The Sock Journal

Barnaby style guide on socks

When we just started, we had the impression that many men were spending serious money on accessories and shoes, but when it came to socks, random socks were impulsively bought at any check-out counter.
Please stop buying those chubby tube socks, ten in a pack. Maybe you are uncomfortable with socks, maybe you’re the guy who never wears them. Well, stop! Socks are finally getting the attention it deserves. Socks are just as important as the rest of your attire! 

This journal will take the four most important categories into consideration:

  • Function - How to use or wear the right socks at the right time? Whether you are attending a gala, working heavy duty, exercising in a gym or just having a beer at a pub - there is a right sock for every occasion. [Chapter 1]
  • Design - What colour & pattern should I wear? Aesthetics, there is nothing wrong to play with details and there is definitely a lesson in colours and patterns to be learnt. [Chapter 2]
  • Style – What is the right shape & size of a sock? The anatomy of a sock. Whether you wear a no show, quarter of crew cut. Each shape caters for a particular wear. [Chapter 3]
  • Quality - What is the best fabric & materials for a sock? Closely related to function lies quality. The fabric and combination or certain sock characteristics are of most importance. [Chapter 4]

Before we go into detail of each of the categories, we love to give a little disclaimer:

Disclaimer - Sometimes, the classic rules of thumb are meant be broken –wear a vivid sock and make a style impact to its own. 

Be bold, be brave, and wear Barnaby. Break the rules, but only when mastered and you know what you’re doing. Make a bold statement, and challenge your friends. Wear the business suit with coloured socks with a look that says “Yes, I know the rules, and I’m confident enough and care enough about how I look to break it anyway, because it’s more fun for me. Deal with it” 

We love to be inspired - show us your style via #WeAreBarnaby


Chapter 1. Function - How to use or wear the right socks?

Formal socks

A smart fitting suit is a beautiful thing. However, the people living in one will tell you that it is all about the extras. If you don't wear a suit every day, you don't necessarily need to wear less comfortable socks. Everyday socks should be extremely comfortable, look good, and provide sufficient cushioning and moisture absorbing qualities.

Traditionally a dark color sock is worn matching the suit: grey or black socks with grey suit, black socks with a black suit and blue or grey with a blue suit. Black and blue do not mix up.

However, if you look down lately, you might notice something else: bright, patterned and funky socks. In addition, ties are less popular. Wall Street and Silicon Valley are yearning for subtle ways to express themselves differently are looking toward their feet.

Regardless of the working environment, your audience is important. Be sure that you are aware of what you can and can’t do. Especially when you're in business, everyone looks at your shoes. Nutty socks can start a conversation, or end one.

Most important rule: If we can see flesh over the top of your socks then they are too short

Informal socks

Socks worn at special occasions should be more qualitative everyday footwear. In some instances this would imply that they are thinner and more delicate. Stick to the advice as mentioned above and don't overdo it with the variety of patterns. There are plenty of options on the market that allow you to present some visual interest without shooting the equivalent of a stun gun into people’s eyes. Make sure that they mold against your leg properly and that the elastic keeps them from bunching up.

The rule is that socks should never be worn underneath shorts unless you wear statement socks.

Sport and outdoor socks

Don’t spend $250 on the latest running sneakers and ruin their comfort by slipping on cheap and uncomfortable socks. Function is important here. Quality sports socks is one of the most important parts of your sport gear. They need to be designed to properly cushion and support your toes, the top of the foot and the Achilles tendon. There are various socks available for respective sports, whether it is ruby, hiking, or skiing.

Socks should minimize blisters and hot spots, regulate temperature and absorb moisture. They should also be extremely durable, and allow for proper breathing. 

The rule here is, style wise, basically the only place where white socks can be worn is in the gym.


Chapter 2. Design - What pattern & colour socks should I wear?


Patterned socks that were once for eccentrics or fanciers are now merely creative. The most popular patterns for socks are herringbone and pin dot. We have listed the seven most common patterns:

