Every day, you put on socks and forget about them — if they’re good. If they’re bad, you can’t help thinking about them. There are so many ways socks can go wrong: when they don’t hug your ankle tightly enough, when they develop heel and toe holes suspiciously fast, or when a single wash cycle shrinks them to the size of a doll’s foot.
To help you find the very best socks in what feels like an almost infinite sea of options, we asked more than 20 stylish people what socks they like to wear for a variety of occasions and tested several pairs ourselves. Our panel includes clothing and footwear designers, photographers, runners, businesspeople, and stylists. The resulting list, based on their recommendations and ours, includes simple and affordable everyday staples, statement-making styles, and even a couple pairs for those of us who want to make it look like we’re not wearing socks at all.
Read on for the criteria we considered, or use the table of contents to jump ahead to any of our sock superlatives.
What we’re looking for
Great socks come down to the material they’re made from, which will vary depending on the occasion and the function they’re intended to serve. Cotton is used in many socks but is rarely recommended for sports activities because it tends to absorb sweat and dry slowly, which can lead to clammy skin and blisters on long hikes or marathon runs. Nylon or other synthetic materials are used to add stretch, especially to athletic socks, and to help socks hold their shape. Merino wool is used in some performance socks to keep your feet dry and comfortable in a wide range of temperatures.
A combination of materials plus overall thickness will affect a sock’s warmth. So on especially cold days you might opt for heavyweight wool socks, and on oppressively hot days, thin, lighter-weight socks are more appropriate. Some athletic or hiking socks have high-density cushioning or padding for the soles of your feet. The right thickness and placement of padding will come down to personal preference, the weather, and what you plan to do in your socks.
There is no ideal sock height — depending on your personal style and your shoes, you can choose pretty much any height between just below your knees and just below your ankles. Perhaps you hate having your ankles covered or feel cold unless they are; if so, sock height will be an important consideration. You should also try to match your sock height to the style of your footwear: No-show socks are a poor match for hiking boots, as are ankle-cut athletic socks for dress shoes. Some types of socks come in a variety of heights, while some, like dress socks, are more standardized (ankle-cut dress socks aren’t really a thing). No-show socks are designed to make it look as if you’re not wearing socks at all and work best with loafers or sneakers. Ankle socks hit at the ankle, and crew socks land a bit higher, usually just below the calf muscle. And depending on the brand, dress socks usually hit at the mid-calf or slightly higher.
Best overall socks
Material: 59% Cotton, 26% Acrylic, 12% Nylon, 2% Spandex, 1% Polyester | Thickness: Medium weight | Height: Crew
Uniqlo crew-height socks come in more than 40 different colors, can easily be worn with any type of footwear, and at $5 a pair, are super-inexpensive. They feel good — snug but not too tight — and last for years. But if that’s not convincing enough, they also come recommended by nine of our panelists and several Strategist staffers, myself included. Phillip Wong, co-founder and creative director of Hawthorne, appreciates the socks’ medium height and thickness, which make them work for many different outfits and activities. New York City street-style photographer Christopher Fenimore says they “last hundreds and hundreds of washes before fading or tearing” (Nicolás Lazaro, a community specialist at menswear-resale site Grailed, says he has been wearing some of his Uniqlo socks for “more than a decade now.”) Alexander-Julian Gibbson, a celebrity and editorial stylist at Ebony and Grazia, says he buys new colorful pairs monthly. And photographer Patrick O’Rourke likes to wear them with black loafers “so you can catch a glimpse of color on top.”
Best organic cotton socks
Material: 98% organic cotton 1% nylon and 1% spandex | Thickness: Medium weight | Height: Crew
Maggie’s Organics has a very loyal fan base that includes every kind of sock wearer from Waldorf school teachers to fashion obsessives. The brand knits its gender-neutral socks out of organic cotton and a touch of nylon on old knitting machines, a process that gives them a level of quality not often seen for the low price. They come in tons of colors (including a perfect tie-dye) and hold up well after many washes. Strategist contributor Ruby Redstone discovered the brand’s perfect creamy-white socks after a lengthy online search. “The cotton is thick enough to feel sumptuous but not so heavy that you can’t wear them on a hot day. The wide ribbing makes them look deceptively more fashionable than the average white sock, like they could be Prada,” she says. They can also be found at many crunchy health-food stores, including the Park Slope Food Coop, where I like to buy them as a little treat alongside fancy French butter and heirloom tomatoes. Strategist writer Erin Schwartz is also a fan of the brand, noting that the natural color takes dye really well if you want to tie-dye them yourself. “They’re so good that during the winter when I’m feeling grumpy about having to leave the house, remembering I have a clean pair of Maggie’s socks legitimately makes a difference,” Schwartz says.
