Subtlety and drama: The appeal of the purple sock

Friday, August 5th 2022
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Today’s article - a debut for someone I’ve long admired, Jason Jules - is an excellent example of why I like having these contributions on PS. 

I rarely wear contrast-coloured socks these days, particularly purple. But it’s still a look I admire, especially as a sophisticated alternative to brighter, more garish colours. 

I first wrote admiringly of purple socks in 2009, and none of my views have changed in the interim. It’s just that I tend to wear more muted, often tonal combinations, and strong colours fit in less. 

So it’s great to have Jason, who wears them with such aplomb, remind us of their virtues. There are many tastes, and many ways to be tasteful. 

By Jason Jules

Have you joined the purple hosiery brigade? Are you one of the men who have cottoned on - literally and metaphorically - to the almost infinite possibilities of wearing purple socks? 

While it might not have the power of Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, I find that when it comes to classic modern menswear the purple sock comes a close second, magically complementing almost every combination of casual clothing.

Tradition has it that the colour of one's shoes should relate to one's belt and the sock to one's trousers. The purpose of this is to achieve a kind of seamless flow, where there's a sense of continuation, like one uninterrupted line. 

But while I'm not saying we should abandon tradition altogether, I, and many others it seems, are of the belief that breaking the line, especially with the advent of the shorter trouser length, offers one opportunity for a more contemporary approach to elegance.

Imagine.

Right there in front of you is your fav grey-linen suit. You’re in a kind of casual mood today, even though you’re off to lunch with some high-flying business dudes. So it’s a light-blue spread collar shirt, worn sans tie, and dark-brown suede Alden loafers. What socks do you wear? Brown? Grey? Blue? 

The following day you’re heading down to the pub, for a lazy gastro meal with some old college mates. Ecru jeans, a navy merino-wool polo shirt, an olive twill overshirt and light-brown tassel loafers. What socks do you wear? Brown? Cream? Blue?  

It’s date night - nothing too fancy just a tweed sports coat, pastel-pink button-down Oxford, grey flat-front flannels and choc-brown desert boots. Socks - grey? Navy? Red? Burgundy?

While all these options might be appropriate, what they fail to provide is a deft combination of subtlety and drama - which is where purple comes in, - the colour favoured by clergymen, kings and princes.

Although there’s a playfulness about purple, it still imbues almost any ensemble with a sense of restraint and maturity by not drawing too much attention to itself - especially red, which can pack too strong a punch and dominate or even derail a look. 

Purple on the other hand is tonal and tasteful - and looks good alongside almost any colour combination you can imagine. In fact, I’d suggest that along with browns, khakis and greys you’d be surprised how well purple works with black apparel and also black footwear.

That’s not to say all purple socks are created equal or that one style is suitable for every occasion. It still makes sense to wear ribbed or cable-knit cotton socks with heavier shoes, and finer socks for more elegant affairs. 

Of course, the question you’re bound to ask is whether this is simply a passing fad, a soon-to-fade purple patch. Rather, I’d suggest it is a trend that has come of age, a new style staple.

Two industry contemporaries and menswear legends - Michael Drake and Michael Barnes (above) - have been purveyors of the style for years. In fact, when it comes to wearing purple socks, Mr Drake often credits Mr Barnes as his inspiration.

Today, that lineage is taken on by others, some of whom are pictured here. Michael Hill, Aleks Cvetkovic, Kevis Manzi, Mark Large and Ethan Wong are all great examples of the dexterity of the style.

While socks will always provide men with the chance to play with colour and pattern, allowing us to express personality and personal taste, I’d say even with all the other options available, purple socks are likely to become a kind of wardrobe essential, providing what often seems like a stylistic fait accompli with an elegant solution. 

It’s still relatively hard to find purple socks of a certain standard. Top of the list I’d say are Drakes and Pantherella. They can be found at those links.

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Bob

I’m afraid to say the article is one of the weakest seen on Permanent Style in a long time lacking any real substance… do most your readers want/need a list of people that are following a trend to accept your council of if something is “a more contemporary approach to elegance”? I’ve always found your rationalised explanations much more helpful than name dropping.

I do have and wear purple socks, never considered them particularly elegant.

