A quick visit to the sock aisle of your favorite department store will leave you with more questions than answers – especially when it comes to the type of sock and when you should wear it.
The purpose of this guide is to help you make sense of all the different options and when it may be more appropriate to wear one sock over another.
Here’s a table highlighting the differences between various sock types:
- Height: This is how high the socks rise from heel to cuff.
- Worn With: Some socks are more versatile than others. Here we outline some occasions you may want to wear a particular type of sock.
|Sock Type||Height||Worn With|
|Knee High Socks||22”||Casual wear, including dresses, skirts, or solo.|
|Over-the-Calf Socks||19”||Formal, work, or cold weather.|
|Crew Socks||11″||Casual to semi-formal pants and athletic wear.|
|Ankle Socks||4 to 6″||Athletic wear, hiking, long pants.|
|Low Cut Socks||2″||Athletic or casual wear.|
|No Show Socks||1″||Semi-formal to summer wear.|
|Athletic Socks||3”||Athletic wear.|
|Compression Socks||4 to 20”||Medicinal wear.|
1. Knee High Socks
The knee-high sock is worn for warmth or casual wear and, you guessed it, rises above the knees. While cozy, knee-high socks do also serve some functional purposes. Most commonly, this sock type will be paired with fashion, winter, or hiking boots. In addition, the extended height will protect you from the boot’s collar rubbing against your skin and causing irritation.
Some knee-high socks may contain performance fabrics to wick moisture and prevent blisters.
What to wear with knee-high socks: boots, skirts, dresses, or cozy wear.
2. Over-the-Calf Socks
Rising just above the calf muscle, over-the-calf socks are less likely to slip down your leg. This type of sock is most commonly found in men’s dress socks and work socks. When paired with merino wool, Pima cotton, or silk fabric, you have a nice breathable sock for all-day comfort.
What to wear with over-the-calf socks: dress pants, work pants, or cold weather running.
3. Crew Socks
The crew sock is the most popular sock due to its versatility. From casual to more formal wear, the crew sock rises approximately 11” from heel to cuff, allowing them to rest right in the middle of your calf muscle. However, unlike knee-high and over-the-calf socks, crew socks are susceptible to slipping down your leg after an extended period. Therefore, the quality of craftsmanship is essential here.
You’ll find the crew sock height works great for many outfits, including dress, casual, hiking, novelty, and more.
What to wear with crew socks: denim, chinos, and athletic shorts.
4. Ankle & Quarter Socks
Slightly shorter than a crew sock, the quarter sock (also known as an ankle sock) rises 4 to 6” from heel to cuff. The quarter sock is often worn for either casual or athletic intents, although the latter is the more appropriate.
The shorter length limits the use of quarter or ankle socks to only pants with at least one break in the fabric. Wearing cropped chinos or denim with ankle socks will result in leg exposure when sitting down or crossing your legs.
You should also consider wearing quarter socks with moderately high dress boots, including chukka (desert) and Chelsea boots.
What to wear with quarter socks: longer chinos or denim.
5. Low Cut Socks
The low-cut sock rests below the talus (ankle bone) and will be nearly hidden behind a shoe collar. Low-cut socks are a good choice for those who want a bit more security when compared to a no-show sock.
What to wear with low-cut socks: casual sneakers with a higher collar or shorts.
6. No Show Socks
Also known as invisible socks, no-show socks rest below the shoe collar. Commonly paired with loafers, flats, and even casual sneakers, no-show socks are a summer wardrobe staple.
While no-show socks may not seem like they have much utility at first glance, they help prevent foot odor, blisters, and moisture buildup. Excessive moisture can rot a shoe from the inside out.
What to wear with no-show socks: shorts, skirts, athleisure pants.
Recommended shoes to wear with no-show socks: sneakers, boat shoes, oxfords, monks, flats, and driving loafers.
7. Athletic Socks
We won’t go too far into this category, but it’s essential to know that some companies make socks for specific athletic activities. For example, running socks (pictured above) focus on moisture control and blister prevention. At the same time, hiking socks may offer a thicker shin panel that will protect your lower legs from branches, thorns, poison ivy, and more.
The takeaway: if you find yourself doing certain athletic activities repeatedly, consider purchasing a pair of socks that provide better performance and comfort.
8. Compression Socks
These specially designed socks are for individuals who need assistance moving blood throughout their legs. Available in several different graduated compressions, measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), doctors may recommend these socks if your legs feel tired, have spider or varicose veins, or simply feel dizzy when standing up.
Speak with your family doctor to learn more.
Additionally, some runners may wear compression socks to facilitate blood flow.
We hope that this guide gave you a better understanding of all the different types of socks available and how they should be worked into your wardrobe.