Best cotton-blend socks
Material: 75% cotton, 20% Polyester, 3% Nylon, 2% Spandex | Thickness: Medium weight | Height: Crew
Another affordable, quality pair of socks: Muji’s right-angle rib socks made from organic cotton, which fashion designer Thakoon Panichgul says he can’t live without. “They’re thin enough that you can wear them with any pair of shoes, and they’re good for summer and winter,” he says. He has worn this heather-gray color with everything from white sneakers to black dress shoes. Even though they’re cheap at $5, they last a long time. “They literally don’t rip. I’ve worn some pairs for a couple of years, and they’re still holding on,” Panichgul says. They come in a handful of neutral colors, including white, charcoal, navy, and “grayish brown.”
Best wool-blend socks
Material: 77% Merino Wool, 14% Nylon, 7% Polyester, 2% Spandex | Thickness: Medium weight | Height: Crew
When it’s especially cold, socks made of wool or a wool blend will be some of your warmest options. Dan Snyder, the founder of Corridor, loves these socks from American Trench. They’re made in Pennsylvania from a wool blend with a bit of stretch and come in 13 textured color options with Donegal-like flecks. It’s not uncommon to find that most wool socks are also blended with other materials, like spandex for added elasticity or polyester to cut down on weight. For a more athletic style, Victoria Hitchcock, a personal-branding-and-lifestyle consultant, likes American Trench’s merino activity socks, which feature antimicrobial silver for additional odor control. She says it’s a “gorgeous sock” that’s both “old-school and hip.”
Best (less expensive) wool-blend socks
Material: 71% Merino Wool, 21% Nylon, 7% Polyester, 1% Spandex | Thickness: Heavyweight | Height: Crew
For something a little less pricey but just as warm and durable, former Strategist newsletter editor Mia Leimkuhler recommends her and her husband’s favorite winter socks. She marvels at the fact that they are so inexpensive while also being made of over 70 percent merino wool but warns that they’re not for wearing with your favorite pair of sleek Chelsea boots. “They are really, really good but they are thick, perfect for winter boots, hockey skates, or wearing around the house,” she says, noting that unlike a lot of wool socks, they actually let your feet breathe and are incredibly tough. “My husband Bruce is really hard on his socks (he wears them around the house and even outdoors to take out recycling), and other wool socks of his show thinning and wear around the ball and heel of the foot, but not People socks.”
Best wool-blend compression socks
Material: 52% Merino Wool, 21% Nylon, 17% Polyester, 10% Elastane | Thickness: Heavyweight | Height: calf
Whether they’re wearing them for medical reasons, long-haul flights, or to soothe achy feet while running, most people’s experience of compression socks is that they aren’t very soft or particularly attractive. That’s what makes these merino-wool-blend compression socks from Bombas such a great find. After struggling with too tight (and frankly embarrassing-looking) compression socks during most of my pregnancy, I finally did some more involved searching and purchased a pair of these just in time for a ten-day hospital stay. They are super-stretchy, warm yet breathable, and oh so soft. The medium compression mostly feels like a regular hiking sock, but wearing them helped me reduce swelling and improve circulation after my son was born. Now I wear them in cold weather and plan to buy a few more pairs ahead of an upcoming flight to Japan.
Best dress socks
Material: 70% Cotton Lisle, 30% Nylon Blend | Thickness: Lightweight | Height: Calf
For dress socks, stylist Brian Coats prefers a longer “over the calf” model and particularly likes this pair from Pantherella. “They actually become essential for your circulatory system when you have 25 showroom appointments a day,” he says. His praise is seconded by Fenimore, who told us he has been wearing Pantherella socks for years. “They’re super-soft and thin, so it almost feels like you’re not wearing a sock at all.” Lazaro is also a fan of Pantherella’s merino-wool dress socks, which he says have natural breathability and moisture-wicking benefits. “Best of all, they’re hard-wearing enough that I don’t have to worry about deterioration or holes as much as I would with cashmere or other finer fabrics.”
