The Dos and Don'ts of Wearing Socks to Work

Selecting work socks sounds like it should be easy. Just pick something that won’t get you reported to Human Resources, right? That’s definitely a good Rule #1—don’t get yourself fired by wearing your favorite pair of novelty R-rated socks to the office. Your co-workers and your Happy Hour crew may not have the same sense of humor.

Your office may even have a published dress code. Business casual? Formal and professional? Wear those kinds of socks.

But socks are actually more complicated than that. Yes, by following the dress code and using common sense, you can keep from wearing socks that create a fireable offense. But if you make one of several sock faux-pas that aren’t widely known, you might acquire a reputation as the office clown. Worst-case scenario—you could get pegged as careless, not well put together…maybe unsuitable for promotion!

It doesn’t have to be that way. By adhering to a few workplace sock best practices, you can project a professional, powerful image of success and responsibility. You can be the person who pays attention to details, the kind who has “management material” written all over them.

Stop letting your socks be a liability and turn them into an asset with these Dos and Don’ts of wearing socks to work.

Do Match your Socks to your Outfit

The easiest way to look put together around the ankles is to make sure your socks match your outfit. A basic way to do this is to pair “cool” colors (blue, green, purple) with other cool colors, and “warm” colors (red, orange, yellow) with other warm colors. No red socks with blue pants.

If you wear multi-colored socks, make sure at least one of the major colors goes with the outfit. This can be a great way to add pops of contrast color to your outfit without clashing, and your ankles are sure to be noticed!

If you’re having trouble getting started with color coordination, follow this basic rule: wear pants, socks, and shoes that are all in the same color family but are in different shades. Make your socks one shade darker than your pants, and your shoes one shade darker than your socks.

This is the kind of fashion rule that was meant to be broken, though. Experiment with lighter socks, darker socks, lighter shoes, darker shoes, to find unique combinations that wow your co-workers.

When in doubt, match your socks to your trousers before matching them to your shoes. Contrast colors work better on shoes than on pants. It’s also a safer bet for the workplace to choose darker socks, regardless of the color. Blue socks tend to match well with gray pants.

Don’t Wear White Socks

This is Workplace Socks 101, and sadly it’s a rule many people break. Some have nothing but white socks, preferring to buy them in bulk and figuring no one notices. Bad news—people notice.

White socks are too casual and athletic to play at the office, even a casual office. It just looks like you’re on the way to the gym. Additionally, they create glaring contrast with darker and earth-toned workplace attire, drawing all the wrong kinds of attention.

To make matters worse, most white socks are not dressy. Their heavy knits will make them stand out like a sore thumb, causing the outfit to look cheap.

Do Get Bold with Colors and Patterns

Yes, your workplace can handle color. How far outside of the black-sock box you stray depends on whether your workplace is creative or conservative. But even the most buttoned-up offices won’t balk at colorful or patterned socks if you thread the needle correctly.

The key is to keep the colors muted and earthy in a conservative workplace. Consider maroons, forest greens, and navy blues, as well as classic patterns like pinstripes, checkers, or Argyle.

If your workplace is creative and casual, you can get away with neon colors, rainbow pencil stripes, polka dots -- the sky’s the limit.

Colorful or patterned socks demonstrate confidence, personality, and creativity, traits that supervisors notice when thinking about who to shortlist for promotions. Stepping up your sock game with patterns and colors is a great way to dress for the job you want, rather than the job you have.

Note that plain black or monochromatic socks are never a bad bet. If you are colorblind, this might be the safest bet. Colorblind people should consider cool patterns like pinstripes or Argyle socks in black, white, and gray patterns.

No Cold Feet carries a wide selection of work-appropriate sock colors and patterns for you to play with.

Don’t Make a Habit of Wearing Novelty Socks

On casual Friday you may be able to get away with a fun pair of flamingo or bicycle socks—something work-appropriate, of course. Your co-workers may appreciate the humor. Still, it’s risky to always wear a joke on your ankles at the office. You may get a reputation for being unserious.

Do Wear Mid-Rise Socks

The most appropriate workplace sock is the kind that comes up to the middle of your calf. Not a lot of people will see that high up your leg if you’re wearing trousers, but on the off-chance they do, you might as well be on-message. This length of sock is dressy and professional.

Don’t Wear Knee Socks

Knee socks are associated with athletic events like soccer, rugby, and tennis. This might be appropriate for a company picnic, but if they get noticed, they will read as “off.” Remember, you're at the office, not a sports court.

