White socks with shoes and sandals, the trend you either love or hate

A quick internet search confirms that wearing white socks with loafers, sandals and even sneakers in formal styling is still pretty controversial and polarizing territory


For a long time, wearing white socks outside of a gym or tennis club was considered something of a fashion faux pas. This summer, however, it seems that if you don’t combine them with blazers, skirts, or long dresses and wear them to the office first and to any social event afterward, you are woefully behind the times. A quick internet search confirms that wearing white socks with loafers, sandals and even sneakers in formal styling is still pretty controversial and polarizing territory: you either love it, or you hate it.

A Google search returned a piece published in 2004, something like the Middle Ages in the history of the web, in which an article by the BBC wonders whether wearing white socks with a suit really is in such bad taste: the very long list of comments testifies that even then neutral positions were not allowed. Twenty years later, the debate is still open, only now a there’s a potent new ingredient in the mix: TikTok users have created a fascinating microcosm in which white socks are trending. Major fashion brands have been splashing their collections with this humble (and yet appealing) accessory for several seasons, and digital trendsetters combine them with Chanel loafers, white sneakers, or Prada sandals. In 2023, it is impossible to ignore their presence.

Elsa Hosk
Elsa Hosk strolls around New York in white socks and shoes.Rachpoot/Bauer-Griffin (GC Images)

Let’s look at some examples: as early as 2020 Hedi Slimane of Celine chose the white sock and loafer combination to make reference to British subcultures, and that same year the French firm Chanel’s show paid tribute to Coco’s childhood years at the Aubazine orphanage, and where schoolboy elements like this photogenic combination had a huge symbolic meaning. Since then, more brands such as Burberry, Marc Jacobs, Jacquemus, Hermès, Gucci, Loewe, Miu Miu and The Row have incorporated this double act in their collections. This trickle was joined by another fine, very visual, and photogenic stream on Instagram: suddenly Pernille Teisbaek, Loulou de Saison and Jeanette Madsen were turning the simplest sock of all into a key element of their outfits. The celebrities’ stamp was the all that remained to seal the trend: Bella Hadid in short leggings, Kendall Jenner in miniskirts, Elsa Hosk in knitted dresses, Olivia Rodrigo in lingerie dresses, Hailey Bieber in blazers or Bermuda shorts, and Irina Shayk in virtually any garment are regularly photographed by the paparazzi. Vogue Spain magazine asserts that white socks create the visual effect of lengthening the legs, especially when paired with short garments, a stylistic trick that is certainly very attractive, but when we talk about influencers with supermodel measurements it is difficult to confirm or deny.

That the white sock is almost a cult piece is endorsed by the luxury brand Mr.Porter, which has prepared a style guide for men to know how to wear white socks with sartorial panache: they cite Paul Newman, the skate culture of the nineties, and design institutions such as Acne Studios to endorse them. In the women’s version of the store, Net-à-Porter, there are a dozen references from different brands, from Balenciaga to Gucci, Nike, and Off-White.

In any case, if we compile all these examples we can establish three levels of difficulty when combining white socks: the simplest is with sneakers and casual garments such as a long dress; the next, paired with flat, black loafers and oversize jackets and mini-dresses; and the third, worn with heeled sandals.

Hailey Bieber
Hailey Beiber in white socks and sandals.Gotham (GC Images)

It may not have been a massive trend, but in reality, the white sock and dress shoe combination never went away: think of Elvis or Michael Jackson. We have to go back to 1957 to find a female style icon wearing this combination, Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.

In one of the best known images of the film (its advertising poster, in fact) the actress is dancing in a black turtleneck sweater, tight black pants and black loafers. Apparently, Hepburn didn’t want to wear the white socks because she hated the look. Melissa Hellstern’s book How to be Lovable According to Audrey Hepburnrecords the anecdote in the words of the film’s director, Stanley Donen: “I wanted her to wear white socks, and she was flabbergasted by that.” For the actress, it spoiled “the effect of the black silhouette” by shortening the line of her feet. The filmmaker insisted: if she did not wear them, her silhouette would blend into the background. “She burst into tears and ran off to the dressing room,” Donen recounted. After a moment, she regained her composure, put on the white socks, returned to the stage and went on without complaint. Then, when she saw the sequence, she sent me a note saying, “You were right about the socks. Love, Audrey.” Overcoming prejudice, they came up with an iconic look in the history of cinema.

Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn in the poster for ‘Funny Face.’LMPC (LMPC via Getty Images)

An accessory for skinheads, mods... and the rich

At first glance, we may pigeonhole the white socks and dress shoes with the mods and then to the British “skinhead” scene of the late sixties, then in the seventies the “ska” subculture (with bands like The Specials, who wore the combo with dress pants on the covers of their albums) and in the eighties with the boom of the sports-casual style. But they also have a connection with the affluent. The pananinari were the preppy tribe par excellence in the Milan of this decade. Obsessed with fashion brands from the U.S. and rampant fashion consumption, they wore Moncler down jackets, Levi’s jeans and Timberland boots. The detail of the white socks (and the Argyll pattern Burlington socks) peeking out over any shoe was one of its hallmarks.

Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana, Princess of Wales in an image from 1986.Anwar Hussein (Getty Images)

Of course, the white sock also has a sporty past, going back more than 100 years: first in tennis, then in basketball, and later, in the 1990s, in athleisure, when the sporty style took to the streets. In fact, one of the most common icons in all the articles on the subject is Lady Di, coming out of her gym in London wearing cycling shorts, although she also dared to wear them (with some printed tops) with red high heels and pleated skirt to a polo match. Nostalgia for the aesthetics of that era has reestablished their presence in recent times.

It is clear that in the summer of 2023 this accessory is everywhere, although the choice to wear them is still difficult to defend. It is precisely because of this that they are appealing, as the wearer is not asking for permission and is not seeking approval.

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