Illustration by Alex Kostiw
Most people either love or hate the socks with sandals “look.” Much like the polarizing infatuation or disgust felt for foods such as olives, people have strong opinions about wearing socks with sandals. I interviewed five men and five women regarding their thoughts on the look, and the results were divided fairly evenly. Four women and two men were in favor of the look, while one woman and three men were opposed to it. The majority of respondents were from Chicago, while three were from Oakland. Aesthetics and practicality were the overriding criteria that most influenced the respondents’ judgements.
Since the age of five when I began pairing jeans with dresses, I’ve been a fan of putting together clothing items not normally worn together. Wearing jeans with dresses has remained a wardrobe staple for me, as has wearing socks with tights or socks with sandals. It is mainly an issue of practicality. In spring and fall, when I want to wear sandals but Chicago’s weather doesn’t permit it, I pair socks with sandals so that I can have warmth and style. Other times, it’s simply an aesthetic choice.
Of the six respondents that were for the look, five have been wearing socks with sandals for more than five years. It doesn’t seem to be a passing trend, although it has gained mainstream popularity in the past couple of years. The reasoning behind pairing these two seemingly unmatched articles of clothing and the methods employed in achieving the looks varied amongst the respondents. Kelvin from Chicago, who is one of the two men who approves of the look, says he does so because, “sometimes it’s more comfortable to wear socks with sandals, but mostly it’s for reasons of fashion.” Emily, a Chicagoan who wears tights with sandals more so than socks says, “It’s practical, if it’s a little chilly, and you want to cover your legs but still wear a dress with sandals. Then it’s a great option.” Vivien, a respondent from Oakland, reasons, “I have pretty sandals that I want to wear in colder months.” Chris, also from Oakland asserts, “There is a certain level of comfort in the socks/sandals pairing. Almost like comfort food; like a bowl of chili on a cold day or fried chicken on a bad day, it just cheers you up without having to think about it much.”
On the same side of the practicality coin, the majority of those against wearing socks and sandals felt that way because, as recent transplant to Chicago from L.A. Ivana says, “Sandals are made to showcase feet, and socks are the opposite point, to cover feet.” Chicagoan Desko agreed stating, “It defeats the purpose of sandals to wear socks with them. Sandals were made for bare feet.” Indeed, sandals are open-toed shoes for the purpose of allowing bare feet. But many people wear closed-toed shoes such as loafers or ballet flats with no socks. Doesn’t that go against the original intention of shoes that are entirely closed?
Fashion is not meant to be solely practical. Aesthetic value plays a large role in opinions on a given look. Shane, another Chicagoan, says that socks and sandals are “just silly and awkward,” and Ivana says, “It reminds me of old people or kids who play sports.” Aaron, who occasionally wears socks and sandals while camping, says it’s a popular style in his hometown of Berkeley, and he enjoys it because, “it’s relaxed and allows your feet to breathe while remaining warm.” Aesthetically, Aaron doesn’t find it to be a very appealing look and his significant other discourages him from combining the two.
Svetlana, a former Chicagoan and current New Yorker enjoys the aesthetic of the look, but she doesn’t pair the two as often as she has in the past. She has specific guidelines such as, “It looks good when worn in contrasting colors, although monochromatic socks with a pattern could also look nice.” She is a fan of sheer socks with sandals and, like a few of the other respondents, feels that men who wear socks and sandals look “touristy.” Chris, who is also very specific on his tastes, prefers “white tube socks and brown sandals, a classic!” The aesthetic of this particular look is fun and different and as Emily puts it, “dressing is just another canvas to express creativity.” Since it’s unnecessary to assess aesthetic value, these decisions are personal and depend entirely on the wearer’s personal style.
Dressing, as defined by Roland Barthes in The Language of Fashion, is the individual reality of how the individual actualizes on their body the general inscription of dress. Barthes defines dress as “the proper object of sociological and historical research.” For Barthes, dress is like langue in the Saussurean definition, in that it’s a social institution independent of the individual. Dressing becomes like the parole, wherein the individual acts as a function of the language or, in this case, as a function of dress. Socks, tights, and sandals are three options among a vast array of dress, and those individuals who choose to pair them together are exercising, through the act of dressing, their freedom.
As Chris puts it, “Wearing socks and sandals isn’t about being anti-fashion, but it is about not giving a crap.” Vivien says, “I enjoy breaking dumb fashion rules.” Five out of the six respondents in favor of socks and sandals did classify themselves as more adventurous dressers than those who were against the look. Only two of the five against socks and sandals feel they take chances in fashion. Kelvin, in the pro socks and sandals camp, says he also wears short shorts, which are not a common look for men but are appearing more frequently. Shane loathes socks and sandals but makes bold choices regarding fashion, often wearing nail polish or things he makes or shapes. For these respondents, it is not a question of courageous fashion choices that compels one person to wear or not wear socks with sandals, it is simply one of personal style and aesthetic preference.