The last time I wore socks was late last November, standing in the car park of Birch service station, about 20 minutes outside of Manchester, at 4am for a photo shoot.
Ice glistened off the floor like diamonds as we shivered like we were in The Revenent. In short: I kinda had to. A friend of mine even said to me, “Sam, make sure you wear fucking socks today, yeah?” I, honestly, probably, would have died without them.
But the proximity to death from hypothermia aside, I didn’t like it. That whole morning, all I could think of was “Fuck these socks”. My feet were hot and, worse, it made my trainers feel bad. The barrier between my foot and my shoe was such that I could not feel its natural give, its natural fit. It was rubbish. I was decked in my favourite trainers and they’d been ruined for me.
Straight after the shoot I went back and took the thick winter socks off and returned to my natural state: that of the Sockless Man. It was here that I felt at ease: I was in total control of my outfit knowing that my ankles were party to its ensemble.
My ankles – slender, moisturised, not particularly hairy but also not totally, creepily hairless – would never let me down. There is no colour that doesn’t go with my bare skin. Socks are just another thing I have to worry about matching. Sans socks, I was on the straight and narrow.
I would say that in the past eighteen months, I have worn socks no more than a handful of times. A footful of times. Whenever I have to wear them, I feel like I’m in fancy dress: a man in a mask.
People sometimes ask me “What the fuck is wrong with you?” but only slightly less often they ask me “Sam, how do you pull off trainers without socks?”
And it is here that I’ll tell you.
But first: uh, yeah… a confession.
Despite hashtagging Instagram pictures with #sockless, despite referring to my own state of between-lower-shin-and-foot dress as ‘sockless’, and despite it really, really looking like I am wearing no socks at all, I am wearing socks.
“Don’t your feet smell without socks?” people ask. And yeah, without socks, they would. But reader: I am not without them. Never knowingly have been. Won’t ever be. In leather trainers without socks your foot is doomed to claustrophobia and blisters. It’s awful. It’s hell. And when God invented the “invisible sock” he offered feet across the world a slice of the redemption pie.
(Disclaimer: Some might say that this article is merely an excuse to embed Instagram pictures of my outfits and game ShortList’s traffic for my own nefarious social media demands. And while I hear ya – GIVE ME THOSE SWEET LIKES, YOU MUGS – I offer them here merely for example. You are under no obligation to like or follow me, but all I’m saying is: if you did, you might learn a thing of two. All I’m saying.)
BUY INVISIBLE SOCKS
Invisible socks are very short trainer socks designed to appear “invisible”. They come in different patterns and colours, all of which are entirely superfluous, because, as mentioned: invisible.
They look a bit creepy, acting as merely a stretch-cotton sheath for the sole of your foot (and a bit around the back of the heel to stop blistering) and if you ever have to take your shoe off in company – I’ll get to that – it’s absolutely crap, but they really do the trick.
Buy yourself a pair and now you are the sartorial illusionist. I like to think about it like Going Commando in reverse: instead of going stark-bollock naked under your jeans, everyone thinks you’re braving foot-Commando but really you are luxuriating in cotton. You get cred and comfort while looking sick too.
WEAR THE RIGHT SHOES OR TRAINERS
While there’s no hard and fast rule here, the obvious one is what I’ll informally refer to as “heel height”:
Is the shoe extremely low-cut, like an espadrille or the Nike Sock Dart? If yes, that’s fine, but you’re not going to be comfortable and you just need to get to terms with that: you’ll have to pull your sock slightly lowering on your heel and ankle, making it bunch slightly around the instep like the skin of a newborn bulldog. It feels a bit like constantly treading on another balled up sock inside your shoe – because it is – but it will look great.
Sam, what’s your favourite trainer to wear with an invisible sock? I’m glad you asked that: it’s the adidas Stan Smith, at a canter – they seem the absolute perfect height for the sock and have just the right combination of give and friction to stop the little bastards slipping all over the shop. The Reebok Club C also works well for this reason.
Is the shoe cut a little higher across the heel and ankle, like a chukka or maybe a really shitty pair of derby shoes? You're cool to go here, but you should really throw away those derbies. Unless you work in an estate agents in which place, fair play, and instead throw yourself into the nearest canal or ravine. The only thing you need to watch out for is blisters: if the heel “lip” is high and firm – such as on the classic Dr. Martens 1461 – and presses against your Achilles tendon, you will be in the worst pain imaginable. It is, by our estimation, about four times worse than child birth and almost twice as painful as hearing someone drunkenly explain to you all of the meanings and themes of Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp A Butterfly.
