I had a very nice e-mail this week from the lovely Jeana: “I have a shoe question for you, regarding mules and clogs and specifically if you’re supposed to wear socks or stockings with them, and if so what kind? I have some dark brown dress shoes that are ‘backless’ and I love the way they look with pants, but when I sit down and my socks are visible I feel like a dork. Any advice? Lives are in the balance, but you know, no pressure.”
No no! None at all.
Jeana isn’t the first person to ask me about this, and I actually DO have an answer, but I’m hesitant to throw it out here without some explanation, because the short version is this: while there are some Rules about what you wear on your feet, the Rules are subject to . . . well, a lot of stuff. Like where you live and what you do all day and what kind of shoes you are wearing.
Let me explain.
If it’s at all possible, I skip socks. I wear my ballet flats and my pointy toed slingbacks virtually all winter without anything under them. I wear mules with little half socks. With athletic shoes, I wear very low cut athletic socks, the kind that fit below the ankle bone. I wear tights with skirts, for warmth and coverage. I wear stockings only for black-tie functions, and then they are either nude or very sheer black, depending on my outfit. I don’t ever wear tights or stockings with mules because I slide right out of them. The shoes, not the tights. I’m not that kind of girl.
I can get away with being sock free all the time because it’s not all that cold where I live. Yesterday it was in the low 80s here; today we’re looking at a more seasonable 60ish, if we’re lucky. During the two or so weeks in the winter when it’s REALLY cold, I break out my L. L. Bean Maine Hunting Boots (circa 1980-something) and a pair of heavy wool ski socks and wear them with EVERYTHING.
It’s part of my carefully cultivated neo-Preppie aesthetic.
By now, of course, you’re wondering why you ever listen to me about anything because CLEARLY I have some screws loose to be going around in the WINTER without SOCKS on and my GOD she probably never put a HAT on her BABIES, either! Those poor CHILDREN! I’ll have you know that BOTH of my boys have hats AND gloves stored in their school bags and that we all dress appropriately for the weather. And remember that I said this sock thing wasn’t as simple as, say, what underwear to wear with your low-rise jeans.
So! What ARE the Rules about socks?
Jeana asked specifically about mules and clogs. If you can get away with it (ie, if it’s not freezing cold or you’re not slogging through snow) skip socks entirely, or opt for the half socks. Be sure to exfoliate and moisturize your heels, because cracked heels aren’t a pretty sight. If it’s cold AND your shoe is a basic brown or black AND you are wearing pants (not a skirt; we’ll get to that in a minute), go with a sock that matches the shoe. If your shoe is some other color–red or green or fuschia–match the sock to the pants. You’re trying to create a continuous line, either an extension of your pants leg or of your shoe. Brown shoes with red socks and black pants is just . . . wrong.
I recommend actual SOCKS, not trouser socks or knee-high stockings, for two reasons. Both trouser socks and knee-highs hit just below the knee and can impede circulation to your feet; I’m not a doctor and I’m not going to play one on the Internet, but this is a Bad Thing. You can Google it yourself. Second, trouser socks and knee-highs are, quite honestly, frumpy. And yes, I can feel you all balling up your trouser socks and taking aim at my head, but I stand by this. Choose some nice socks, something that is at least PARTIALLY composed of natural fibers. Target carries lovely cashmere and angora blend socks in beautiful colors and patterns for next to nothing. Think about a nice argyle or a pretty moss stitch pattern. I have a pair of brown socks with one tan snowflake at the ankle. I love them.
When you sit down, the top of your socks should be higher than the hem of your pants; if you can see a little strip of leg between the pants and the socks, you either need longer socks or longer pants. Think of this as the ankle equivalent of butt crack. Either skip the socks entirely and show your ankles off or cover up and create a coherent line.
With skirts, the rules are essentially the same; match tights to your skirt or your shoes for a long leg line. Even if your skirt is long, go with tights, not socks or knee highs or trouser socks. If it’s warm enough for knee highs, it’s warm enough for bare legs; if you want coverage, put some tights on.
In fact, just go toss ALL those knee-high stockings in the trash. Right now. I’ll wait.
Tights can be a lot of fun. Choose something with texture, for variety and interest, but don’t let your tights compete with your skirt. A denim skirt looks great with a pair of textured tights, but a tweed skirt calls for something patternless. If your shoes are a print–leopard, for example, or a nice plaid–choose tights that pick up a color in the shoe or continues the color of your skirt. Steer clear of very thick cotton tights; they will stick to an unlined skirt, and make you look like you are twelve. Which you’re not.
Peep toed shoes and slingbacks really should be worn without any legwear. You can put hose on under slingbacks, but for the love of all that is holy do NOT wear pantyhose or tights with open-toed shoes. EVER. I know there are “toeless” panty hose, but I don’t trust them. If you are concerned about your winter white legs, get some self-tanner and use it ahead of time. If you don’t feel comfortable with bare legs in the winter, opt for beautiful pumps that cover BOTH your toes AND your heel and wear them with neutral stockings.
Some of The Kids are wearing open-toed shoes or strappy sandals with tights these days. This is fine if you were born after, say, 1980 (and even then it’s risky, unless you happen to be an Olsen twin) but otherwise it’s a big no-no. Wear tights with closed-toe, casual shoes (a ballet flat, for example, or a flat mule); wear stockings or nothing with dressy shoes. Wear tights with boots; think about opting for a more risque tight or even a fishnet with your boots. Because all anyone will see is a little flash, not the whole pattern.
Do not–DO NOT–wear white tights. Ever. Do not wear light-colored tights in the winter. In fact, I will go all out and say DO NOT WEAR LIGHT-COLORED TIGHTS, EVER. Amen.
As with everything else, think about your socks as part of your outfit. It’s fine if people can see them, but they should be nice looking and should fit correctly and shouldn’t have a big hole in the heel. Patterned socks can be fun–I like a nice argyle myself–but be cautious of choosing socks that are the focus of your whole ensemble. If you wear Cookie Monster socks with lovely wool trousers and a nice pair of loafers, people will ONLY notice the socks. And they will wonder why you are swiping clothes from your children. Your SMALL children.
You need two pair of each of the following: black socks, brown socks, black tights, brown tights. One pair of each color tights can be textured, as can one pair of each color socks; add more socks if you wear them every day. Black socks will fade, so promise me that you will throw them away when they start to look grey-ish. You can toss your tights in the washing machine; invest in a lingerie bag and use it to keep the tights from getting tangled up. Hang them to dry. Replace them when they get icky.
And until then, wear them with reckless abandon.