Can You Go Sockless with a Suit? Should You?

The style move was huge a decade ago. But has it lost its lustre—or become part of the modern canon?
Published: 19 March 2024

At almost every major red-carpet event this year, a sliver of early 2010s fashion has made an appearance. Survey the ankles of A-listers at the BAFTAs, the Super Bowl, the Emmys, the SAG Awards—take your pick—and you'll see guys going sockless with their suits left and right. (One notable exception: the Oscars.) With so many celebrities’ suits showing a whole lot of ankle, the question is: Can we still go sockless with a suit? And if socklessness is back, how can it be cool again?

Given that going sockless with a suit is a trend that enjoyed its latest resurgence during the #menswear era in the early 2010s. That's when J.Crew presentation photos and Pitti Uomo peacocks dominated Tumblr moodboards. Now you'd be forgiven for assuming that it was one of those things that once felt fashion forward but now look undeniably dated. Like super-skinny chinos or tight unstructured sport coats. It was a hotly debated topic on menswear forums back then. And now? The very idea of going sockless connotes a certain level of decade-old Millennialism that Gen Z-ers on TikTok would denounce as “cheugy,” alongside Gucci belts and skinny jeans and way-too-high-waisted pants.

Still, we're seeing more and more fashionable guys step out without socks while wearing suits. The 10-plus-year-old move is, apparently, experiencing a resurgence. But can it be cool again, after all these years, when the basis of it is still so strongly associated with an outdated aesthetic? As with many trends, we're at a point of mass adoption. And whether or not it sticks around as part of the modern menswear canon or disappears entirely rests upon whether regular guys can wear suits without socks and still look good.

Sockless styling at J.Crew’s spring 2012 presentation.

Celebrity stylist Edward Bowleg III, whose recent clients include names like Travis Kelce and Paul Dano, says it's dependent on the person and the circumstances. “As with most trends, I think it can be cool, but it depends more on how it’s being worn, who is wearing it, and to where,” he says. “Going sockless with a suit takes a certain level of confidence and getting the right proportion on the trousers, so as to show just the right amount of ankle.”

Bowleg advises on wearing a dressed-down suit to pull off the sockless look with a bit more ease than, say, a black tie look might allow. “As it is a more casual approach to a suit, I like the idea of keeping it that way,” he says. “Wearing a well-cut T-shirt as opposed to a shirt underneath the jacket or wearing a shirt with a not-so-wide collar and skipping a tie. To me, that feels more fresh and modern.”

In others words, it's the totality of the look—not just the single style move—that makes the difference between cool and outdated. This isn’t the first time that a trend from the early-2010s has shown its face again in the 2020s. Surely, you’ve heard by now that we’re in an “indie sleaze” revival. The grunge-y, club-rat looks defined by scuffed-up sneakers, skinny scarves, smudged eye makeup, and a fine-tuned balance of leather, torn denim, and vintage band tees have been lifted straight out of 2009 and landed firmly in the present moment. It's reawakened by Saltburn-esque style and a nostalgia for grainy Tumblr photos and a post-Y2K aesthetic.

But “indie sleaze” has managed to be revived as a hero—super-cool and super-not-cheugy. Because the way we lean into the trend now is by selectively outfitting ourselves in modern pieces that don’t look so outdated. We swapped the ripped skinny jeans for ripped relaxed jeans. Traded in the shoelace scarves for chunky necklaces; replaced the trilbies with beanies. We've refreshed the look with our 2024 garments. Those have silhouettes and proportions and even fabrics that are decidedly more now than the ones we had in back in the day.

That's a lesson tailoring fans should take to heart. Back when going sockless with suits was the cool new thing to do, the distinctive mark of being old-school and out of touch with modern menswear was baggy trousers. Imagine! In 2024, baggy suits are the mark of being cool—obviously, times change. Now, skinny pants are a dicey move. As you risk looking like a stiff old politician or a high school principal who's just trying to fit in with "the cool kids."

Take a walk down any block of New York City during Fashion Week, and you won’t see any of those cool kids wearing slim-fit chinos or tight sport coats. That's because you really can’t style them without looking behind the times. You will, however, see them wearing suits without socks. And they won’t look out of place. Or even, like they’re following a decade-old trend; all thanks to the styling. It's all about pairing your bare ankles with garments that are obviously, unmistakably contemporary.

Jonathan Bailey at the BAFTA Tea Party.

If we look at a few red carpet kings, like Jonathan Bailey and Donald Glover, we can see that a sockless look works seamlessly with a straight-legged trouser that doesn’t taper below the knee. Bailey, with his unbuttoned white shirt, has a less formal look than Glover, who's wearing a velvet suit by Bode. And yet, clearly, whether it's worn with cocktail attire or offbeat black tie, a sockless slipper or loafer just plain works.

What’s decidedly in and fresh right now is a suit that subverts traditional formalwear conventions. Whether that’s through a super-baggy fit or an out-of-left-field fabrication. Going sockless with one of these styles couldn’t look old-school if it tried. Quite simply because suits like this are distinctively symbolic of the 2020s. Many of the guys at the Super Bowl, however, donned skinnier, tapered pants with their sockless looks. Their success rate? Far from 100 percent. Patrick Mahomes' ultramodern sunglasses kept his look squarely in the now. But Brock Purdy? He might have been mistaken for a Tumblr power user on the way to a blogger meetup.

"When trying to pull off the sockless suit look in 2024, it pays to be strategic," says Chase Murdock, EVP of Marketing at Generation Tux. "Ditching your socks can't just be a haphazard move." He advises against a too-crisp suit, and implores would-be sock-skippers to opt for something a little less literal by wearing no-show socks that'll help preserve your shoes and ward off blisters.

Donald Glover at the Emmys.

That said, if the outfit looks too intentional—like you put everything together just so in order to try the sockless thing out—you lose the element of nonchalance (dare we even mention the word sprezzatura?) that gives the bare ankle its power.

“The beauty of dressing is in expressing yourself,” says celebrity stylist Ayoka Lucas. “Whatever your style spirit is calling you to do is worth doing with confidence. Ultimately, it’s the attitude that pulls off the look—freed ankles or not.”

There are no hard and fast rules. But the occasion, shoe choice, and suit style are instrumental in determining whether or not that inch of ankle is going to be seen. The menswear fanatics of the Internet are going to keep the debate up. There isn't a right or wrong answer: going sockless with a suit can be as cool as it ever was. So long as it's done tastefully, with the right the suit, the right shoe, and the right attitude. Just leave the too-tight tailoring at home—or, better yet, in the donation bin at the closest Goodwill.

Originally published on Esquire US

related posts