Ben

Counterpoint: the boldly colored accessory (perhaps esp. the fun sock) is very much a trend and quite a threadbare one. It conveys a strained and shallow need for attention (“self expression”). And purple, in particular, is a divisive color whose inclusion, by itself, caps an outfit’s popular appeal; in addition to harmony, subtlety and minimalism, then, it’s suspect on grounds of aesthetic utilitarianism.

Ben

Sure that’s true. Though if it’s deep purple we’re talking about, complementary colors must all be relatively dark (no pastels, ash grays, etc.) and not “almost any colour combination you can imagine” as the author argues. And it also begs the question why the comparison is only with flashy colors and patterns and not, e.g., maroon, moss, or ocher.

Gary Mitchell

Must be 20 years or more ago I joined the purple sock brigade and they number the greatest in my sock drawer.. Purple socks, far and away my favourite colour (for socks) whatever my clothing choices (uniform excepted of course)

Andy Parker

Hello Jason

Many thanks for an interesting article. Very enjoyable to read.
My sock draw is made up of three colours; purple and bottle green when dressed for business, and red for leisure. I find having this distinction in colour has a bit if a bearing on how “serious” I feel. When my children were young they would insist I took my tie off as soon as I walked into the house in the evening, as the tie was “work”.
On the clergy point, it tends to be violet and magenta, rather than purple (splitting hairs!). Red is the colour of Cardinals and Popes.

Jason Jules

Hi Andy, glad you enjoyed the piece. I love that we can create personal codes for our clothing with colours that resonate with us in different ways. In the past whenever I felt like I needed a boost of confidence I’d wear predominantly navy blue, and whenever I felt super confident I’d wear something white. Needless to say, growing up, I rarely found myself wearing white.
I think you’re right about todays clergy wearing magenta or violet – I guess my point was that historically purple is a colour that has been associated with the church.

Felix

All of these people would look better with dark blue or grey socks (though the guys in the last two pictures look pretty clownish overall, so whatever). In general I think wearing colored socks looks dated and overly studied.

T

I used to be a regular correspondent for Monocle magazine and always found it funny that the photographers we worked with would routinely remove purple objects from shots, ask people to remove purple items of clothing, or simply crop out anything purple from the frame. I was told that Tyler had forbidden the presence of anything purple in the magazine. I wonder if this piece on purple socks will change his tune!

Carl

I think it is a bit too much. At least for me. I have settled on bottle/forest green socks for most of my trousers and suits.. It gives contrast but it still dark and also more muted than purple. I understand why people avoid charcoal, black or navy socks as it is quite boring. But bottle green and burgundy is easier than purple.

And

I agree. I think purple is better than bright red, but imho, bottle green beats both by far in term of being interesting but still dark and pleasing. I particularly enjoy them with black cordovan loafers.
I still have to try burgundy.

Aaron Lavacave

Thanks for this! Everything I’ve read from Jason always makes me think he’s a wonderful fellow – which means he fits right into the Permanent Style pantheon of guest writers.
On the sock topic, I’ve thought for some time that Jason’s use of the purple sock is probably the best out there. Perhaps followed by Ethan. Jason’s use of rich textures and patterns somehow let’s the sock act as more of a unifier than when many others use it. Perhaps? I honestly don’t know why it works for some people and not as well for others. I’ll have to buy a pair and experiment.
Thank you!!

Pee Cee

I’ve always had an affinity for purple and never thought of the color as ‘dramatic’. I have purple socks from Gammarelli, plum lining in several suits, lilac ties as well as lavender dress shirts. That said, I draw the line on purple suits no thanks to The Joker.

Daniel

HI Simon and Jules Particularly like the penultimate photo. The purple socks echoing the purple in the jacket and plaid tie, The sand coloured chinos work particularly well with the socks too.

