Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers
Every day, you put on socks and forget about them — if they’re good. If they’re bad, you can’t help thinking about them. There are so many ways socks can go wrong: I hate when they don’t hug your ankle tightly enough, or when no-show socks slip off your feet and get all scrunched up at the front of your shoe, or when a single wash cycle turns them into an entirely different pair than the one you bought.
When I was younger, I considered socks to be an F-tier gift at best, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to appreciate the mundane pleasures of a good pair of socks. I started paying more attention to socks once I started hiking, which made me realize the importance of certain materials. I’ve gotten through a flash flood in Anonymous Ism’s high-quality socks, which kept my feet warm even as the waters rose like the arctic sea level. But there are a lot of below-average socks out there.
To help find the very best socks in what feels like an almost infinite sea of options, the Strategist asked 16 stylish people what socks they like to wear for a variety of occasions and tested several pairs ourselves. Our panel includes clothing designers, photographers, footwear designers, runners, and stylists. They shared simple and affordable everyday staples, statement-making styles, and a pair for guys who don’t want their socks to show at all.
Read on for the criteria we considered, or use the links below to jump to any of our sock superlatives.
Best overall | Best organic-cotton sock | Best hiking socks | Best no-show socks | Best wool-blend socks | Best cashmere socks | Best dress socks | Best socks with personality | Best everyday athletic socks | Best running socks
Material: Anyone who considers themselves a sock enthusiast, sock-isseur, or sock-ologist will tell you that great socks come down to the material they’re made from. What’s in a pair of socks will vary depending on the occasion and the function they’re intended to serve. Cotton is used in many socks but is rarely recommended for sports activities because it can absorb sweat and dry slowly, which can lead to clammy skin and blisters on long hikes or a marathon run. Nylon or other synthetic materials are used to add stretch, especially to athletic socks, and to help socks hold their shape. Merino wool is used in some performance socks and can keep your feet dry and comfortable in a wide range of temperatures.
Sock thickness: If it’s an especially cold day you might opt for a heavier-weight wool sock; on an especially hot day you might pull out thinner, lighter-weight socks. Hiking socks usually have high-density cushioning and a snug fit to prevent bunching (which can cause blisters). Some athletic socks have additional padding for the soles of your feet. A combination of materials and thickness will affect the socks’ warmth; whether or not socks have cushioning or padding, you want them to have enough weight to keep you comfortable but not be so bulky they can’t fit inside your shoes.
Height: The ideal height of a sock depends on your preferences, style, and footwear. No-show socks are a poor match for hiking boots, for example, as ankle-cut athletic socks are for dress shoes. Perhaps you hate having your ankles covered or feel cold unless they are; if so, sock height will be an important consideration for you. Some types of socks come in a variety of heights, while some, like dress socks, tend to be more standardized (ankle-cut dress socks aren’t really a thing). No-show socks are usually hidden and pair well with loafers or sneakers. Ankle socks hit at the ankle, and crew socks are a higher sock that usually hit just below the calf muscle. Dress socks usually hit at the mid-calf or slightly higher, depending on the brand.
Cotton blend | Medium weight | Crew height
Whenever I walk into a Uniqlo, I’m inevitably drawn to the giant wall of socks. The brand’s crew-height color socks come in more than 40 different hues, can easily be worn with any type of footwear, and at $4 a pair, are super-inexpensive. They feel good — snug but not too tight — and last for years. They were also recommended by eight of our panelists. “They’re medium height and thickness, so they’re versatile for many different outfits and activities,” says Phillip Wong, co-founder and creative director of Hawthorne. New York City street-style photographer Christopher Fenimore, who wears them “for the gym and pretty much any other occasion,” says they “last hundreds and hundreds of washes before fading or tearing.” Photographer Patrick O’Rourke likes to “wear them with black loafers so you can catch a glimpse of color on top,” and because they’re so affordable, grabs a few pairs every time he shops at Uniqlo. Nicolás Lazaro, a community specialist at menswear-resale site Grailed, says he has been wearing some of his Uniqlo socks for “more than a decade now,” agreeing that they’re “cheap without sacrificing quality or fit.”
Organic cotton blend | Medium weight | Crew height
Another affordable, quality pair of socks: Muji’s right-angle rib socks made from organic cotton, which fashion designer Thakoon Panichgul says he can’t live without. “They’re thin enough that you can wear them with any pair of shoes, and they’re good for summer and winter,” he says. He has worn this heather-gray color with everything from white sneakers to black dress shoes. Even though they’re cheap at $5, they last a long time. “They literally don’t rip. I’ve worn some pairs for a couple of years, and they’re still holding on,” Panichgul says.
Merino wool | Heavyweight | Crew height
“Darn Tough is a hilarious name for a brand but an apt description of their socks,” says Dan Small, who directs partnerships and special projects for Baggu. I agree — I’ve personally been wearing my own pair of Darn Tough Socks for close to a year, and they’ve survived multiple hikes, snow-shoveling expeditions, and winter storms, as well as plenty of trips through the wash. They’re padded to add comfort, so you will immediately notice the thickness in comparison to medium-weight socks like Uniqlo’s and Muji’s. They also have a snug fit, so they won’t slip around while hiking. Because they are made of merino wool, they regulate temperature; your feet will stay comfortable and dry in a variety of weather settings. Darn Tough socks come with a lifetime guarantee of quality, and the brand will replace any pair that rips from normal wear and tear.
