The term ‘sportswear’ can be a little confusing. Today, it usually means something flammable from JD Sports: a brightly coloured garment constructed from a man-made, technical fabric with that faint whiff of Chinese sweatshop and used more for lounging than any physical exertion.
Yet it wasn’t always that way. The history of sportswear stems from a need for clothing to do gentlemanly activities like horse riding and shooting – the practicalities of which led to men requiring more functional pieces.
They, along with their tailors, constructed new items of dress that, to the modern eye, would still be considered formal, but at the time were viewed as dress-down casual. For example, we still call a tailored blazer a ‘sports jacket’.
Sports continue to be a major influence on fashion, particularly during the summer months. And one of the most influential things continue to be white socks. Menswear purists will state that the white sock is for exercise purposes only. The next best option, which could be worn outside of physical activity, is a luxurious cream alternative. Yet recent streetwear trends and accompanying lookbooks are currently fighting a campaign against this rule in droves – and it’s not just the traditional streetwear labels that are advocating the style.
High street giant Primark (Penneys) have wholeheartedly backed the white sock, as have ASOS in recent lookbooks and campaigns. It seems the white sock is once again having a moment.
However, this recent rise doesn't give anyone permission to don white socks with suiting – they’re strictly casual. Pair with trainers or other appropriately laid-back footwear and stay away from anything that approaches the smart-casual line. A sweatshirt and shorts work, a shirt and chinos do not even come close.
It’s best to side with caution when utilizing white socks anywhere outside the gym. They do stand out and they do tread dangerously close to a land absent of style substance, yet when incorporated as part of the right look, in the right situation and on the right person they work unerringly well. On the wrong person, with the wrong look and in the wrong situation? You face an unsalvageable style disaster.
If you get it right, then you’re a style icon (well...). If you get it wrong…let’s just hope nobody sees you.