Colours that go with tan

Dear Simon,

I’m getting stuck putting an outfit together, and what it comes down to is the socks.

I’m wearing a mid-grey worsted wool suit with a sky-blue shirt and regimental tie of burgundy and navy stripes. The hank/pocket square has a white ground with checks of light blue and wine. The shoes are brown.
I feel if I keep to the grey of the pants for the sock choice, it will be too boring but if I wear socks that are burgundy it will look odd with brown shoes. Do I wear sky blue socks? I don’t seem to be arriving at a solution that seems to work well.
Thanks in advance,
Spot the matching, and the harmonising

Dear Joseph,

That’s a very specific question. Let’s see if I can give you some general principles and work through those to get a specific answer.
First, you’re thinking along the right lines in picking up a colour from above the waist with your choice of sock. Burgundy could work well, and there’s no reason it won’t go with your brown shoes, particularly if they are dark brown rather than tan.
Burgundy is probably the second most-versatile sock colour after dark green (once you’ve ruled out anything that matches the trouser). Burgundy works best with navy, for me, but may still compliment your grey suit.
Second, grey may not be that boring. It sounds like you’ve already got a lot going on up top, and adding burgundy socks may be a step too far. Coco Chanel had a line about looking in the mirror before you leave the house, and taking off one item. In your case, it may mean swapping the burgundy socks for grey.
In fact, I would say that the most common error I find with readers I meet is that they try to hard. Dial down one item and the chances are you will be better dressed.
The other risk with burgundy socks is that the outfit becomes too ‘matchy-matchy’, too obvious and thought-out. Matching a colour in your tie, shirt or handkerchief is a good place to start, but it’s not the only option. Colours should harmonise with each other, not copy each other.
What do I mean by that? Well, think of another tie or handkerchief that would look good with the combination you described. Would dark green work, or burnt orange? Perhaps even a patterned brown (if different enough from the shoes)? The same colours that would be alternatives for the tie or handkerchief will also work for the socks.
The reason it is a good idea to pick up a minor colour from something else you are wearing is that the designer has already picked that as harmonising with the major colours. He has decided that navy and burgundy are in harmony on your tie, and light blue and wine work like ebony and ivory on your hank.
I hope that helps. If you want to put colours together in an outfit, look at how your favourite brands combine specific shades of colours in their ties, handkerchiefs and anything else.
And I’d go with grey socks.
Too matchy-matchy?

Images: The Armoury and Opumo