When in Doubt, Go Classic
If you’ve just started to contemplate breaking out of the mould of matching your trousers to your socks, then begin by cutting your teeth on some more traditional patterns. These will liven things up a bit, but still contain only two or three tones at most, and generally, the colour is not too radical.
So what’s a ‘classic’ sock pattern?
Argyle, the angled plaid pattern of diamonds and lines, has been a traditional sock style for men for the better part of a century, and you still can’t go wrong with it. In terms of colour, argyles range from a very simple black/grey combination, going all the way up to vivid oranges and greens.
Solid colours with small figure patterns like paisley are also a good, traditional choice, as are simple stripes of an equal width. If you start with these, and keep the colours at least somewhat restrained, you should be able to slide into a coloured sock habit quite easily. It’s not quite as straightforward as matching your socks to the colour of your trousers, but it’s close.
Coordinate with the Rest of the Outfit
Keep in mind that ‘coordinate’ doesn’t mean ‘match’: Your socks don’t have to be the exact same colour as every other piece of clothing on your body. However, it is nice if there’s some natural harmony, so think in terms of colours that work well together. It always looks good if your socks fit into the same general colour scheme as the rest of your outfit.
This can be as simple as picking out one of the colours from your shirt or jacket pattern, and wearing socks in a similar shade. It doesn’t even have to be something that people consciously recognise as coordination; their eyes will see it as a ‘good match’, even if they don’t consciously think about it.
Be Aware of Your Contrast Levels
‘Contrast’ is the change from one adjacent colour to the next. We all have some contrast; both in our natural complexions and in our outfits. Broadly speaking, you want roughly the same amount of contrast throughout your whole ensemble. That means that if your upper half is very subtle and low-contrast (a jacket in the same colour but a slightly different shade as say, the shirt underneath it), then you don’t want eye-popping colour changes on your lower half.
As a helpful rule of thumb, try to keep the contrast between your trousers and your socks at about the same level as the contrast between your trousers and your shirt. That way viewers are seeing the same basic visual impression all the way up your body.