Jack Williams

Hi Simon and Jason, Nice to see a bit of whimsey and color in some outfits. Colored socks go well with suede shoes, loafers, cords, tweed and many other informal outfits. Argyles used to be – and still are – once considered a little “edgy” for us conservative old men, but certainly are equally fun with the same informal outfits. We are, after all, talking about the color of one’s socks and shouldn’t lose sight of the fun and variety that colors allow. I do have a question, and I am afraid I have missed a whole thread here, but what are the new lengths of trouser/pants? No longer the “break” over the shoe? Is the shortened length for all pants or just the more informal style? And have you addressed this already in an earlier post? Thanks
Cheers,

Jack Williams

Ian F

I agree, Simon, that shorter trousers in tailoring (by which in this context I mean those where there is a substantial amount of sock visible when standing) has been a bit of a trend for over 15 years. However, before then they were often worn for comedic effect (think Mr Bean and others) or by those who didn’t realise the fit was poor. If it isn’t too controversial, my view is that the advent of shorter trousers in the mainstream is partly a case of a virtue being made of a fault (not least in RTW, alongside the too-tight-suit) because shorter trousers are easier (and therefore cheaper) to make. If you take the top of the shoe as the lowest point, there is greater leeway as to how far above this you hem straight across the trouser leg than there is in making it with a traditional small (or even no) break at the front and military hem at the back. The traditional method has a much smaller target to aim for which is consequently harder to hit.
 
  

Ian F

No evidence (I’m not sure that any manufacturer of any product will admit a particular feature is present because it is easier and cheaper to make) just, as I said, my view of part of the reason for shorter trousers becoming a mainstream trend. Other views are available. 😊

Rob P

Fascinating post. While I wouldn’t consider myself part of a “purple hosiery brigade”, I have, in fact, been wearing purple socks with tailoring and casually for many years now. The reason for purple socks are (almost entirely) non-sartorial: it’s a historic color of the football (soccer) team I support! If we take our choices in clothing also as expressions of personality, then wearing team colors (via socks) on match day is just another expression of this point.
More generally, purple and its related shades are massively underrated in accessories as an accent color: as mentioned in the article, it harmonizes especially with ‘muted classic menswear colors’ like navy, charcoal, and burgundy.

Peter Hall

I think summer is a great time to add a splash of colour and I regularly wear dark green,pink or burgundy socks, under both linen and chinos.
In winter, I use soft pink socks and with flannel.

Jim

All in on purple socks.
Actually , I find the comments of Bob and Ben more pretentious; more a strained and shallow attempt to gain attention than the simple act of putting on a pair of socks .
To quote Nathan Lane in the Bird Cage,”one simply must have a little colour”
J A

Pedro

I can see why some might disagree with the ideas expressed in this article, as it makes sense to me that boldly-coloured socks would remind many readers of the controversial trend of novelty socks – which I nevertheless think is something quite different from what is being discussed and shown here, due to the fact that the right shades of purple pair suprisingly well with a very wide range of colours without looking tacky.
On a side note, it has become quite inconvenient for me to wear high rise socks with flannel trousers (Super 120’s by VBC, specifically), as the former keep the lower part of the trouser up after bending my legs, thus requiring that I put it down with my hands and/or risk looking kind of silly. Which might be the problem here? Has anyone experienced it? Would love to know what people think about this.

J Crewless

Not sure why everyone is getting so worked up about purple socks. They can look good in the right setting. As long as one doesn’t deliberately attempt to attract attention to them.

Socks aren’t an item that I personally hold in high regard for looking as they’re a functional item. And treat them accordingly in my wardrobe – by keeping them as unobtrusive as possible.

coljay

My first thought was that “drama” was far too strong a word for socks – let alone for socks as muted as purple. But then I read the comments….and it seems that there *is* drama to be had in socks.

This is a good and thought provoking article. As much as I like the nerdy breakdowns of a particular tailor’s lapel notch style, and so on, there is plenty of room on PS for more articles like this.

Craig

I enjoy the odd pair of purple socks but I like to tone down the color a bit. I do this by making sure the purple is dark, and breaking it up with a pattern that mixes in a darker, neutral tone. The pair I’m wearing today is exactly that: a purple and black birdseye pattern by Viccel. It retains the purple nature but it’s not as loud as a pair of plain, bright purple socks. I got a couple of these and they’ve become some of my favorite socks to wear, they go with just about everything. Unfortunately, Viccel seems to have discontinued them, though they do have something similar in purple and royal blue birdseye.
Incidentally, this birdseye pattern in general is a nice one for socks, I find.

Stewart Bone

I’m a purple fan. Great colour for China too. I do like your effort to bring other people into the picture. I think it’s a bit much at times to be too self-focussed and you are, imho, moving in a postive direction. Clothing is really about people otherwise it has no life and spirit.

