You’ve probably seen sharply dressed men in argyle socks a million times. You may have never given it a second thought, unless it was to think “Man, those socks look sharp.”
What you may not have realized is that you are looking at over 500 years of Highland history wrapped around that dude’s ankles. A product of clan culture in Scotland, argyle socks originated as a way to demonstrate clan pride. Mentioned in classic literature, they adorned the feet of some of history’s most consequential men.
From the golf course to the workplace to the wedding party, argyle socks make a bold declaration. Without going overboard, they make a statement. A man in argyle socks is classy but fun, confident and stately, aware of his surroundings and ready for anything.
Ready to give this bold footwear statement a try? Here is our deep dive into the sharp and sexy world of argyle socks to help you nail that argyle charm.
Argyle socks are instantly recognizable. The classic pattern can come in any number of colors and combinations, ranging from muted and neutral to a technicolor rainbow. What sets them apart is the pattern.
The cuff of the sock, which usually comes up to calf height or higher, is encircled with a pattern of elongated, overlapping vertical oblong diamonds or lozenges. One set of diamonds is usually solid-colored, the second overlapping set of diamonds usually an outline with the solid diamonds and the sock color visible through the negative space.
Argyle socks originated in Scotland. The name “argyle” suggests a heritage originating in Argyllshire in West Scotland. However, the spelling of “Argyll” does not match the accepted spelling that evolved for the socks, casting some doubt on their origin.
16th-Century Scots created the diamond pattern for their hosiery to match or complement the tartans of their kilts. A clan’s argyle colors carried deep familial significance.
Primary sources describe them as part of the ceremonial garb of Clan Campbell of Argyllshire, circa 1500 A.D., colored green and white to match their kilts. 18th-Century Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott, author of such classics as Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, made frequent references to them, boosting their profile in the popular consciousness.
Argyle became a popular knitting pattern. Mass production of argyle socks took off in the late 18th Century.
In the 1920s they became a favorite for players of the quintessentially Scottish sport of golf. The Duke of Windsor (best known for abdicating his role as King Edward VIII of England) was a fan. He heavily promoted the sock style in his post-crown career as an importer and manufacturer of upscale knitted apparel under the “Pringle of Scotland” label, which was more fruitful than his career as a pre-war apologist for Adolf Hitler.
Argyle patterns made the jump to vests, sweaters, and other apparel. They fell out of favor in the postwar period, but made a comeback in the US when John Clark Wood, the president of Brooks Brothers, took a shine to them at a 1949 golf tournament he attended in Scotland. He later promoted them heavily through the Brooks Brothers brand. Brooks Brothers debuted their line of argyle socks in 1952. They almost immediately became a blockbuster, one of the most popular socks in America.
Argyle socks tend to spike in popularity whenever high fashion enjoys a renaissance. They were a favorite of the “preppie” and “yuppie” cultures of the 1980s. argyle socks have even emerged as an acceptable choice for women, especially women affecting a preppie or “hipster” style.
Over the years, sporting franchises unrelated to golf have shown a fondness for the argyle pattern. These include the “argyle Armada” of cyclists for Garmin-Slipstream, Norway’s team of male curlers in the 2010 Olympics, the Belgian national football team, the University of North Carolina basketball team, and the Major League Soccer team Sporting Kansas City.
The best season to wear argyle is autumn. It’s also a popular winter choice.
While argyle socks are on the “casual” end of the dress sock spectrum, their status as a classic part of the rich patrician heritage make them perfectly appropriate for the office.
Even if your workplace frowns on penguin or rainbow patterns on your socks, argyle socks will fly. They are so well-entrenched in the culture that no one will bat an eye if the plaid flashes at the bottom of your pants leg when you are seated.
argyle socks can indeed add pop and personality to a conservative workplace outfit that might otherwise tend toward drab and dull. Putting a pop of color around your ankles will get noticed, and highlight the fact that just because you’re at work, you don’t throw fun and fashion out the window. Depending on how casual the workplace is, even bold color choices might pass muster.
Job interviews can be more delicate situations. You ’re trying to make a good impression and not come across as a crazy person.
Fortunately, with argyle socks, crazy is still a far way off. Entrenched in western culture for hundreds of years, you’re not going to make a bad impression simply by choosing them.
A prospective employer could perhaps compliment you on your bold choice of argyle socks. (S)he might even note you as a candidate with confidence and the willingness to flex a little personality under pressure.
Pro Tip: Pick bold, primary colors—something that will get noticed, but not too far outside of the box. They don’t have to match the colors of your interview outfit, but they should at least complement them. Bonus points if they match your necktie. Avoid browns. They’re too drab to communicate confidence.
Weddings and workplaces are different animals. Argyle socks can definitely work at a wedding, but the strategy is a little different. When we dress up for a wedding, we dress to impress. Romance is in the air, and you want to pick your socks with an eye toward catching some of it.
Brown, muted earth tones do not cut it. Thinking of wearing a brown suit to the wedding? Think again; consider navy or charcoal. Bold color choices like black and white, black and red, black and yellow, black and sky blue or navy blue, etc. are the way to go. Some grays and whites will add to the effect as well.
Most weddings have color schemes. Argyle socks might be a great way to get into the spirit of the wedding by matching the pattern color to that of the wedding theme. It could even be a great choice to add uniformity to the Groomsmen.
