How jazzy socks became the modern man’s necktie

In the hierarchy of Christmas gifts, socks no longer languish in the last-minute/unpopular relative category

Once upon a time, receiving socks as a gift was the adult equivalent of a child opening their stocking on Christmas morning to discover a lump of coal. Socks meant someone thought you had been naughty, not nice. But socks – especially men’s – are not what they used to be. No longer just a piece of utilitarian uniform only available in boring black, navy or grey, socks have been elevated to the status of bona-fide fashion accessory. They now come in a kaleidoscope of colours, with witty motifs, pleasing patterns and in luxe materials. Today, socks are for men what high heels are for women – a way to look like you have dressed with intent whether you’re wearing sweatpants or suiting.

Perhaps it is the demise of neckties that has shifted the spotlight to men’s feet. A decade of tech billionaires sporting nothing smarter than T-shirts and jeans, coupled with the post-Covid rise in hybrid working, has rendered neckties redundant outside of weddings and funerals. On the autumn-winter runways, men’s wear collections from heavy-hitters like Prada favoured “floating” spearpoint collars in snazzy prints worn with blazers and bare chests. These colossal collars are high fashion’s alternative to ties; a fresh way of injecting an individual flourish to formalwear. But until this runway fantasy becomes a reality, socks have become the modern man’s necktie.

This means that in the hierarchy of Christmas gifts, socks no longer languish in the last-minute/Secret Santa/unpopular relative category. Indeed, a pair of yellow ribbed cashmere socks from Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, or some Egyptian cotton socks from London heritage brand Pantherella, are luxury gifts likely to be on the wish lists of the most discerning men in your life. Like Chanel perfume, they are an entry-level item to an otherwise unaffordable heritage brand, and a way to embody a touch of the mystique and panache that surrounds it.

Socks from Irish brands such as Irish Socksciety and Sock City, meanwhile, are being snapped up by men who want to add a fun exclamation point to their outfits. Irish Socksciety co-founder Joanna Ciezka has seen a significant rise in the number of men buying the brand’s characterful socks online in the past year.


“Socks are not an ‘in-your-face’ item,” Ciezka explains, “so men don’t need to overthink it. They can just have fun with them.” It is true. Socks are visible enough to make a point, but not so obvious to be a distraction. The Polish-born Galway resident believes socks are no longer something men want to buy in the drapery department of supermarkets. “Men want their socks to be design-led, but also to have a story,” she says.

And it turns out socks can speak volumes. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is known for letting his feet do – at least some of – the talking: rainbow stripes at a Pride parade, Nato flags for a meeting in Brussels, ducks at Davos. It has been dubbed “sock diplomacy”, something we saw Leo Varadkar dabble in when he wore a pair of maple leaf-motif socks to welcome the Canadian premier to Ireland in 2017.

Trudeau’s socks aren’t all work and no play, though. His Chewbacca and Darth Vadar socks have provided the public with an endearing glimpse of the man behind the politician. He may have a seat at the most powerful tables in the world Monday to Friday, but at the weekend he has got his feet up watching Star Wars just like you and me.

Ciezka says Irish Socksciety’s best-sellers reflect customers’ passions and sense of humour, from its Vitamin Sea and Full Irish socks to its Dog Mad and Dublin Doors designs. “It’s common to see men in suits showing off their socks,” Ciezka says. “Anything with colour and pattern sells, but our Feck It socks are especially popular.” This is probably because from the ankles up, they appear reasonably conservative, with a coloured diagonal design, but the slogan Feck It is printed on the soles of the feet, so there’s a private joke going on. “People really like the Irish humour,” she adds. Ciezka says that her male customers are as practical as they are playful, though. “Functionality is really important to them and that’s why we’ve designed our socks to be seamless for added comfort.”

Character does not trump comfort, then, which is why Waterford-based Polly & Andy launched its super-soft range of seamless bamboo socks in 2019, as did Dublin brand Incredible Socks in 2020. Celebrity couple Brian Dowling and Arthur Gourounlian, meanwhile, have also seen the potential of socks, establishing The AG with a view to bringing a bit of Art Deco style to Irish men’s ankles. Limerick-based SicSock has expanded its collection of sports and novelty styles to include some sophisticated Paul Smith-esque dress socks.

Cool, cosy and useful, distinctive socks are the perfect festive stocking filler this year. But if you are still not convinced, remember – a good sock is also a great conversation starter, and there will be occasions when any one of us might need an icebreaker over the Christmas party season.