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. The three primary factors that influence the sock buying process are sock length, sock material and sock color. A thorough understanding of these elements will guide you to the proper socks.

Our Recommended Process
(click to skip ahead)

Step 1: Start with Length
Step 2: Cotton or Wool?
Step 3: Pick the Right Style


Step 1: Choose the Right Length of Dress Sock

Let’s start with sock length, as this is the easiest place to go awry. The two primary lengths of men’s dress socks are mid-calf and over the calf. Aptly named for where they reach on your leg, a mid-calf dress sock is slightly longer than a crew length while over the calf dress socks fully cover the calf and rest just below the knee. A third, much more casual option, is a no-show dress sock which sits below the shoe for a "sockless" look.


infographic explaining dress sock lengths


Over the Calf Dress Socks

  • Longer, more formal length
  • Fully covers the calf and rests below the knee
  • Stays up all day long
  • Classic, traditional length

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.

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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

  • Shorter, more casual length
  • Slightly longer than a crew sock
  • Provides leg coverage when pants rise
  • Contemporary length

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.

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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.

No-Show Dress Socks

  • Shortest, most casual length
  • Designed to sit below shoe for "sockless" look
  • Pairs well with loafers, sneakers and boat shoes
  • Great for relaxed style in hot weather

No-show dress socks are the least formal length of dress sock and are only appropriate for the most casual settings. This style of sock is designed to give the appearance of not wearing socks while enjoying the comfort and health benefits of wearing socks.

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Step 2: Dress Sock Material

Now that you have selected your preferred length, let's move on to material. You always want to check the material contents on the socks’ label when shopping for dress socks. Look for socks that are primarily made out of merino wool or long staple cotton - this is a key indicator of both quality and how comfortable the socks will be. Avoid polyester, as it doesn’t breathe and will cause your feet to sweat.

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

  • Superior breathability
  • Keeps feet dry and comfortable
  • Naturally fights odor to stay fresh

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.

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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

  • Silky-smooth for luxurious feel on skin
  • Soft, strong and very durable
  • Colorfast and easy to launder

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.

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To produce our cotton dress socks, we use extra-long staple (ELS) cotton which is the same material used to produce luxury bed linens. To learn more about the different types of cotton and how it is used to produce socks, be sure to read our informative article on what to look for in cotton dress socks.


Step 3: Dress Sock Color & Style

After selecting your preferred length and material, the next step is to determine your ideal style. Do you primarily wear dress socks at the office? If so, what is the dress code? Do you like to stand out in a crowd or do you prefer traditional colors? While much of this comes down to personal preference, having a variety of styles in your drawer is extremely helpful.

diverse selection of men's dress socks on top of wooden table

Traditional Business Colors

At Boardroom Socks, we offer both solid colors and patterned dress socks, each designed to be acceptable for virtually any business setting. If you work in a formal environment with a fairly rigid dress code, stick to the traditional business colors of black, charcoal, navy and mid-grey. We are hard pressed to think of any business setting where these four basic sock colors would not be appropriate.

Beyond the Basics

Beyond the four basics, add dark shades of a broader range of colors such as burgundy or purple. These colors provide a stylish look with more color, yet they do not scream out; they’ll look good when paired with most traditional pants while adding a pop of color. If you want to make a statement, nothing speaks like a pair of red dress socks. These will look great with black, charcoal or navy pants. Finally, don't be afraid to add a pop with a tasteful pattern.

patterned black dress socks with small red dots

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?

Sock Gifting Simplified

If you're shopping for someone else and are planning to give socks as a gift, 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

opened gift box full of colorful men's dress socks

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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