Best (less expensive) dress socks
Material: 72% Cotton, 25% polyamide, 3% elastane | Thickness: Lightweight | Height: Crew
Stylist Jessica Cadmus works with lots of clients who have jobs in finance, and to keep them comfy and looking good, she relies on these cotton-blend dress socks from Hugo Boss. “The socks are durable and the patterns have just the right voice — not too crazy or too loud for a conservative workplace,” she says.
Best dress-socks gift box
Material: 67% Merino Wool, 30% Nylon, 3% Spandex | Thickness: Lightweight | Height: Mid-Calf
If you’re looking for a standout sock bundle to gift, I recommend this six-pack of merino-wool dress socks from American-made Boardroom Socks. The material feels soft (not itchy) and luxurious without being fragile. The brand sent me a few pairs for my husband, Jacob (who is not normally a dress-socks guy), to test this fall, and he loves that they keep his feet warm but not hot and that they stand up to real wear and tear. His job requires him to be on his feet for hours, and he commutes on his bike every day unless it’s raining. So the fact that these have been able to withstand all that and keep him comfortable is a pleasant surprise. I like that they make his outfits look just a little bit more grown-up and professional. The box set comes in mid-calf or over-the-calf heights and in several color palettes as well as pattern mixes.
Best boot socks
Material: 73% cotton, 12% acrylic, 12% polyester, 3% polyurethane | Thickness: Medium weight | Height: Crew
Strategist senior editor Ailbhe Malone first bought these Japanese socks as a Christmas present for her husband, who has really large feet (he wears a U.K. size 11 shoe), and never seems to be able to find socks that hit mid-shin for him — a must, as he wears Chelsea boots every day. “These are toasty but not scratchy, stylish but not flashy, and despite being more than I would typically spend on a pair of socks, can totally handle being thrown in the tumble dryer,” Malone says.
Best patterned socks
Material: 56% Acrylic, 32% Nylon, 11% Wool, 1% Spandex | Thickness: Medium to heavy weight | Height: Crew
When it comes to socks with “creative designs,” Snyder and three more of the men we spoke to are fans of Japanese company Anonymous Ism, which makes unique knitted socks in old-school herringbone and patchwork styles. “When I’m showing some ankle with sneakers or more casual footwear, I go with Anonymous Ism,” Fenimore told us, adding that “the variety of beautiful colors is timeless, and they’re substantial enough to wear even in the colder New York months.” These socks are on the warmer side, so they are best for wearing in the fall and winter. Former Strategist writer Jordan Bowman says “they were a saving grace amid unexpected cold temperatures” on a trip he took a few years ago. And Christopher Echevarria, the creator of the footwear brand Blackstock and Weber, praises their weight and thickness. Anonymous Ism also makes thinner patterned socks in paisley and tie-dye.
Best athletic socks
Material: 64% Cotton, 33% Polyester, 2% Spandex, 1% Nylon | Thickness: Medium weight | Height: Crew
Frequent travelers might be interested to know that these are the socks the Points Guy (a.k.a. Brian Kelley) wears on his longest hauls. “These breathe, so you don’t overheat, and are great for travel and workouts alike,” Kelley promises. They also have cushioning under the heels and the front part of the foot and a band around the arch that feels snug and helps the socks hold their shape even after multiple washes. Musician Jimmie Allen told us they’re the only socks he buys. He wears them for everything from playing basketball to fishing to running errands to performing. “The only thing I don’t do is wear them with sandals,” he says. “I’m not that type of person.”
Best athletic ankle socks
Material: 96% polyester / 4% elastane | Thickness: Medium weight | Height: ankle
Actor Lorenzo Pozzan’s days vary from filming auditions and reading scripts to traveling for press and red-carpet events with regular gym sessions and hikes scheduled in. He told us that a key part of his sock strategy is to have a “literal bucket full” of these Reebok ankle socks at home that he wears for the gym and other athletic activities. They are made of stretchy sweat-wicking fabric to help keep your feet comfortable during workouts.
Best hiking socks
Material: 63% Merino Wool 35% Nylon 2% Lycra Spandex | Thickness: Heavyweight | Height: Crew
“Darn Tough is a hilarious name for a brand but an apt description of their socks,” says Dan Small, who directs partnerships and special projects for Baggu. Bowman agrees and has been wearing his pair of Darn Tough Socks for over a year. “They’ve survived multiple hikes, snow-shoveling, and winter storms, as well as plenty of trips through the wash,” he says. They’re padded to add comfort, so you will immediately notice the thickness in comparison to medium-weight socks like Uniqlo’s and Muji’s. They also have a snug fit, so they won’t slip around while hiking. Because they are made of merino wool, they regulate temperature to keep your feet comfortable and dry in a variety of weather settings. Darn Tough socks come with a lifetime guarantee of quality, and the brand will replace any pair that rips from normal wear and tear.