If it’s a black tie wedding, you might get away with pairing black-and-white argyle socks with your tuxedo. However, even tux-printed argyle socks might dress down the formal dress. Black silk hosiery is the safer bet with a tuxedo.
On the other hand, if it’s a traditional highland wedding in kilted attire, definitely rock those argyle socks to the wedding! White argyles are the way to go with a kilt.
Weddings often take place in the summer. Argyle socks are more of a cold-weather choice. If you want to rock argyle socks for a summer wedding, consider socks with more summery colors like sky blue or bright yellow.
Argyle socks are quite versatile. As a “casual dress sock,” they are appropriate for everything from weekend casual to business casual to semi formal to formal. You can wear them with khakis and a blazer, a suit and tie, jeans and a button-down, or even hipster shorts.
They pair remarkably well with a variety of shoes. You can wear them with sneakers, moccasins, loafers, lace-ups, chukka boots, and many other styles.
Here are some cool pairings to try. If you already have any of these in your wardrobe, you will have an easier time of it. If you have some argyle socks and don’t know what to do with them, consider getting some of these to match them.
The first big no-no of argyle socks is to never pair them with an argyle sweater. Or an argyle vest, or any other argyle pattern. Matching patterns like that never works. It comes across as too cute, or trying-too-hard. If you have an argyle sweater you like, skip the argyle socks. That’s more than enough argyle for one outfit.
Among other dress sock choices, argyle is a bold choice. If you plan to make other bold choices—say, a patterned shirt, jacket, or suit—the argyle pattern might push the outfit over the edge and into “too much.” Argyle socks work best with solid colors.
argyle socks with earth tones look better with earth-toned shoes (brown, tan, etc.) Don’t pair earthy argyles with black shoes. With your black kicks, try black argyle socks in monochrome or accented with bold colors.
As mentioned before, argyle socks are some of the more casual dress socks. That means that the more formal the attire, the less likely they are to work. They may be perfect for khakis and a blue blazer, but a tuxedo is pushing it, even if you choose tuxedo colors. A knit cotton sock just won’t look right on a tuxedo that cries out for silk socks, especially if you try to pair them with patent-leather lace-up shoes or formal slippers.
The name of the gift-giving game is to delight the recipient with something they would not think to buy for themselves. Argyle socks make a great gift for the clotheshorse, aspiring clotheshorse, or even the fashion casualty on your gift list. Heck, a fashion-impaired dude could probably use the pizzazz a gift of argyle socks might inject into the wardrobe.
Here are a few guidelines to consider when shopping for argyle socks as a gift.
Different colors flatter different skin tones. Argyle socks are available in a variety of colors, so it helps to think about what will work with the recipient’s natural color.
People with fair, pale, or pink skin, lighter hair, and blue or green eyes tend to look great in cool colors like sky blue, cobalt, grassy or emerald greens, and pastels. Lipstick red, pinkand pale yellow work too … just not orange or bright yellow.
People with darker hair and dark, olive, or golden skin tones look great in orange, fire-engine red, rusty red, creams, and earth tones, as well as olive and purple tones.
Does the recipient have a favorite color or color palette to wear? Check the recipient’s social media profiles to get a sense of what they like to wear, and then pick a pair of socks that goes with the color of the outfits toward which they tend to gravitate.
If you’re new to matching clothes, here are some tips …
If you really want to be the best gift-giver ever, find out your Scottish friend’s clan heritage. Casually ask him. Alternatively, a surname like McGregor or Campbell might be traceable to a clan.
In the era of ancestry.com, more Scots know their clan heritage than you might expect. It might even be an article of family history handed down through generations.
Google-search the traditional tartan of the recipient’s clan and buy socks that match the tartan. It’s a thoughtful gift with a story behind it.
Argyle socks are a bold beginning fashion choice. The sky's the limit as to how bold. How fashion-fearless is the dude in question? Any man may be able to pull off earth-toned argyles, but it takes a special kind of confidence to rock hot pink argyles with electric-green accent lozenges.
Even a conservative dresser, however, sometimes needs a push out of the couture nest. Get that baby bird some color to play with. Masculine, primary colors are a safe bet, especially if you can find a match for some of the recipient’s favorite outfits.
Socks frequently come in sets, from three to fifteen or more pairs. There is nothing wrong with giving someone a set of socks, but we like the impact of a single high-quality pair of socks, carefully selected to match the personality and color preference of the recipient.
This goes hand-in-hand with the last recommendation—by favoring one pair of socks instead of a set, you can forgo quantity and go for broke on quality.
Most guys don’t treat themselves to high-end socks. Spoil his feet with high-quality combed cotton or merino wool. They will quickly become his favorite socks, possibly even spoiling cheap socks for him and permanently upping his sock game.
Argyle socks are not for wimps. That said, people can generally pull them off better than they think they can.
The style enjoys widespread acceptance. The pattern is striking without being overbearing, You don’t have to be a preppie or a hipster. You don’t even have to be Scottish, or a golfer. For every style profile, comfort level, skin tone, and almost every tier of attire, there is an argyle sock that will work.
Consider sprucing up your wardrobe with a variety of argyle socks. Pair them with any outfit you can think of, keeping in mind the season and your coloration … but try pairing them with outfits you never would have expected to work with them.
Like the 16th-century Highlanders who invented them, argyle socks are full of surprises … and more versatile than you ever imagined!