Sock Wicking – As described above, socks should “wick” moisture away from the foot, toward the exterior surface of the sock.
Sock Padding – The sock should cushion the foot from impact with the ground, and prevent the skin from rubbing against the inside of shoes.
Snug Sock Fit – A loose sock bunches, which is unsightly, and rubs, which can cause blister. A good sock should pull snug against the skin from top to toe.
Slim Sock Fit – Dress shoes also tend to be fitted snugly, meaning you can’t cram a big, bulky sock into one. Dress socks should be as thin as comfort permits, both to fit in shoes and to avoid looking bulky around the ankle or distorting the trouser cuff.
Appropriate Sock Color – For a while now the default dress sock has been black, but there are several options for the sharp dresser. A good sock should fit neatly and unobtrusively into its outfit in most cases — and stand out boldly and proudly in the less-frequent cases where that’s the goal.
Socks, as you may recall, sometimes go by their more archaic name: hose or hosiery.
That comes from the days when exposed skin was considered not just unsightly but downright scandalous.
Tastes have relaxed quite a bit — but not so far that anyone wants to see a scraggly bit of hair-covered ankle sticking out between the top of the sock and the cuff of the trousers.
A good sock for business dress and other high-formality purposes should come at least midway up the calf. All the way to the lower edge of the knee is great, if you find that comfortable, but at least halfway up the calf should be your minimum.
Much lower than that and certain positions (one foot flat while seated with the other slung up and across the knee, for example) risk exposing a flash of skin that will clash with your sock and your trousers, looking very unsightly indeed.
Since the cost of manufacturing socks comes mostly from the material, length is where a lot of brands look to save. You’ll end up with a lot of “calf” socks that really only come up to the top of the ankle, or maybe an inch beyond if you’re lucky. Save those lengths for your light, summertime socks worn with casual trousers, and hunt around until you find proper over-the-calf socks for dress occasions.
Specialized menswear stores and the more upscale department store sections are more likely to fit your needs here than Target, Walmart, and other big-box retailers.
Last but by no means least, the stuff the sock is actually made out of has a huge impact on its performance.
Common base materials include cotton, wool, nylon, polyester, and a whole range of other synthetics, some trademarked and others known simply by their chemical names.
Cotton on its own is absorbent, which is good for soaking sweat off the skin, but it doesn’t wick moisture towards its surface and it doesn’t allow wetness to evaporate quickly.
That makes it good for short periods of high sweat intensity, like a quick cardio workout, but problematic for a full day’s wear.
Wool, unlike cotton, breathes easily and lets wetness evaporate, and it offers much more warmth in cold conditions.
It’s also bulky, however, and like cotton lacks specific wicking properties for speeding moisture away from the body.
Synthetics have been the answer for most manufacturers. Acrylic, olefin, polyester, and polyethylene can all be shaped into fibers that encourage wicking.
On their own, these materials are thin and provide little cushioning or snugness, but they can be blended with thicker and stretchier materials to make an excellent sock.