The Many Different Types of Socks (And How to Wear Them)
For some people, the humble sock is nothing more than an undergarment, something to wear to protect their feet from rubbing in their shoes. For others, they're a fashion statement. Those of us who are in the know understand: socks are a whole world unto themselves, a universe of fashion, function, and form.
How many different kinds of socks can you name? How many other purposes do you think socks have?
Read on to see how much you truly know about this "simple" piece of apparel.
Socks By Size
Socks come in many different sizes, and we're not just talking about foot sizes or men's/women's sizing. You know what we're talking about if you've ever browsed the differences between ankle socks and thigh-highs.
1. Toe Covers
Toe covers are the smallest possible socks you can get without getting tiny socks for each toe.
They cover your toes and reach partway up to your arch, and that's it. They protect your toes from certain kinds of footwear while eliminating sock bunching.
2. No Show Socks
If you extend a toe cover so it reaches just below your ankle, covering your heel and the sole of your foot but not much else, you end up with a no-show sock.
These socks are meant to protect your feet from your shoes but make it look like you aren't wearing socks; they're hidden below the edge of your shoes. They're great for preventing blisters and foot stench, particularly if you wear low-cut shoes.
3. Ankle Socks
Ankle socks, as the name implies, rise and sit just around your ankles. They're a little larger than no-shows, and consequently, they start to show over smaller shoes.
They're ideal if you wear large shoes and need to protect your ankles from wear, or if you want just a little bit of style from your socks but don't want to wear something that covers too much leg.
4. Quarter Socks
Quarter socks come up a little higher to the base of the shin and calf. They're most often used to protect your feet from larger, more solid shoes and are commonly used as a "working" sock, used for work, sports, and athletic shoes.
Usually, they don't have a ton of style, but they may have some simple designs or branding.
5. Crew Socks
Crew socks are one of the more common sock sizes. They come up part of the way up to your calves, giving them more flexibility in design and utility.
They're great for general-purpose use, and they're nicely protective if you're walking through tall grass, doing a lot of running or want something a little warmer in the cooler months.
6. Mid-Calf Socks
Mid-calf socks ride up to your middle calf. Simple, right? As longer socks, these usually come in warmer fabrics and are meant to help keep your feet warm in winter.
They also work great if you're wearing tall boots or want more protection for your legs against bugs and things you might brush up against. You can also find these in sheer or even fishnet styles, which lack the warmth but make up for it in fashion.
7. Calf/Executive Socks
Executive socks are socks that mean business. They're tall, making it almost up to the knees, and while they aren't usually made of thicker materials, they can be.
Usually, despite the name, these are worn by sports enthusiasts and athletes as a tall form of protection, but some of them can even have a medical use, which we'll cover in a bit. Executive socks are also excellent for patterns and designs since they give you a ton of space to show off.
8. Knee Socks
Knee socks come right up to the knees but don't go over. They're often part of uniforms, particularly for ladies where a mid-length skirt is also part of the uniform.
Sometimes, they have an extra-thick pad for the feet for added comfort, and they may also be extra-thick for warmth in the winter.
9. Thigh-High Socks
Thigh-highs are some of the most stylish socks out there, coming up over the knees. They're primarily the domain of fashionable women and can have intricate styles and textures for a wide range of fashion options.
Of course, men wear them too – a typical example is traditional Scottish outfits with thigh-high socks and knee-length kilts. Socks are equal-opportunity articles of clothing, no matter what your style preferences may be.
Socks With Purpose
Length is just one aspect of what makes a sock a sock. You also have to consider the purpose of the socks. Some socks are there for warmth and style, but others are working socks. They earn their keep.
1. Dress Socks
Dress socks are usually thinner socks of crew length or thereabouts. They're generally a simple pattern or a single color and are meant to coordinate an outfit between a dressy pair of shoes and a pair of fancy trousers.
They're usually meant to match the color of the pants and hide the ankle, but sometimes they have a bit of pattern to draw the eye.
2. Stylish Socks
Style socks, also known as casual or novelty socks, are standard-sized socks with unique designs and personalities. They're usually crew length (but can be ankle socks or even thigh-highs), come in various sizes, and have a near-infinite variety of patterns.
They may be simple polka-dots, a nostalgic childhood brand, or a novelty like a shark chewing on your feet. They're our specialty, so check them out!
3. Sports Socks
Sports socks are active socks. The length and style, as well as the materials, vary depending on the athletic activity involved. They're on the thinner side most of the time but are very durable because they're made from synthetic materials.
They're meant to wick away unpleasant sweat and moisture, protect your skin from rubbing against your shoes, and remain breathable throughout a lengthy game or event. Some also have cushioned soles for added support and comfort when you're on your feet for hours.