  • Argyle: A checkerboard of interlocking diamonds. Many argyle layouts also feature layers of overlapping motifs, adding a sense of movement, texture, and three-dimensionality. The name of the pattern comes from the region of Argyll in Western Scotland, from which the design originated. Argyle has a sporty connotation from its golf background.
  • Herringbone: V-shaped pattern typically found in clothing made from twill fabric. The herringbone pattern gets its name because the shape made by the weave resembles the skeleton (bones) of a herring-fish.
  • Houndstooth: The pattern has traditionally been a repeating motif of black checkers weaved into a field of white, although in recent times, designers have begun experimenting with other colors as well. In the 1930s, the Houndstooth pattern was a symbol of elitism. 
  • Paisley: Complicated pattern resembling a twisted droplet or a kidney. This pattern can be traced all the way from India and it became popular in the western part of the world as early as the 18th century. The term “paisley” is derived from a town in Scotland where a large amount got produced.
  • Pin Stripes or Dots: Men’s wear is all about details and a pin give the whole look an extra boost. A pattern of very thin stripes (often as thin as a single pin/thread, hence the name) or dots that run vertically.
  • Plaid: Formed by cross-weaving small dark and light checks. There are many types of plaid. The most common ones are the Tartan, the Gingham and the Tattersall (checkered). The novelist Sir Walter Scott was also well known for wearing border tartan trousers. 
  • Polka Dots: A series of circles of of different shapes (and often colours) that are spaced out in an even pattern. Polka dots were originally worn by flamenco dancers and other performers. Remember, the larger the dot, the louder it gets. Just like the paisley, polka dots are considered as a loud pattern.

Alternatives to the classic patterns are Floral, Camo and Novelty socks. Baltasar Gracian, a philosopher, once said, “There must always be some novelty [..] The person who displays a little more of it each day keeps up expectations, and no one ever discovers the limits of his talent.” 

While Baltasar may not have had socks in mind, we look forward to see you show off your talent. Share it with us via #WeAreBarnaby.


The rule is that socks should always match or complement the trouser and the belt always matches the shoe. That means wearing black socks with black trousers, dark grey socks with charcoal trousers, blue socks with your blue jeans, and so on. This applies to any situation and you can’t go wrong. 

Now, try to break the rule. When to wear colourful socks? Any other moment, specifically when:

  • When you want to spark up a simple outfit.
  • When you need extra colour-coordination.

However, there is a place and time for everything. When not to wear colourful socks?

  • As part of a serious business outfit or a somber occasion like a funeral. These situations are not about you expressing individuality - they are about you showing respect, conformity and being appropriate.
  • When you are uncomfortable with colour coordination.
  • When you are already wearing too many colours.


Chapter 3: Style - What is the right shape & size of a sock? 

For every beginner there are some key terms and definitions to master to talk the sock lingo.

The Anatomy of a Sock

  • No show: Socks that hide inside the shoe.
  • Liner: Socks that do not show above the shoe.
  • Ped: Socks that just touch the bottom of the ankle.
  • Quarter / Anklets: Socks with a top designed to cover the ankle bone and extending less than one-third of the way up the largest part of the calf. Common used for sports.
  • Mid-Calf / Crew cut: Half length socks with a top extending beyond the ankle length but not beyond the largest part of the calf. Common socks for formal attire.
  • Over the calf (OTC) / Executive: Full length socks with a top extending beyond the calf but not over the knee.

Sock composition

  • Cuff / Ribbing: This is the very top part of the sock that circles the ankle or cuff. Usually it refers just to the ribbed edge of a sock but sometimes the whole leg of a sock can be referred to as the cuff. Usually designed to cling to the leg. The cuff needs to be flexible / stretchy. A cuff down or top down sock starts here. Most socks are worked from the top down, beginning with the cuff. Cuffs often begin with 1½-2½"/3.5-6cm of ribbing for extra elasticity at the top of the sock, though some socks may be ribbed the entire length of the cuff, and others may be topped with a lace or other stitch pattern, and feature no ribbing at all.
  • Leg: This is normally the part of the sock that encircles the ankle. Knitted as a tube and runs down to the heel. On ankle socks this is usually straight. However on calf socks some increases / decreases are necessary to shape the leg. Often a sock will have an all over pattern such as rib, texture or colour that goes all the way around the leg and continues without a break across the top of the foot only.
  • Heel: This is the cup-shaped part of the sock that fits around the ball of the sock and is responsible for the ‘tube’ part of the sock changing direction to go into the foot. Usually starts off with a flat section that gets shaped into a cap to cup the ball of the foot. This shaping is often referred as ‘turning the heel’. With a flap heel stitches get picked up on the sides of a rectangular flap. Heel types: short row, heel flap / gusset, Dutch heel. 
  • Instep: This is often here to shape the instep of the foot. The shaping is either a decrease (cuff down socks) or increase (toe up sock) on either side of the top of the foot. Some short row heel socks don’t have a gusset.
  • Gusset: This is the part of the sock that runs from the heel into the main part of the foot. It can normally be seen as a triangular shaped area where shaping either side of the foot decreases the number of stitches after a heel flap. Gussets help ease the change of direction from a vertical leg to a horizontal foot and it helps the sock to fit the arch of the foot. Some sock patterns, normally advanced ones, make a feature of this area and have intricate shaping or patterns that show off the change in direction.
  • Top of Foot: This normally refers to the part of a sock which is after the heel has been worked and instep shaping is complete. In a simple sock it is where the stitch numbers return to more or less the same as was used in the Leg of the sock. It includes both the Top of the foot and the sole. The sole usually being in stocking stitch and the top of foot is in the pattern stitch
  • Bottom of Foot / Sole: This is the very bottom of the foot, and runs out from the heel and instep. It is usually distinct from the top of the foot in that it uses a smooth stockinette/stocking stitch for comfort. This is often left in stockinette / stocking stitch so that it is smooth underneath the foot.
  • Toe: This is usually where a patterned top of foot will stop and a toe will start. In stockinette / stocking stitch so that it is smooth and comfortable and fits inside a shoe. A toe up or bottom up sock starts here. Often the toe is finished with seamlessly grafting the ends together. This is called a Kitchener Stitch. Sock toe types: Turkish toe, Wedge toe, Star toe, Short Row toe.