Khalid

Point well made, and I think I’ll go buy some purple socks! Just be wary about wearing them at the hospital:

“What color are your socks?
Chances are, you don’t spend much time thinking about it. But at hospitals, socks rock.
Red socks indicate allergies; orange means the patient is a potential flight risk, and purple signals “do not resuscitate.”

https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/2013/12/08/socks-that-save-lives-hospitals-putting-an-emphasis-on-fall-prevention/3907921/

H

Thought-provoking article. One of my favorite socks are the purple from Gammarelli. Superb quality, well priced and they ship easily worldwide via https://meschaussettesrouges.com/en/collections/chaussettes-gammarelli
And I am not Catholic to enjoy these socks from the Pope’s tailor 😂

H

Brilliant Simon- looking forward to it.

Petronio

It might be off-topic but I would like to know which are the black loafers in the first picture. I guess that purple socks are a good way to combine black shoes with casual trousers.

A

Edward Green, Duke model.

Petronio

Thanks !

Anaxagoras

It had never occurred to me to wear purple socks, but I am fascinated by the colour—the only non-spectral colour. This is why it is so rarely found in nature, and why the dyes were always rare and expensive prior to the late 19th c. I wonder whether this is why, as Jason says, it complements every colour— it literally has no spectral complement of its own.

Jason Jules

Anaxagoras – where were you when I was writing this? Yes, you nailed it – purple is non-spectral! I guess behind what I’m trying to say is that clothes don’t always need to match in terms of colour and that sometimes it’s interesting to add a colour that is unusual and not part of the prescribed range. As you say, what’s also interesting about purple is its historic association with what we now call luxury.

Scott

I’ve always thought purple socks looked fantastic with navy and grey so I’m going to give them a try. I like to wear dark burgundy or dark green socks to add a bit of color to my outfit so, purple will be an interesting experiment.

Robert

The black loafers worn by Michael Drake look to me like the Edward Green “Duke” model. You can tell by the way the sewing on the vamp goes up slightly into the strap.

JJ Katz

I had really not noticed how many Classic Menswear icons wear purple socks…

Jim

Two close and sartorially-minded friend and I will all turn 60 in the next two months. As it happens, I will stop by O’Connell’s in Buffalo later today and, inspired by this piece, will pick up a pair of purple socks for each of us.

Jason Jules

Jim, I love that idea – and O’Connell’s is such a great place to get them!

Stephen

Hi Jason/Simon,
I really enjoyed this article. Kind of whimsical and informative. I’d never really considered purple, but have to say that they really do work in so many ways.
Jules On a personal note I do like your look-book’s for Drakes not many can pull it off like yourself.
One other thing, I’m not sure if either of you or your readers are aware of the documentary available on BBC Iplayer (in the U.K) about Vivian Maier, An insight into the world as captured through her photograph’s. I think particularly Jason you may find the images fascinating especially in the context of her life
https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0366jd5
All the best to you both.
p.s. apologies coming to this article late, was catching up on my reading today!

Jason Jules

Thank you Stephen, I’m glad you like the article – ‘whimsical and informative’ is exactly what I was aiming for. And thanks for your kind words about the Drakes lookbooks – they’re an amazing group of people to work with and never fail to come up with something new. Ref the Vivian Maier documentary – it’s interesting you bring it up here. I think it’s beautiful and also tragic. Clothes, the clothes we wear, I think are a little like photographs – they’re meant to be seen and shared and in that process, we have the chance to learn something about ourselves and how we connect with others. In that way, our understanding of both the clothing and of ourselves is allowed to evolve. To me, the tragedy isn’t that Vivian Maier’s images were never seen, but that we’ll never know in what ways she might have been able to engage with other people and evolve creatively if they had been seen.

Michael Powell

The last shirt I bought was a pastel purple OCBD; I already had several purple ties. I’ve got purple polo and rugby shirts. While I did gave away a purple NATO strap which didn’t really match any of my watches I really like purple. But purple sox… uh…no. I don’t see it.

