Buyer’s Re­morse

Men’s Fash­ion, Sans Socks

Hello Mr. Magazine - - CONTENTS - Joshua Greene

You don’t have to have a foot fetish to be aware of the fact that go­ing sans socks is the big­gest threat to stan­dard­ized taste in men’s fash­ion. Flick through a ran­dom fash­ion mag­a­zine: the mod­els won’t wear socks. Check run­ways, keep your eyes close to the cat­walk: no socks. Go to an online shop and mostly the stylist won’t have cared about cov­er­ing the mod­els’ an­kles, ei­ther. Socks have be­come gloves: if you wear them, it is done so on pur­pose. Their ne­ces­sity has been stripped down to a bare an­kle in the primeval soup of fash­ion dis­course and its as­so­ci­ated de­ter­min­ing fields. To go sans socks is now the norm. The look has be­come some­thing that is deeply writ­ten into the set of rules gov­ern­ing how fash­ion­able guys should look.

The heteronor­ma­tive ma­trix, our en­tire gen­der per­for­mance, is deeply writ­ten into the way we dress. While it is not a big deal for a girl to go with­out socks (it might even be con­sid­ered fem­i­nine), a guy has to have a good rea­son for be­ing with­out the fab­ric that pro­tects his an­kles from be­ing seen. Bour­geois ide­ol­ogy tells men to wear socks, which leads Ger­man tourists to wear them even in san­dals, no mat­ter where they go. A man that shows his feet, un­less the cli­mate al­lows no other op­tion, is not a man any­more. He crosses the line into fem­i­nin­ity. Or turns into a Mi­ami Vice- styled ma­cho, a cliché that quickly lost its charm.

I re­mem­ber when the no-socks thing be­came a big deal on fash­ion blogs like The Sar­to­ri­al­ist. Mainly spot­ted in Italy, gen­tle­men in suits with

bare an­kles turned the street style diaries into a jerk­ing-off-file for ev­ery foot fetishist. While it wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily a new thing in Italy, the global at­ten­tion th­ese gen­tle­men re­ceived via online me­dia was, by con­trast, en­tirely new.

The Amer­i­can de­signer Thom Browne was ar­guably the first to ban socks in the con­text of high fash­ion. Around ten years ago, his new tai­lor­ing in suits came with a lit­tle sweet re­bel­lion: in ev­ery pub­lic ap­pear­ance, his mod­els’ an­kles were bare. Those tiny flashes of skin made peo­ple go crazy and com­ments on the topic seemed a bit too hys­ter­i­cal for be­ing just a fash­ion faux pas. A man in a suit with­out socks is, as most tra­di­tional style guides will tell you, not ap­pro­pri­ate. Socks seem to be the to­ken of in­tegrity: a grounded man lays his foun­da­tions with the fab­ric be­tween the leather he walks in and his feet.

There is a witty quote by Browne that can be found in a lot of ar­ti­cles on this topic: “an­kle is the new male cleav­age.” Even though he leaves us with the ques­tion of what ex­actly the old cleav­age was, his com­ment spices up the dis­cus­sion with the right amount of sex. It is a mat­ter of per­spec­tive, but the uncanny feel­ing a guy in a proper pair of Ox­fords with­out socks evokes is closely re­lated to sex. Why show off naked skin if not for se­duc­tion?

One could as­sume that Thom Browne was just hav­ing fun pro­vok­ing the fash­ion cir­cus by pok­ing at their long-held as­sump­tions, mak­ing writ­ers and com­men­ta­tors go nuts about some­thing so eas­ily done. How­ever, street fash­ion that has proved this as­sump­tion wrong. Browne set a prece­dent. Now it’s not just the über avant-gardeesque rebels who skip socks, it is ba­si­cally the thing to do. It’s not just boat shoes or loafers: ba­si­cally ev­ery shoe in fash­ion is now worn sock-less. A few years ago the Swedish brand Acne made a shoe con­vey­ing an in­struc­tion in the very name of the footwear: the “Bare­foot Loafer.”

I’m nei­ther try­ing to de­fend this style, nor do I want to give ad­vice on how to do it (there is a lot of stuff in drug stores to pre­vent sweaty feet). I would rather talk about the dis­cur­sive mean­ing of it, the sex it brings into men’s fash­ion, the sweet re­bel­lion it in­her­its.

The very vul­ner­a­bil­ity, the slightly gen­der­bend­ing point of be­ing with­out socks, adds new fla­vor to men’s fash­ion. Salty as the sweat it pro­duces, more than the style it­self, it is the re­ac­tion to it that mir­rors how easy it can be to blow off a whole gen­der sys­tem based on bi­nary as­sump­tions. Take away one lit­tle stone in the foun­da­tion and the whole build­ing crashes.

The male ap­pear­ance in Thom Browne’s aes­thetic is a sock-less guy. If socks are used then they are part of the look. Bare skin, rather than socks, be­comes the sta­tus quo to be al­tered. Any cov­er­age is deliberate, a stylis­tic choice. The de­signer is build­ing a style on a naked body. So ev­ery piece of fab­ric is part of the look a de­signer is seek­ing.

Fine feath­ers make fine birds and, through and on the edge of fash­ion, gen­der is fi­nally about to be torn down. But the sans-sock man is a topic that, de­spite its provoca­tive po­ten­tial, is mostly dis­cussed in a man­ner that is old fash­ioned, if not out­right bor­ing. The sex ap­peal of bare male feet in shoes is a mat­ter of taste and per­sonal style, not gen­dered bor­ders. Af­ter all, it is up to you to wear socks or not.

(If I had to choose, though, I’d al­ways go for the sock-less ver­sion of you. Just say­ing.)

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