Do Wear Dressier Socks with Dressier Clothes

This is an extension of the "no white socks" rule. If your office is business-formal and you wear coarse cotton socks, it won’t go unnoticed. Fashion-conscious managers notice if you are wearing dressier socks with dressier clothes.

Anytime you wear a suit, go with a thin dress sock made of fine cotton or wool, whether it’s the company banquet, presentation day, or just an upscale workplace environment. Dress shoes also fit better over thinner, dressier socks.

Don’t Wear Socks with Sandals

This is a big one. Some people think it’s the best of both worlds—socks to warm your feet, sandals to let it all hang out.

These people are misguided. Pairing socks with sandals—even socks with split toes—is a major fashion faux-pas.

Even if it’s Casual Friday, just don’t go there. Casual Friday isn’t another term for Fashion Victim Friday. Even when you’re casual, you want to look like you know what you’re doing. Sandals with socks are the opposite of that.

Do Pull Your Socks Up

If you’re trying to decide whether to pull your socks up or scrunch them down around your shoes, go for the clean, pulled-up look. Scrunched-down socks have gone in and out of style for casual dress, but in the workplace it just reads as frumpy and uninspired. It’s the kind of thing that is easily noticed when you’re sitting down.

Rolling and folding your socks doesn’t really work either. Scrunched, folded, or rolled socks also risk breaking up the silhouette of narrow-leg pants.

If you really just don’t like the embrace of a sock on your calf, consider ankle socks that make it look like you aren’t even wearing socks.

If your socks are bunching down because the elastic is worn out, that’s a different story, which brings us to ...

Don’t Wear Socks That Are In Bad Condition

Some people try to make their socks last forever. The socks could be faded, full of holes, the elastic so blown they don’t stay up anymore. They don’t care—if the socks still go on without ripping in half, why throw away a perfectly good sock?

You’re better than that. You deserve to walk confidently into the office in whole socks, not socks with holes. They’re only a few bucks. Bad socks are not only a sign of a lack of self-respect—they can be uncomfortable, bunching around the ankles with distracting holes in the soles. The office is a place to bring your best, and your best will be undermined by ratty and uncomfortable socks.

Do Coordinate Colors With your Skin Tone

You may have known that colors come in warm and cool tones; did you know that human complexions are the same? If you pick colors that complement your skin tone, your chances of success increase.

Some people have cooler skin tones. These are typically people with lighter complexion and hair, blue or green eyes. If the veins you can see just beneath the surface of your skin have a bluish tint, you have cooler skin tone. Cooler sock colors may be the best bet for you, although muted warm tones could work as well.

Other people have warmer skin tones. These are typically darker or olive complexions, with brown or hazel eyes and darker hair. If the veins you can see just beneath the surface of your skin have a greenish tint, you have a warmer skin tone. Warmer sock colors may suit you best.

Some people have qualities of both cooler and warmer skin tones. These lucky middle-of-the-road complexions can handle many color pairings.

Don’t Wear Socks with Shorts

Pairing socks with shorts is enjoying a surge of hipster popularity. Historically, though, it hasn’t been regarded as a good look. Even scrunched up socks don’t really work for casual workplaces.

For Casual Friday or a company picnic, consider ankle socks that hide their presence just below the casing of your shoe.

Alternatively, you could wear no socks with your shoes. Just make sure to use foot powder, baby powder, or talcum powder to keep your foot sweat from befouling your shoes with a permanent odor.


Again, many fashion rules are meant to be broken. For every “rule” stylists espouse as gospel, some celebrity or other has “made it work.”

Except maybe for socks with sandals.

This list of “dos” and “don’ts” is focused on two things:

  1. Keeping your sock selection appropriate for the workplace.
  2. Upping your sock game. There’s no reason for your sock collection to be boring or in bad condition.

You may be wondering, “Why bother? Are people really looking at my socks?” The truth is, you may be the only one who doesn’t notice your own socks, considering how far they are from your eyes and how much time they may spend beneath a desk.

Your coworkers, on the other hand, take in the whole person. Some with desks near you may have nothing to look at for a break from the monitor screen but your socks beneath the desk across from them.

The upside of this fact is that switching socks is one of the easiest and most cost-effective statements you will ever make. Wearing fun, coordinated socks to work demonstrates personality, confidence, and the kind of wardrobe acumen that executives are made of. Why slow your career down on account of bad socks?

There aren’t too many sock rules, to be honest. As long as you stick to the basics (and avoid getting fired), your sock collection can easily become the talk of the office—in a good way.

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