Dress socks are generally knit to either mid-calf or over the calf lengths. As the name implies, mid-calf socks reach approximately halfway up a man’s calf while over the calf socks reach fully above the calf and rest just below the knee.
Mid-calf socks are a bit higher than crew length and are occasionally described as “calf-length,” “calf-high” or “half-calf.” Over the calf socks are also often described as “knee high,” “long socks” or “executive length.”
What does not come down to preference is menswear etiquette, with the longstanding rule that men should not expose their bare leg when wearing pants. If your dress socks are too short, your leg will be exposed when seated or crossing your legs.
(A special thank you to one of our New York-based customers, Florian, for the above photos. He is quite dapper and operates a great menswear blog on Instagram.)
We have noticed that younger generations have a tendency to view knee-high dress socks (over the calf) as a dated style for older generations; however, nothing could be further from the truth. These longer socks are more formal and are considered the top choice for professional settings, regardless of age.
Without a doubt, over the calf length socks will always do a better job of staying up on your leg when compared to mid-calf socks. The primary reason for this is because your calf acts as an anchor and prevents the top band of the sock from sliding down your leg. If your primary concern is having a pair of socks that will stay up throughout the day, then you should opt for an over the calf length.
Exposing bare skin when crossing one’s legs has long been considered a faux pas in professional and formal settings. During presentations and meetings, attention should be paid to what you are saying, not your hairy leg! One of the benefits of over the calf length dress socks is that they fully cover a man’s leg and thus prevent any skin from showing in the event his trousers rise up.
Over the calf is almost always the dress sock length of choice for formal wear. The same benefits of socks staying up on the leg and of full leg coverage are important as you dress for weddings, charity benefits and holiday parties.
Mid-calf dress socks are generally considered more of a casual dress sock length and the following in menswear for this length is growing as trends have shifted toward more casual attire. Men of all ages are devoted wearers of mid-calf dress socks.
Mid-calf length is viewed as a more casual look in men’s hosiery and when viewed on the timeline of menswear, it is the more contemporary look. This is the length to pair with jeans, your Casual Friday attire, a Saturday night out or a trip to the beach.
With its lower profile on the leg, many men find that the mid-calf length feels much more comfortable; the feeling of socks all the way up to the knee can be intolerable over a long day for some gentlemen. For gentlemen with very large calves, the shorter length may be a better fit.
Mid-calf dress socks, with a shorter length, cover less of your legs and keep you cooler in hotter temperatures. And when it comes to shorts, it’s a bit of a faux pas to pair over the calf socks with shorts. Summer is best enjoyed wearing mid-calf length dress socks.
There was quite the media storm over Harry and Meghan's recent interview with Oprah. As I was reading the news and saw the below photo, I immediately noticed a piece of gossip that most royal aficionados surely missed out on: Prince Harry’s socks need an upgrade.
Judging from the photo, it seems like Harry is wearing a shorter, crew-length dress sock. For all of the reasons mentioned above, his look would be much more polished by instead wearing mid-calf or over the calf dress socks.
We recognize that both lengths have a place in your drawer and that sock length is a personal preference. At the same time, the setting may influence the length you need. We don’t judge – wear what makes you comfortable, just make the choice Boardroom Socks! Be sure to check out our list of 7 of the best dress socks for men.
Ready to pick out your next favorite pair of socks?
CEO, Boardroom Socks
Nathan is an eighth generation textile professional, passionate about producing quality hosiery right here in North Carolina. His favorite dress socks are our burgundy merino wool socks. You will also frequently find him wearing our no-show socks. Outside of the office he enjoys fishing, reading and exploring Charlotte with his wife, son and Golden Retriever.
by Nathan James September 05, 2023
by Nathan James July 28, 2023