Matt S

I was not aware that purple socks were a big thing, but this article has inspired me to give them a try. Socks are a low-risk area of experimentation. Maybe the lowest risk of all since they don’t cost much. Like others here, I have been into burgundy and dark green socks. They complement many things nicely, while also complementing brown shoes very well. I think purple socks would be a better choice with black shoes. I could even picture them going beautifully with a black or midnight blue dinner suit given the right material. There’s no need to limit them to dressing down.

Jason Jules

Hi Matt, I totally agree – to me, it’s almost as if wearing purple socks is a way of potentially elevating a dressed-down look.

Simeon

This is a really interesting one to me as personally some of those shots picked are amazing and some are awful but picking apart the differences I’m struggling with. Definitely a marmite look depending on how it’s styled and to me it’s all about attitude styled with a bit of sharpness and attitude it looks amazing like that Jason and Ethan shot or the last one with the plaid tie that I would never even consider but the outfit all pulls itself together perfectly.

The difference between the shots that work and don’t are stark in their looks and impact but when you actually look at why it’s hard to say other than some have an attitude and sex appeal I guess and some have strayed away from heavily

Jim Bainbridge

I do like this and want to like it more, but I struggle to separate it from associations I have with department store jacket linings and contrasting buttonholes, etc – which is personal, I know. I might like a darker purple though.

Higgins

off to lunch with some high-flying business dudes” – most of the people pictured in the article look like they would be spending their days doing everything but…

Sorry, I do not see the appeal in the “drama” of purple socks.

Dan

Great to see Jason join in! Looking forward to more of this. And I always love purple socks!

Jamie

I really admire Jason’s style, and the way he adds colour – through purple socks or otherwise – is something I’d like to adopt. It adds a bit of something to an outfit and avoids being too matchy matchy.

Richard D

I love this article. Jason Jules is an Influencer is the most positive sense of the word. A man of grace, style, and words. More of his insights please.

Anonymous

Funnily enough, even though I have recently discovered that I apparently have enough socks to open a small, pop-up outpost of Mes Chaussettes Rouges, I was looking forward to purchasing a pair of purple socks this fall (small pleasures) as I typically wear neutral socks. Unfortunately or fortunately, the only purple pair I have is cashmere (a gift), and I have only worn them once as they can run a little warm in these parts.

So, Jason’s post was particularly timely and has pushed me over the edge to pull the trigger. And I wanted to share the link below of a small, family-owned company in North Carolina that only manufactures a somewhat limited selection of traditional, merino wool and Pima cotton socks (no bricks and mortar). Very old-school – think Ivy. At $15.95 for mid-calf and $16.95 for OTC (complimentary US shipping), every interested Permanent Style reader should have a pair of purple socks. I found Boardroom Socks while looking for khaki socks (which they manufacture), and the olive merino pair I ultimately ordered was to my mind definitely more than acceptable. Not as fine gauge as Pantherella, but by no means heavy.

Let’s hear it for the non-spectral purple!

https://boardroomsocks.com/collections/the-boardroom-collection

Fatih

Very nice read. And I appreciate all the thoughts that someone puts in an article about an allegedly simple matter as socks. Any chance you can find out the exact gun club fabric the jacket from the first picture is made of?

Adriano

Great article – and I’ve long admired Jason’s sense of style and elegance on Instagram, in books like This Guy and of course his many lookbooks for Drakes.

SteveB

Yes I have the purple & magenta socks but I do not expose as muck socks with high rise hems ( a trend that reminds me of 6th formers wearing last years trousers as they’ll be leaving shortly). It’s occasionally nice with muted clothing or to link to a subtle colour weave in a tweed or other accessory. But generally I go for the navy, grey, brown; this article has prompted me to get rid of old patterned or bright socks.
What I dislike most about the bright sock is when it’s done badly; I recall it at a well known hat shop when served by the older men. Lovely hats & service though.
But subtle is the word & more hidden drama.

LFJ

Having rather belatedly seen this article I thought it was very interesting. I have worn only purple socks for the past 25 years or so (which makes the laundry at home very easy). Very dark purple, but never plum. It’s a colour that goes well with all dark coloured trousers: navy and grey suits, grey flannels or jeans. Although I do have a few pairs of Drakes’ purple socks, they’re not quite dark enough to wear seriously with a suit; and Pantherella, which I also have, are a little close to plum for my ideal. Imperial purple or “Asprey purple” would be my exemplar for tone.