What you need to do is get a Compeed blister plaster and place it directly onto the inside-heel of the shoe, giving you a little cushion and affording your tendon critical distance from sharp edge of the shoe.
Heed our warnings. Learn from our mistakes.
CROP YOUR TROUSERS
As any man who has boredly perused a copy of GQ in the train station or has seen the Twitter account Jeans and Sheux can attest: getting a correct cut and crop on your trouser can be as important as life or death – or whether or not you end up having your photo covertly taken, to be shared around a WhatsApp group with the line “lol look at this dickhead” – or whether or not your outfit actually works.
The actual amount of ankle space shown comes down to personal preference but the concept is not open to debate: if you’re going “sockless” you need to leave a gap. No gap and you just look like you got dressed in a rush, too much and you look like you’re rocking three-quarter lengths like your dad did back in 2004.
Personally, my crop – usually a simple roll; never a pin-roll (I’ll get to that too) – is somewhere between three and five inches depending on i. the shoe and ii. the material of the trouser and iii. how tanned I am. Here’s a quick breakdown of the rationale:
i. If the shoe is low, I’ll go somewhere around a three; if it’s higher I’ll go a little higher. I don’t need to explain why, surely,
ii. Sometimes I’ll drop to a slightly lower crop if I’m gonna have to roll it more than three or four times to get the right height because the hem will end up looking like a fucking tire around my ankle. I’ll look like Menswear Michelin Man.
iii. If I’m tanned, you bet you’re gonna see it.
My tip is to wear a pair of trainers you love when trying on trousers and get some that sit correctly above it. You’d think this would be obvious but HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO LIVERPOOL STREET STATION? IT’S MATERIAL-BUNCHING-AROUND-THE-ANKLE HELL OUT THERE.
NEVER PIN-ROLL YOUR TROUSERS
Because pin-rolling – the art of rolling your trousers up after folding back the excess material and rolling over it, thus “pinning” it in place, giving you a tight bottleneck of a crop – looks absolutely awful.
CARRY A SPARE PAIR OF SLIGHTLY-HIGHER TRAINER SOCKS IN YOUR BAG/POCKET
Finally we return to the worst thing about going sockless. If your in-laws have a new carpet or your friend has a particularly anal approach to their interiors – which is a fucking lame power move designed to unnerve you, if you ask me, because, you may notice, that they’ve always – ALWAYS – got a pair of slippers or “house shoes” on or some shit, but whatever – then you’re going to have to face this problem head on.
Being completely barefoot in someone else’s house is obviously unacceptable, and wearing nothing but your creepy foot-sheathes would be an equally harrowing sight, so what you need to do is spend a few moments protesting the fact that you have to do this in the first place: they’ll leave the room while you moan which buys you what I’ll call some much needed “swap time”. Then you’re going to very quickly, very seamlessly, take off your shoes and invisible socks together with one deft motion and then, in the next breath, slip on a fresh pair of slightly taller socks, easily recognisable as trainer socks.
By our best estimates: the extra 33% of material featured in these socks can make them up to 66% less creepy. I’ve done this plenty of times and can confirm that it works an absolute treat and arises no suspicion from your hosts, especially if you say something like “Ugh… those shoes are so hard to get off”.
If this sounds like a fucking faff, well, yes, it is, and also quite an embarrassing to admit but then, what’s a bit of a faff with friends who put you in this position in the first place to look absolutely fantastic this summer? Nothing.
Nothing worth having is without sacrifice.
To finish, here is a picture of Arrested Development actor David Cross laughing. Specifically at me and my invisible socks.
He asked “Aren’t you cold?” and I said “My ankles don’t feel the cold anymore”.
“Is that because your bare feet are all hot and sweaty and gross?” he said, laughter in him starting to bubble.
And then I showed him. I did what no man should do: I pulled back the curtain/pulled off my trainer and brought him into my world...
He laughed for precisely three minutes and called me “A fucking idiot!” as he slapped me on the back. It was a hit to my confidence sure but I learned a valuable lesson:
Never show anyone what’s beneath your shoes.
(Main Image: Rex Features)