailors Rubinacci and one of the 10 best-dressed international men of 2013, according to British GQ. However, he adds: “Personally, I don’t wear socks any more if I’m wearing a jacket and trousers, or a sportive suit like a Solaro.”
Context, it seems, is everything. The look practically shouts “relaxed down-time” after all. Or, put another way: “I’m not working at the moment.” As a result, it is acceptable to forgo socks when not working: on holiday, at a Riviera resort, on an easy Sunday visiting friends, or for a summer stroll around a market. Or, conversely, in those parts of the world where the look has become universal when hot weather arrives: the American east coast – or Italy, where it is almost obligatory whatever your age. But here the style of shoe is important.
“It’s very Mediterranean to wear loafers without socks. That’s how I was brought up,” says Florence-born Stefano Tonchi, editor-in-chief of W Magazine. “In Italy everyone grew up wearing loafers without socks and I guess they started experimenting with other shoes. But I don’t recommend it except with loafers, which are made so you can slip them on and off in summer. Other shoes, for me, are too risky.”
Luca Rubinacci believes the best time to go sockless is before and after high summer, when the weather is not so warm and the foot can be fresh inside the shoe. “In August, when it is terribly hot, I start wearing socks again,” he says. “I prefer Filo di Scozia finest wool socks; they are very light and comfortable.”
“I find shoes without socks so uncomfortable,” says the shoe designer Manolo Blahnik. “And going sockless in proper shoes like brogues or Oxfords is a huge no-no. But loafers, deck shoes or driving shoes are OK. I actually love socks. I always wear them, no matter where I am, unless I am wearing sandals or espadrilles, which is rare.”
For Blahnik, socks offer yet another mode of self-expression. “I love to play with colour by adding bright or fun coloured socks to an outfit,” he says, and admits to owning a huge collection: “Currently my favourites are the lisle cotton ones by Paul Smith.” Also look out for a range of colours from Uniqlo at £9.50 for four, cashmere blends by J Crew (£65 a pair) and buttercup yellow in a cotton blend by Falke (£12).
Nicholas Lew, whose brand offers a pale pink sock in a cotton blend for £12, barley yellow in a silk-cashmere mix (£62) and patterns and stripes in a cotton mix (£16), agrees with Blahnik. “A less controversial look than sockless, which won’t leave you caught out in the evening, is to sport a pair of socks in a contrasting shade or in pastel,” he says. “Jazzy ones are great and can be acceptably different without showing off.”