Whether wool, cotton, silk, or even cashmere, socks and hosiery keep our feet comfortable and dry. Let’s consider the sock, though, as an accessory. How does one integrate them into a wardrobe? More specifically, how do you style patterned dress socks?

Time and Place

There is a time and a place for everything, including when to wear socks with a pattern. People will notice. Wearing bright, patterned socks to a sober business meeting may not be the best choice. Wearing funky socks is downright out. However, patterned dress socks do have their place. So, let’s consider some ground rules.

What do we mean by “patterned” socks? While, in theory, a pattern could be anything from microdots to miniature horses, they tend to fall into two broad categories- striped, and repeating patterns of a similar size.

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Styling Striped Socks

Start by choosing a base color. Beige, Tan, Grey, Navy, and Black are easily integrable with bolder colors. They’re also among the most common suit colors, making for an easy trouser match. This gives the pleasing effect of an elongated leg line, making you appear taller.

man wearing red and grey striped patterned dress socks standing on hardwood floor

Keep the other colors in the sock to a minimum. One colored stripe with two at the maximum. Go for our grey and black, or feel free to be a little brighter with our peach & tomato. Anything beyond two colored stripes, though, gets a bit busy.

Third, consider the sock as either a primary or secondary accessory in your wardrobe. The stripe on these socks is usually a bolder color. A black sock with a bright blue or a grey base with a deep burgundy work quite well together. While these can be accents on their own, it helps to coordinate with other accessories.

So, if you’re wearing the grey sock with a charcoal suit, go for a tie in a rich wine color. Or, if you’re sporting the classic menswear ‘uniform’ of a navy blazer, grey flannel trousers, and black tassel loafers, spice up the look with the black socks and a brighter blue paisley pocket square.

black purple and grey patterned dress socks with a subtle grey patterned suit

Somewhat more challenging is pairing stripes with patterned suits. A smaller, textured cloth like hopsack or sharkskin are not only versatile suit patterns, but among the easiest to combine with striped socks. Nailhead (or the slightly larger birdseye) is also an excellent fabric for striped dress socks.

Glenplaid, tweeds, and Prince of Wales are potentially more difficult, but can work if one has the courage and conviction to do so. Ideally, the stripe in the sock would match the color of the overcheck in a Prince of Wales check, but it does run the risk of being a little too ‘matchy-matchy.’ You could also go for a complementary color- say, a sock with a pale pink stripe and a suit with light blue Prince of Wales check.

Two patterns I’d recommend avoiding with striped socks are pinstripes and larger windowpanes. The former can drift into Beetlejuice (for those who remember the late 1980s) territory rather quickly, and the latter is simply too much pattern. Choose one or the other! Besides, we’ve got plenty of solid socks to choose from, too.

For further reading, dive into our in-depth piece on how to style striped socks.

Styling Dress Socks with Small Patterns

Turning now to our second category. Indeed, a ‘pattern’ could refer to anything from water-dwelling mammals to dots and knots. As cute and cuddly as a manatee on your hosiery might be, it runs the risk of having your socks scream ‘look at me!’ With patterns, smaller is usually the more versatile choice.

Color for small patterned dress socks should follow the same rules discussed above. Grey, blue, and tan are great places to start, as they’re going to match the primary color for most contemporary men’s suiting.

Accent colors for the dots (or knots) on the socks can be a little more fun, as they are less conspicuous than stripes. So, feel free to add another color and go for three dots. Ideally, at least one of the dots should be in the same color family as your suit and another as one of your accessories, but as long as they’re complementary it doesn’t make much difference.

patterned navy dress socks with a grey patterned suit and black oxfords

On the whole, I’ve found socks with dots and knots a little easier to style with patterned suiting. Just as with stripes, they’ll do great with sharkskin, flannel, and other lightly textured suits. They look nice with most widths of striped suiting, but can look particularly good with a wider pinstripe to even a chalk striped suit.

orange and navy patterned dress socks paired with a grey patterned suit

Socks with small patterns look excellent with Glenplaids and Prince of Wales checked suits and odd trousers. It’s a next-level menswear move to pull this off, though; if you’re to do it, be ready to handle a compliment.

I’d largely avoid birdseye and nailhead suits when styling this kind of sock. The scale of the patterns is just too close together.

The Exception

As I’ve alluded to quite a bit during my time writing for the Boardroom Memo, one the cardinal sins of menswear is trying too hard. As Brian Sacawa, founder of He Spoke Style and one of my principal inspirations has said, guys who start down the path of dressing well seem to want to show they’re ‘into style.’ So, they’ll pop with a vest, a pocket watch, a fedora, and some funky socks. Look Everyone! Look at how stylish I am! It’s a call for attention more than anything else. There’s at least one exception to this. Patriotism.

American flag patterned dress socks with dark flannel trousers and brown oxfords

Boardroom Socks are proudly made in North Carolina, the heartland of the American textile industry. We’ve woven the American flag into our line of American flag socks because we understand the ingenuity and the enduring will of the American spirit. Each pair is made with care, the right way. Every time.

That will always be in style.

Thanks for reading.

Yours in Style,

Tony Gorga
Boardroom Socks

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Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff

Our editorial staff is comprised of menswear experts dedicated to providing you with helpful information. Sharing everything from style tips to sock care instructions, these gentlemen are a wealth of knowledge for both our customers and the Boardroom Socks team.

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