It was the guy in Starbucks who got me thinking about this. He was in his 30s and wearing the standard summer office casual outfit of chinos and blue linen shirt. He was also wearing brown boat shoes. It worked except he was also wearing black socks. They looked horrible. So horrible that I couldn't believe someone who otherwise was putting at least some thought into his clothes could put them on and not realise how horrible they were.
Then later in the day there was guy on the train. He was older, 50s or early 60s maybe and was very smartly dressed. Chinos, brown brogues, dress shirt, waistcoat, tie; he was making an effort. And again black socks. And again they were horrible.
After that I couldn't miss them. Every pair of smartish brown shoes, brogues, boat shoes, chukka boots, desert boots, you name it were universally worn with a pair of generic black socks.
British men, even those who were otherwise taking notice of their clothes, seem to have completely given up on any idea of matching colours as far as socks go. It’s like everyone has agreed to simply assume that socks were invisible and that it is OK to just go with the same pair of black socks with everything.
But it's not. There are rules. They are simple rules, easy and cheap to follow, but they are rules that, when followed, lead to a happier life.
And the first rule is this, No black socks with brown shoes. Just don’t do it. Go to the sock emporium of your choice and buy a pack of brown socks, it won’t cost more that £10, and when you’re wearing brown shoes wear them. You will look better, and even if people don’t know why they are noticing that you are better dressed they will.
Do it. No excuses.
Socks form part of simple set of timeless rules for men’s clothing which are based around 4 items and 2 palettes. The items are shoes, socks, belt and watchstrap, the palettes are blacks/greys and browns. Basically these four items should come from the same palette.
So black shoes means black socks, black belt. Black watch strap. Brown shoes means brown socks, brown belt, brown watch strap. You can also extend this into trousers. This is more optional, in my opinion black shoes and chinos or brown shoes and black trousers don’t work.
There are some useful neutral options too, steel watch straps go with both black and brown, which make them a great option if you’re spending a lot on a watch, and coloured socks go with both, though you would ideally want the colour to be echoed somewhere else in your outfit
What you get from following these rules is a simple understated coordination to what you’re wearing that may not be specifically noticed but will be there and will register with people, even if they don’t know quite what it is that makes you seem better dressed, more sophisticated, more cultured, more professional.
That’s it, simple rules that if followed will, not matter how casually, or downright scruffily, you’re dressed instantly will make you better dressed than 99.9% of men walking around London right now. And will mean that I won’t be traumatised if I see you on the tube.
And you wouldn't want that would you?