    Chapter 4: Quality - What are the best fabric & materials for a sock? 

    Most socks today are made to be disposable and fit only a small percentage of men well. Don’t fall in this trap.  Quality socks, on the other hand, are manufactured using both better materials and the process for manufacturing them is often 50% longer. Time is spent on creating stronger seams, a higher percentage of hand guided sewing is required, and higher quality controls are enforced.

    The perfect sock composition is different for each individual and situation you are in. Ideally, you should have a blend of many of the fabrics to secure maximal comfort, durability, moisture absorption, stretch, and cushioning. At first, you'll probably have to try different types of socks before you find the ideal fabric combination.

    The second consideration is construction. You need socks that stay up; nothing ruins a look faster than seeing a man’s bare, pale calf peek out from under his pants. Your socks’ ability to stay up is mostly determined by their length and elastic strength.

    Types of fabric

    • Cashmere - Cashmere is a mark of luxury. It carries many of the same properties as wool, and it is far less cumbersome. However, it has to be properly cared for or you risk losing its shape. It’s best to avoid a washing machine or dryer when it comes down to cashmere. Hand washing and fine fabric soap is best if you want to get your money worth.
    • Cotton - It is the most widely worn sock material. It feels and looks great for the best price. Fine cotton yarns are lightweight, provide superior comfort, are an excellent fit and great for absorbing moisture. They are easily washed (you can use pretty much any type of washing product) and are easily maintained. Having said that, pure cotton socks lack durability and posture. Therefore ensure that cotton socks are properly blended. In addition, in terms of insulation, it can’t match up to wool. Cotton is not recommended for active uses as they absorb sweat and dry slowly.
    • Lycra - Lycra is the elastic portion of your socks' composition. Synthetic yarns don't breathe and the resulting socks can get very sweaty and smelly. Therefore, lycra (spandex) isn't always part of the entire body of the sock; it can simply be a strip at the edge of the sock to offer greater fit and support. It is often used for kid socks.
    • Polyester - Polyester fabric is usually part of a sock's composition. It ensures proper breathing for feet and helps avoid excess sweating.
    • (Merino) wool - Wool not only provides feet with proper ventilation, but it also cushions feet and absorbs excess sweat. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water. It is also a great insulator against cold temperatures and is very durable. On the negative side, for some people, wool can be extremely itchy and uncomfortable. Unlike cotton, wool also has a natural elasticity, allowing for socks that hold their shape well and fit snugly. 
    • Nylon - Nylon content will provide great insulation and long-wearing durability.
    • Silk - Silk socks are not durable and last nowhere near as long as cotton, wool or cashmere. Therefore it is often blended with high-quality wool. Silk is lightweight, wicks moisture, comfortable against skin. 
    • Synthetics - The following materials are often blended or used in select areas of the sock for greater comfort and fit. 
      • Nylon and Lycra spandex help socks retain their shape, create a snug fit and, in some sock styles, provide arch support. 
      • Polyester, Acrylic and Polypropylene are commonly used fibers that wick away moisture to keep your feet dry and prevent blisters.
    In short, some of the classic rules of thumb are meant be broken. Break the rules, but only when mastered.
    Make a bold statement, and challenge your friends. Wear the business suit with coloured socks with a look that says “Yes, I know the rules, and I’m confident enough and care enough about how I look to break it anyway, because it’s more fun for me. Deal with it” 
    The world is at your feet. Take the first step into something new.
    For your reading pleasure.
    With love,