by Carol James November 04, 2019

While shopping for dress socks may sound like a straightforward task, the world of men’s hosiery can be surprisingly complex. Personal tastes vary widely and what some men find to be comfortable, others may strongly dislike.

The three primary factors that influence the sock buying process are sock length, sock material and sock color. If these socks are going to be a surprise gift, try to familiarize yourself with the recipient's style. If possible, taking a quick peek into his sock drawer will give you an idea of where his preferences fall across these three variables.

 Our Recommended Process (click to navigate)
Step 1: Start with Length
Step 2: Cotton or Wool?
Step 3: Pick the Right Style


Step 1: Dress Sock Length

Let’s start with sock length, as this is the easiest place to go awry. The two primary lengths in men’s dress socks are mid-calf and over the calf.

guide to dress sock length for men

Over the Calf

The most common length of dress sock worn in formal and professional settings is over the calf. As the name implies, this style of sock will fully cover a gentleman’s calf and rest just below the knee. Also referred to as knee high dress socks, these socks are quite comfortable as the top band of the sock is resting on the narrower portion of the leg just below the knee. This keeps the strain on the elastic top to a minimum, which ensures the socks stay up and prolongs the life of the sock.

So why do some gentlemen prefer over the calf dress socks? A quality pair of over the calf socks will stay up all day. Constantly having to adjust slipping and sagging socks can be a pain, and showing your bare, hairy legs in a professional setting is considered a significant fashion faux pas.


Mid-calf dress socks are a shorter style of sock and should be pulled up to the lower area of the calf muscle. Pulling a mid-calf sock up to the thickest part of the calf causes undue strain on the elastic and will cause the sock to wear out faster. With mid-calf length socks, there is a much greater chance of showing bare skin when seated or crossing one’s legs.

Gentlemen who prefer mid-calf socks tend to find them more comfortable than over the calf. There is no “right or wrong” answer to which length is best, it is completely up to personal preference. Just know that men tend to prefer one or the other and rarely deviate from their preferred length!

guide to dress sock length for men

To ensure that socks are produced to the proper length, manufacturers use “boards” that adhere to the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers’ standards. Throughout the knitting process, socks will be pulled onto these boards to check that the length and size are correct. Standards in sock lengths are waffling as we see more “crew” length dress socks. As a shorter sock, the manufacturing costs are lower but the reality is that some men, particularly in younger generations, simply prefer the shorter length.

Further Reading: If you'd like to dive deeper into the mid-calf vs. over the calf debate, we have a detailed article available here.

Step 2: Dress Sock Material

The second variable in choosing the right dress socks to purchase for a gentleman is the material that the socks are crafted from. The two most common materials used in sock manufacturing are wool and cotton.

which fabric is best for making dress socks

Just as with sock length, there is no “right or wrong” answer, it all comes down to personal preference. Some men have merino wool socks for the colder months and cotton socks for the warmer months, but one material is usually the favorite and will occupy the majority of the sock drawer.

Merino Wool

A quality pair of wool dress socks will be crafted with fine merino wool. This is a soft, breathable fiber that helps manage moisture and odor, making it comfortable year-round. The beauty of merino wool is that it acts as a natural heating and cooling system, ensuring your feet stay dry.

Like any wool garment, you must take greater care when laundering wool dress socks. For the best results, we always recommend washing the socks inside out in cold water and then hanging them to air dry. If you would like to learn more about wool dress socks, be sure to read our article on why you should wear merino wool dress socks.

Long-Staple Cotton

Cotton is arguably the most commonly used material in the manufacture of men’s dress socks. Cotton yarns are extremely soft and tend to be less expensive than wool, resulting in lower manufacturing costs. To produce our cotton dress socks, we use extra-long staple cotton which is the same material used to produce luxury bed linens.


Step 3: Dress Sock Color & Style

Now you need to consider the styling of the socks. Some men will only wear patterns, others will only wear solids and some have a mixture of both in their sock drawer. Something to consider is how the man you are shopping for tends to dress; if he only wears solid colored socks but you want him to try a pattern, select a subtle pattern that is moderate in its colors. In this case, we would recommend our “dot” series of patterned socks. The sock drawer is the key. If it is full of black socks, pick a pattern that has a black body. If the drawer has no black, step up the pattern or select a solid color that makes a statement, such as our purple dress socks.

The takeaway is that you must do a little research prior to buying dress socks for the men in your life. Know the length, yarn and style before you start your search; at that point, your selection will likely be warmly received.

 Other Helpful Articles on Sock Style:
How to match socks, shoes and pants.
What color socks do you wear with khakis?
What socks go with black dress shoes?
What socks do you wear with a grey suit?
What socks can you wear with a navy suit?

Once you've identified the best styles for him, check out our sock gift boxes. These eliminate much of the guesswork and make for an elegant gift that he's sure to love.

Shop Gift Boxes

Dress Sock Gift Box

Carol James
Carol James

Co-Founder, Boardroom Socks

Carol and her husband, Mike, started Boardroom Socks in 2010. She serves as our CFO and keeps all of us in line! Outside of the office, she enjoys reading, gardening, traveling and exercising.

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