Sock Wicking – As described above, socks should “wick” moisture away from the foot, toward the exterior surface of the sock.

Sock Padding – The sock should cushion the foot from impact with the ground, and prevent the skin from rubbing against the inside of shoes.

Snug Sock Fit – A loose sock bunches, which is unsightly, and rubs, which can cause blister. A good sock should pull snug against the skin from top to toe.

Slim Sock Fit – Dress shoes also tend to be fitted snugly, meaning you can’t cram a big, bulky sock into one. Dress socks should be as thin as comfort permits, both to fit in shoes and to avoid looking bulky around the ankle or distorting the trouser cuff.

Appropriate Sock Color – For a while now the default dress sock has been black, but there are several options for the sharp dresser. A good sock should fit neatly and unobtrusively into its outfit in most cases — and stand out boldly and proudly in the less-frequent cases where that’s the goal.

Dress Sock Basics: Color, Length, and Material

So now you know what the perfect dress sock should look and feel like. Now let’s talk about some of the ways socks get there.

Sock Material

Last but by no means least, the stuff the sock is actually made out of has a huge impact on its performance.

Common base materials include cotton, wool, nylon, polyester, and a whole range of other synthetics, some trademarked and others known simply by their chemical names.

Cotton on its own is absorbent, which is good for soaking sweat off the skin, but it doesn’t wick moisture towards its surface and it doesn’t allow wetness to evaporate quickly.

That makes it good for short periods of high sweat intensity, like a quick cardio workout, but problematic for a full day’s wear.

Wool, unlike cotton, breathes easily and lets wetness evaporate, and it offers much more warmth in cold conditions.

It’s also bulky, however, and like cotton lacks specific wicking properties for speeding moisture away from the body.

Synthetics have been the answer for most manufacturers. Acrylic, olefin, polyester, and polyethylene can all be shaped into fibers that encourage wicking.

On their own, these materials are thin and provide little cushioning or snugness, but they can be blended with thicker and stretchier materials to make an excellent sock.

So what’s the ideal sock material?

There is no one right answer, and a lot of companies will use their own trademarked blend, the exact properties of which are secret. But a good dress sock might look something like this:

  • Primarily natural material – wool for warmth, or cotton for warm-weather absorbency and light weight.
  • Woven with wicking material – some acrylic, olefin, or similar material in the weave will keep the foot dryer than a 100% natural sock.
  • Elasticized – a cuff or ribbing or both made from stretchy material will help keep the sock snug on the foot and keep it from sagging on the leg.