Best (less expensive) hiking socks
Material: 53% Supima Cotton, 24% Polyester, 21% Nylon, 2% Elastane | Thickness: Medium weight | Height: Quarter
Jacob and I both came to love these quarter-length hiking socks after I bought them for him as a gift. We share a lot of our socks and have similar requirements: They must be comfortable when standing for long periods of time (he’s a teacher who hardly ever sits down), they must wash and dry well without shrinking, and they must wick away moisture regardless of how much hiking, gardening, or biking we do. These meet all our criteria and more. We have each worn them on long hikes — and through hours of walking stroller naps with our infant son. They have extra cushioning on the bottom that feels satisfyingly squishy and prevents feet from getting tired. Plus, they come in more interesting marled colors rather than the typical gray, brown, and black.
Best running socks
Material: 68% Nylon, 23% Polyester, 5% Combed Cotton, 4% Elastane | Thickness: Medium weight | Height: Crew
“Having socks you trust is so key,” says David Roche, the coach and founder of the SWAP running team and a co-author of The Happy Runner. He likes these nylon-blend Stance socks for running, which are moisture-wicking to prevent odor and keep your feet dry. They come in small, medium, and large sizes and have cushioning in the heel and arch support. Amir Muhammad Figueroa, the co-founder of Harlem Run and a marathoner and ultra-marathoner, also recommends Stance socks. “It’s a great combo to go with my kicks,” he says of the socks’ sleek design.
Best no-show socks
Material: 54% Cotton, 42% Polyester, 4% Spandex | Thickness: Lightweight | Height: No-show
When the temperature permits, no-show socks are the answer for anyone who’s looking to give their sunlight-starved ankles some fresh air. To prevent the blisters and odor that can come with not wearing socks at all, publicist Jon Salas says he “lives and dies by Uniqlo’s no-show socks,” explaining that “they’re super comfortable, durable, light, and breathable.” He tries to wear them as close to year-round as possible, which can be hard during New York City winters, but he especially likes them in the summer with sneakers because they really stay hidden without falling off his heel. “And you just can’t beat the price,” he adds.
Best (less expensive) no-show socks
Material: 82% Cotton, 12% Polyester, 5% Nylon, 1% Elastane | Thickness: Lightweight | Height: No-show
When I asked Wrangler’s senior menswear designer, William Ortiz, about his top five wardrobe essentials, this set of Vans no-show socks landed just behind his jean jacket and classic Converse sneakers. “I bought them when I bought my first pair of Vans about eight years ago, and they have been my go-to for no-show socks ever since,” he says. The secret to their continued place in his top drawer is great quality, a good fit, and the fact that they retain their shape after many wears and washes. Plus Ortiz likes that the brand offers a three-pack in white, gray, and black — even if nobody sees them.
• Jessica Cadmus, stylist
• Brian Coats, stylist
• Christopher Echevarria, creator of the footwear brand Blackstock and Weber
• Christopher Fenimore, New York City street-style photographer
• Amir Muhammad Figueroa, co-founder of Harlem Run
• Alexander-Julian Gibbson, stylist and content specialist
• Nikolaj Hansson, creator of menswear brand Palmes
• Victoria Hitchcock, a personal-branding-and-lifestyle consultant
• Brian Kelley, the Points Guy
• Nicolás Lazaro, community specialist at Grailed
• Mia Leimkuhler, former Strategist newsletter editor
• Ailbhe Malone, Strategist senior editor
• Patrick O’Rourke, photographer
• William Ortiz, senior designer for men’s at Wrangler
• Thakoon Panichgul, fashion designer
• Lorenzo Pozzan, actor
• Ruby Redstone, Strategist contributor
• David Roche, founder of the SWAP running team and co-author of The Happy Runner
• Jon Salas, publicist
• Erin Schwartz, Strategist writer
• Dan Small, partnerships and special projects for Baggu
• Dan Snyder, founder of Corridor
• Phillip Wong, co-founder and creative director of Hawthorne
Additional reporting by Jordan Bowman and David Notis.
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