Men’s Fashion, Sans Socks
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.)