Like My Socks? They Cost $200.
The strange world of outlandishly expensive hosiery for men.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.
Last year, I met a Swiss dude with a taste for luxury. He smoked expensive European cigarettes. Drank the finest spirits. Attended opera by himself on evenings when he was enthralled by the program but could find no suitable companion.
It goes without saying that my pal’s clothes were impeccably tailored. But I noticed that—in between the leather tops of his shoes and the crisp hems of his trousers—he wore bright red socks. Every day, without variation. Which fascinated me. So I inquired. “The red is sensational, isn’t it?” he marveled, gazing down at his own ankles. “So bright, and yet not a hint of orange.”
After much wheedling, I discovered that his signature socks were made by a tiny shop located behind the Pantheon in Rome—best known for supplying tailored clothing to the Pope. I quickly figure out a way to buy these red socks online, and have since tweaked my pal by showing up at his birthday party in matching scarlet hosiery. But my Swiss friend’s attention to his stockings left me with a question: What is the world’s most exquisite dress sock?
Many of us can name the various brands of suits worn by the world’s best-kitted gentlemen. But what about the socks hidden beneath those suits? Surely a market for luxurious male hosiery exists. Yet the fanciest thing I’d ever put on my feet was a pair of freshly laundered, $9 Gold Toes. I wondered just how expensive socks get at the top end of the range, whether they’re worth the price, and, more philosophically, what sort of man is so style-conscious, so rich, and so bonkers that he’d drop significant disposable income on socks.
I called up Alexander Kabbaz, proprietor of the haberdashery website CustomShirt1.com, and perhaps North America’s foremost authority on outrageously expensive socks. You can click here for his dissertation-length essay on sock construction, material, moisture absorption, and “tactile enjoyment,” but for those short on time I will offer a condensed version of his collected sock wisdom:
Your most important consideration is material. There are some beautiful, and indulgent, cotton socks that I’ll be mentioning. But it’s good to remember that cotton doesn’t wick away moisture, which means that feet can get soggy and dank. Over time, cotton socks may get shiny, and their trodden-on heels can become crusty and matted. For the sweaty-footed among us, wool is probably the better choice as it hurries wetness away from the skin. Within the world of wool socks, you’ll find different varietals—merino and cashmere, for instance—and some socks mix in a splash of nylon for stretchability.
You’ll also want to think about how high your socks climb up your legs. Ankle-length will simply not do with a suit. Over-the-calf is standard and, to my mind, the ideal choice. Mid-calf may be comfortable but is a bit of a Johnny-come-lately in the sock world: Before nylon’s stretchy superpowers hit the scene, socks could be suspended mid-calf only with the aid of a pair of garters (which have, for understandable reasons, fallen out of favor with the modern male).
Tailored fit is a given with the expensive socks I’ll be talking about here. These are not formless tube socks. They are shaped to hug the curves of your tootsies, and are offered in incremental sizes. Many have hand-linked toes.
Finally, there is appearance. And here’s the interesting part. While an onlooker might be able to judge the quality of your suit from its cut and material, he will be hard-pressed to do the same with your socks. For one, socks are only briefly and narrowly glimpsed from afar when the wearer is standing upright, and revealed more fully only when the wearer sits and crosses an ankle over a knee. Even given time to stare and assess, a spectator will be challenged to draw conclusions from a few inches of fabric hugging a shinbone. And he will be unlikely to reach out and caress the material, as he might with a jacket lapel.
Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.