4. Yoga Socks
Yoga socks can be anything from long knee socks to ankle socks, but they're usually thin, with one key feature. These socks have tiny dots of a rubbery substance on the soles, which provide traction and grip.
They enable you to perform even the most complex yoga poses without worrying about slipping and sliding on a smooth, hard floor. After all, we don't all have a carpeted space for our yoga routines.
5. Thermal Socks
As you might imagine, thermal socks are thick, tall, and extremely comfortable. They're often made of luxurious wool or a wool/acrylic fiber mixture. They're insulating, breathable, and quick-drying to maximize the amount of warmth you keep in your feet.
After all, your feet are the first parts of your body to get cold when it's cold out, and nothing keeps you more comfortable on a chill winter day than a nice thick pair of socks.
6. Support Socks
Support socks are generally taller socks, often knee length in the cut. They get their unique features from their materials and design. They have a tighter weave and usually use some form of spandex in their composition, which helps lightly squeeze your calf muscles and support your arches.
You know how valuable a little support can be if you've suffered from fallen arches, plantar fasciitis, or calf aches.
7. Diabetic Socks
One of the more annoying symptoms of advanced diabetes is issues with the feet. High blood sugar damages the blood vessels and arteries in the extremities, making it harder to circulate through your feet.
It's called diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic socks are designed to help minimize the issues you experience in your feet. These socks include support features, including ventilation panels, gel soles for support, and very soft fibers to help prevent irritating your skin, especially if you can't feel when irritation is happening.
8. Compression Socks
Compression socks are socks with a tight elastic in their weave. They do just what they claim to do; put pressure around your legs, from the feet to the calves. They can be anything from crew length up to thigh-highs, and they're surprisingly helpful at alleviating leg pain from various causes.
Compression socks are a great option if you've twisted an ankle, pulled a muscle, or need better blood flow in your extremities.
9. Leg Warmers
Leg warmers are socks, but at the same time, they aren't socks at all. They're like socks if you rudely cut off the toes and leave a tube of fabric open on both ends.
They're usually thicker and made of wool since they're designed to help keep your legs warm, hence the name. They're meant to be worn in addition to socks as a layering option, but many people pick them up for style over function.
10. Liner Socks
Liner socks are usually thin socks meant to wick away moisture and provide a barrier between skin and a sock that might irritate your feet, like a wool sock with rough weaving or tough fibers.
They're not meant for style, just for an added layer of protection for your sensitive feet.
11. Waterproof Socks
Waterproof socks are made of a tight weave of waterproof material and often have additional waterproof coatings to help prevent moisture from getting in and soaking your feet.
They're a must-have if you spend time in the water, mainly if you like to fly fish, work in a cranberry bog, or spend a lot of time out in nature.
Socks By Design
Some socks have a bit of intricacy in their design that you don't get elsewhere. A couple of the sock styles above already fall into this category, like the diabetic socks, yoga socks, or ankle warmers, but here are some more you might be interested in.
1. Tabi Socks
Tabi socks, also known as thumb socks, are socks with a divot in the toes. They're split so that your big toe goes on one side, and the rest of your toes go on the other. Why? Well, they're designed to be worn with sandals.
Many kinds of sandals – particularly Japanese sandals, where Tabi socks originate – have a strap that fits between the toes for grip and control. Tabi socks allow you to wear socks while still offering that space for the strap.
2. Toe Socks
Toe socks are like gloves for your feet. They have five individual little pockets for each toe, so they fit you very well and put a little bit of fabric between them. Why would you want them? Some people prefer them for sensory feedback reasons, but they were popularized by runners who wore them to prevent blisters between toes from distance running.
They're also great for keeping your feet dry, which helps prevent bacterial or fungal infections like Athlete's foot.
3. Tube Socks
Tube socks are just about the most straightforward design for a pair of socks you can imagine. They're nothing more than tubes with a closed-end, without even a hint of form for the heel and curve of your foot.
They may not be nuanced, and they may not fit quite right, but they're excellent because they're one-size-fits-all. If you need a lot of socks for many people but don't want to manage different sizes and styles, picking up a bulk order of tube socks is the way to go.
4. Slipper Socks
Slipper socks are like yoga socks but are often a higher cut, like crew or above. Since yoga socks are small (the rest of your legs are covered by yoga pants), slipper socks serve a slightly different purpose.
They're made for comfort while still offering some grip on the soles, so you aren't slipping and sliding around on tile or hardwood in your house. They're an excellent option for a home comfort sock, that's for sure.
Your Favorite Socks
There's plenty of room for everyone to have their favorite, and there are many different sock styles and designs out there. Of course, our favorites are the novelty socks; we're here for the cool looks, funny creations, and patterns that you don't see anywhere else.
Tell us, though, what's your favorite kind of sock? We love your feedback.