Socks to Knock Your Socks Off

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Striped SocksNot intending to pass judgment on any fetishists in particular, I’d like to suggest nevertheless that there’s a qualitative difference between a foot fetish and a sock fetish.

I can’t admit to either, although in the past few weeks anyone observing me might have thought I was manifesting sock fetish tendencies. The reason is that your street-fashion correspondent had a surge of interest in men’s socks. I wanted to reckon if it’s true that there’s an increase in men wearing more colorful patterns than the usually prevalent solid white, black, brown and blue assortment.

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So I’ve been out on the streets trying to get a, um, foothold on the state of affairs. Not an easy thing, it turns out. You may not have thought of this (I certainly hadn’t), but it’s virtually impossible to discover what kinds of socks men walking on the street have on. Their trousers cover them. Well, duh!

I can report anecdotally-as will be the case with all observations made in this column-that as bicyclists pedal, their trousers tend to rise enough to reveal a socks flash, and what I noticed were the white et cetera socks you’d expect.

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Men in shorts are a different story, of course. (Digression: When did so many men get into wearing shorts in the winter? A column for another time.) The men in shorts I clocked generally stuck with the same old solids or with anklets I could barely see the tops of or they affected no socks at all.

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Here’s a tale to show how far the sockless movement can go. (Some people insist it can be unhealthy and leads to fetid odors. Not a column for another time.) On a recent morning, I was in my local coffee-and-bagel emporium after the previous evening’s snowfall had turned to slush. A young guy at the table in front of me was sockless in sandals!

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Speaking of men seated, that’s when, if they’ve crossed their legs, there’s a chance to get a good glimpse of the socks they favor. Again in my (deliberately surreptitious) scoping, few men are inclined to take a walk on the wild side. And here’s my biggest embarrassment: I became aware of a fellow seated next to me at a restaurant engaged in hiking his socks. He didn’t see me watching for what he’d reveal, but the thought that he might have caught me in the act got me thinking that maybe there were drawbacks to my diligent delving.

By the way, the socks thing is not an especially new concern of mine. Years ago, I mentioned to a friend in the fashion business that I thought it would be a great idea to design and market mismatched socks. He was anything but floored by the suggestion. He pointed out that if men thought it would be a trip to wear socks that didn’t match-he couldn’t imagine they would-they could simply take one from any two pairs they had, and voila!

No arguing with that, and yet, how stupid was I? You can now purchase mismatched socks. I didn’t have to go online to know about them, either. I have a cousin who makes a habit and a hobby of donning snazzy socks. He was wearing a pair of dissonant geometric socks the last time I saw him. A dermatologist who undoubtedly has theories on socks, no socks and skin, he not only wears look-at-me socks but also proselytizes for them. Not that long ago, he gave me three pairs of brightly striped socks, although he might not have if I hadn’t carried on about his bravado.

While researching what you’re now reading, I wasn’t just standing on the corner watching all the bike riders go by. I also decided to check out a few stores for their socks inventory as well as for how the clientele was manifesting interest.

On successive days, I lurked at Loehmann’s, Century 21 and Macy’s, all of which carry an impressive sock stock featuring items as blatant as neon signs. (Incidentally, I refuse to comment on socks with individuated toes.) What I took in-going anecdotal again-is that even during the Christmas season, when socks as gifts are hardly an unheard of notion, shoppers weren’t crowding the shelves and racks. The men and women presumably buying for men veered towards the traditional Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger arrays.

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All the same, the happy socks are there-one brand indeed labeled Happy Socks. Others boasted the names, to list a few, Etiquette, Hot Sox Men, Richer Poorer (with socks called “Bird Watcher” and “Bread Winner”), Corgi (a Welsh company ballyhooing their operation as the first ever granted a “Royal Warrant of Appointment to H. R. H., The Prince of Wales”), SockItToMe, Meat Feet (San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino the designer) and Arthur George.

Arthur George
Arthur George

About Arthur George: The designer is Robert Kardashian. What? You’re shocked that yet another Kardashian is making fashion whoopee, this one with socks as blaring as rush-hour traffic. The brand name is taken from his middle name and his father’s.) One of its current numbers is a zebra pattern.

Rob Kardashian must be a chap who likes putting his feet up. On the sock bottoms of a casual line are, for a few examples, the words “Bad” and “Ass,” “Fuck” and “Me” and “Fuck” and “You.” Kardashian’s wares are meant for men and women, which begs the question: Are Kim and Kanye kustomers?

As for George H. W. Bush and his flair for show-off socks-visible because he’s so often photographed nowadays seated in his wheelchair: His below-the-knee fashion sense may be what gets him the most attention in this post-White House period.

Finding statistics for men’s socks sales isn’t an easy job. The closest I could get is a very recent Wall Street Journal report that SockItToMe 2013 sales are up 40 percent to $5 million over the previous year; that sales for men and women’s socks climbed 5.6 percent to $4.22 billion for the year ending in April, 2013; and that sales of men’s socks in 2012 went up by 39 percent.

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But what do socks, whether off-beat or on-, imply psychologically? The new emphasis on bizarre colors and design hints that men want to be more adventurous in their dress. And yet, if socks are not flaunted on the street, it’s kinda safe adventurousness, isn’t it? We know about Victoria’s Secret, but Victor’s socks secret is well kept. The no-socks movement is another form of flouting convention, but it’s a middle-class and upper-class trope, since no-sock-wearing among the lower-class population sends another message entirely.

As for me and my now-completed sock hop: Dear reader, I bought a pair. They’re pink Corgi socks with thin horizontal blue stripes. If the eternally well-dressed Prince Charles has them in his sock drawer, who am I to question his royalty loyalty?