Cotton blend | Lightweight | No-show height
When the temperature permits, no-show socks are the answer for anyone who’s looking to give their sunlight-starved ankles some fresh air. To prevent the blisters and odor that can come with not wearing socks at all, publicist Jon Salas says he “lives and dies by Uniqlo’s no-show socks,” explaining that “they’re super comfortable, durable, light, and breathable.” He tries to wear them as close to year-round as possible, which can be hard during New York City winters, but he especially likes them in the summer with sneakers because they “show a little ankle” and the sock stays hidden. “And you just can’t beat the price,” he adds.
Wool/silk blend | Heavyweight | Crew height
When it’s especially cold, socks made of wool or a wool blend will be one of your warmest options. Dan Snyder, the founder of Corridor, loves these wool boot socks from American Trench. They’re made from a wool-and-silk-blend knit in Pennsylvania and available in four textured color options with Donegal-like flecks, which gives the illusion of a tweed cloth. It’s not uncommon to find that most wool socks are also blended with other materials, like spandex for added elasticity or polyester to cut down on weight. For a more athletic style, Victoria Hitchcock, a personal-branding-and-lifestyle consultant, likes American Trench’s merino activity socks, which feature antimicrobial silver for additional odor control. She says it’s a “gorgeous sock” that’s both “old-school and hip.”
Cashmere | Lightweight | Mid-calf height
“Copenhagen winters can be a killer, particularly so when you ride your bicycle to and from the office every day,” says Nikolaj Hansson, creator of the tennis-inspired menswear brand Palmes. That’s why Hannson says he often opts for these crew-height cashmere socks from Another Aspect. “They’re made in a super-soft and warm recycled-cashmere blend in Italy and keep not only your feet but also your calves warm throughout wintertime, which is an odd but amazing sensation.”
Cotton lisle | Lightweight | Calf height
For dress socks, stylist Brian Coats prefers a longer “over the calf” model and particularly likes this pair from Pantherella. “They actually become essential for your circulatory system when you have 25 showroom appointments a day,” he says. His praise is seconded by Fenimore, who told us he has been wearing Pantherella socks for the past four years. “They’re super-soft and thin, so it almost feels like you’re not wearing a sock at all.” Lazaro is also a fan of Pantherella’s merino-wool dress socks, which he says have natural breathability and moisture-wicking benefits. “Best of all, they’re hard-wearing enough that I don’t have to worry about deterioration or holes as much as I would with cashmere or other finer fabrics.”
Nylon/acrylic blend | Medium weight | Crew height
When it comes to socks with “creative designs,” Snyder and three more of the cool men we spoke to are fans of Japanese company Anonymous Ism, which makes unique knitted socks in old-school herringbone and patchwork styles. “When I’m showing some ankle with sneakers or more casual footwear, I go with Anonymous Ism,” Fenimore told us, adding that “the variety of beautiful colors is timeless, and they’re substantial enough to wear even in the colder New York months.” Though these socks are on the warmer side, they can be worn for fall, winter and spring (however, you may want to put them away during the hotter parts of the year). I bought a pair of Anonymous Ism socks before a trip a few years ago, and they were a saving grace amid unexpected cold temperatures. Christopher Echevarria, the creator of the footwear brand Blackstock and Weber, praised the weight and thickness of these socks.
Cotton/nylon blend | Medium weight | Crew height
Frequent travelers might be interested to know that these are the socks that the Points Guy (a.k.a. Brian Kelley) wears on his longest hauls. “These breathe, so you don’t overheat, and are great for travel and workouts alike,” Kelley promises. They also have cushioning under the heels and the front part of your foot and a band around the arch that feels snug and helps the socks hold their shape even after multiple washes. Musician Jimmie Allen told us they’re the only socks he buys. He wears them “for everything from playing basketball to fishing to running errands to performing. The only thing I don’t do is wear them with sandals. I’m not that type of person.”
Nylon blend | Medium weight | Crew height
“Having socks you trust is so key for wanting to get out the door each day,” says David Roche, the coach and founder of the SWAP running team and a co-author of The Happy Runner. He likes these nylon-blend Stance socks for running, which are moisture-wicking to prevent odor and keep your feet dry. They come in small, medium, and large sizes to ensure you can get a good fit and have cushioning in the heel and arch support. Amir Muhammad Figueroa, the co-founder of Harlem Run and a marathoner and ultramarathoner, also recommends Stance socks. “It’s a great combo to go with my kicks,” he says of the socks’ sleek design. Figueroa favors the crew height, though they also come in small, medium, and large.
• Jimmie Allen, musician
• Yale Breslin, Ralph Lauren creative producer
• Brian Coats, stylist
• Christopher Echevarria, creator of the footwear brand Blackstock and Weber
• Christopher Fenimore, New York City street-style photographer
• Amir Muhammad Figueroa, co-founder of Harlem Run
• Nikolaj Hansson, creator of menswear brand Palmes
• Victoria Hitchcock, a personal-branding-and-lifestyle consultant
• Brian Kelley, the Points Guy
• Nicolás Lazaro, community specialist at Grailed
• Patrick O’Rourke, photographer
• Thakoon Panichgul, fashion designer
• David Roche, founder of the SWAP running team and co-author of The Happy Runner
• Jon Salas, publicist
• Dan Small, partnerships and special projects for Baggu
• Dan Snyder, founder of Corridor
• Phillip Wong, co-founder and creative director of Hawthorne
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