It happened seemingly overnight. It was 2009, I think, but the specific year doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that it was warm. Because one day, every man in America (or at least Manhattan, which according to this New Yorker cover is America) finished getting dressed by pulling on their socks and shoes. The next day, they did the same thing—only without the hosiery. The great unsockening was afoot.
And then, like a flash flood, they were everywhere. Bare ankles peeking out between suede brogues and beaten-up jeans. Lower shins catching the light in afternoon meetings. Malleolus bones winking from beneath high-cuffed khakis.
Think back to that time, right after the crash. Dress codes were still relatively fixed; if menswear was changing, it was in a sharper, more fitted, vaguely more European direction. Suits shrunk—Thom Browne was this magazine’s Designer of the Year in 2008. J.Crew’s Liquor Store opened in Tribeca that same year, bringing with it the trim Ludlow suit and plenty of selvedge denim whose provenance could only be revealed with a full cuff.
Nearly a decade later, the ground has begun to shift. I write this on the first truly steamy day of the year in New York City, and nearly all my colleagues—even the ones in loafers!—are wearing socks. They are black, and white, and colorfully striped, and sometimes even tie-dyed. They are socks, and they are back.
What happened? Why did socks disappear? Why did they stay gone for so long? And who Infinity Gauntleted them back into existence?
As with so many problematic 2019 trends, this one was born online. A decade or so ago, the nascent #menswear movement was burbling up on Tumblr, introducing a generation of impressionable young desk jockeys to double monks and suit pants with beefy two-inch cuffs. The peacocks of Pitti Uomo had not yet drifted into self-parody. The ankle had been freed—and it felt great.
Office dress codes were relaxing, but slowly—ties were still a thing. So we took what we could get, which in this case was our socks. Wearing your suit like a breezy Italian industrialist meant you didn’t take yourself (or your suit) too seriously. This, paradoxically, made you seem even more serious. Who wears a suit without socks? A guy who knows exactly what he’s doing.
This is where the mea culpa comes in. Among the contents of the May 2009 issue of this magazine: here, a sprightly Zac Efron, leaping from the hood of one car to another, a tanned expanse of leg spanning from suit pant to black derby. There, a fashion spread pairing suits with sneakers—no socks needed. Elsewhere, a shot of Will Arnett adopting the pose of a shortstop fielding a sharp grounder, only in a suit and loafers, no socks. “Skip the dress socks,” the fashion copy reads, “but do consider those all-but-invisible low-cut loafer socks.”
(One time, I went on a date in a pair of double monks with no-shows underneath, wound up in a no-shoes home, and did a sort of chimpanzee shuffle so as to remove my shoes without letting my date know that I was wearing a tiny little pair of baby-man socks. To this day, I don’t know if she noticed. My shame seems to have been misplaced; the no-show sock has been more or less normalized. Here are the 20 best to buy.)
As the no-show went wide, so did the sockless look. These days, it’s hard to walk in New York in the springtime and not see a guy going bare-ankled. (It’s made even easier by the unthinkable rise of Allbirds, those frightening woolen shoes designed to be worn barefoot.) It’s no longer a fashion move, exactly—it’s just what you do when it gets warm, whether you work at Goldman Sachs or in graphic design. Not wearing socks has become a kind of style shorthand, a way to signal that you get it, even if you’re not entirely sure what it is.