Thom

Trend. Preferable to brightly-colored novelty socks, but a trend nonetheless.I thought the latter was on the way out a few years ago when the Prime Minister of Canada and the Taoiseach of Ireland compared funny socks for the press–a nadir, to be sure–but, alas, the sock trend remains, even if one of the politicians doesn’t.

JT

I find it quite interesting how polarising the comments are! I’m firmly in the “for” camp for purple socks provided they are a little more saturated and more subdued much like the deep bottle/forest green or wine/burgundy socks many others like.

Maybe that’s what makes them work better? Perhaps a deeper hue feels a little less “showy” and also maybe why I’ve always felt a little more comfortable with things like a burnt orange (rather than bright orange) scarf/pocket square…

Jeans Lauren

Jason Jules, with all due respect there’s a reason why there aren’t any Lawrence Fellows illustrations including purple socks. Think about that…

Jeans Lauren

Interesting, but somehow I doubt it. Simon I suspect you saw an image that was once black and white which had colour added about a century later… But really though, it’s the history of synthetic purple dyes which casts them into sartorial damnation for most men.
“Aniline dyes in the mid 19th century made the royal colour (purple) more widely available, and for a time women of all ranks luxuriated in clothes of dazzling magenta, plum and orchid– as well as flame red and electric blue. By the end of the century, however, these intense chemical colours had begun to fall out of favor: they were now called harsh and unflattering, and were associated with pretentiousness and vulgarity. This was especially true of the purple and purple-red shades.”- An excert from Allison Lauries’ book The Language of Clothes published in 1981.
Have you read this book yet Simon? I think it could add some great fodder to your articles. There’s more but I didn’t want to clog up your feed

Jeans Lauren

Thanks for looking up that image Simon, that’s a good one. How about some apparel arts Lawrence Fellows appreciate post around here at some point Simon? I imagine that you (like almost everyone in menswear) has been influenced by them at some point or another.
Also do you think you could get Chris Moddo on PS at some point, he’s like a bottomless well when it comes to menswear knowledge.
All the best

Jeans Lauren

Thanks for that Simon, I’m glad to see you had a few good appreciation post taken from the esquire Men in Style book, evidenced by the black and white images with their trademark witty commentary.
Yeah I see what you mean. It’s more so for the serious Sartorialist/Dandy and not for the average menswear enthusiast. Very niche stuff. Ahaha I agree, casual for them was a coat, tie or bow tie, fedora and shorts at the beach, or correspondent shoes and a longue suit at the beach. A far cry from todays standards.
That would be great. Please pick his brain if you get the chance.
Cheers Simon, all the best

Jeans Lauren

Yeah, I think that was a time of changing body images due to WWI post war austerity. Men weren’t yet allowed to go topless at the beach, so the mesh top was a concession to rules of proprietary whilst still being an exhibitionist.
I’d recommend you read Sarah Gibbons book The Tie Trends and Traditions if you want to know more about neckerchiefs and bandannas. Since the 17th century Americans have been fond of the neckerchief or bandanna, I suppose that trend was still prevalent in American in the early to mid 20th century hence the illustrations.
Apparel Arts was (like all things in the fashion industry) always looking forwards and recommending new styles for the next season. Almost always optimistic in its tone and imagery. I don’t think that promoting the basic would have helped them or the independent haberdashers with sales very much, or would have kept them in print either.

Jeans Lauren

No worries Simon.
Again I’d put this down to proprietary of dress being more rigid when it came to formal wear. Remember despite the fact that fashion is always moving forwards, that doesn’t mean the older generation will take to the newer modes of the time. The older generation was still wearing frock coats and strollers for day wear in the early 20th century in America. It was the younger generations who venerated the Duke of Windsor who took more readily to the Apparel Arts illustrations and the longue suit in general.

Jeans Lauren

Yeah your likely correct in regards to purple worn in larger colour blocks. But I’d add that this quote regards the use of dyes in the textile industry which is more so about cloth rather then who’s wearing it, but I’m splitting hairs here.
No worries

Robert

Have fun! It’s a bummer when we take ourselves too serious. Socks are just one of the ways we can express that lighthearted side of fashion.