Socks & sandals: Sexy or just sad?
Trend-setting designers are taking dad’s faux pas and putting it on the runway. But does that make it right?
June 14, 2008
Long derided as the ultimate menswear misstep, wearing socks with sandals is being elevated to the status of fashion trend.
The S&S look, commonly worn by nerdy tourists, aging hippies, grunge musicians and outdoorsy types, was trotted out unabashedly during the spring menswear collections of designers like Miuccia Prada, Stefano Pilati for Yves Saint Laurent and Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga.
For fashionistas, this odd coupling of socks and sandals constitutes a particularly egregious type of male fashion crime and belongs in a category that includes flood pants, too-tight clothing, pinkie rings and fanny packs.
Nevertheless, a handful of truly directional fashion designers feels they have the clout to turn what’s considered by many to be a lapse in judgment into something that approaches avant garde.
The look is loathed, particularly by women.
Toronto wardrobe stylist Georgia Groom, for one, is aghast.
“There is nothing remotely cool about the look. Even as an ironic fashion statement, it still makes me cringe. It’s inelegant and, let’s face it, it’s not particularly virile.
“I can see how some cute kid could bust out the look but I’m not letting my boyfriend anywhere near it.”
Popular sex-and-relationship blogger Isabella Snow has ordered dates to return home to change when they’ve showed up sporting the offending S&S combo.
“I think most of you do it because you think it looks good…or at least normal,” she writes.
“Let me tell you, this look is about as sexy as a pocket protector and horn-rimmed glasses. Unless you’re a 10th grade algebra teacher, this look is inappropriate.”
Check sandalandsoxer.co.uk for examples of men who have been captured on film in heavy work socks with Birkenstocks or black dress socks with Tevas.
Look up “socks and sandals” in the Urban Dictionary for a definition that’s blunt. “A footwear combination worn only by the fashion-challenged.
“If it’s hot enough for sandals, it’s too hot to wear socks. If it’s cold enough to wear socks, it’s too cold for sandals.”
Sixtysomething Jorgen Fleischer wears his socks and sandals, proudly despite the protests of his wife.
“Men’s toes never look very nice,” says the consultant engineer who lives in Walter’s Falls, Ont. “They are not very appealing. Women dress their toes and take better care of them.
“My wife thinks it un-cool. But I don’t know what’s wrong with it.”
The socks-and-sandals trend is part of the larger nerd movement that may go back as early as the 1950s, when teens wore jeans with turned-up hems and horn-rimmed glasses.
In the decades since, the dork-as-fashion icon has surfaced periodically in men’s and women’s attire.
According to the experts, the movement reached its geeky zenith in the ’90s when members of the burgeoning computer-savvy generation soared to financial success – creatively turning geek into chic.
Its sex appeal would come later. Remember the bumper sticker “Talk Nerdy to Me”?
In his new book American Nerd: The Story of My People, Benjamin Nugent suggests the Saturday Night Live characters Lisa Loopner (Gilda Radner) and boyfriend Todd (Bill Murray) may have parented subsequent generations of nerds, including such famous dorks as the characters in Revenge of the Nerds and the socially awkward Napoleon Dynamite.
Today, the TV show Beauty and the Geek keeps the spirit alive that being tragically un-hip is decidedly cool.
Consider the cool and un-cool boyfriend of Juno in the film of the same name. The character played by Brampton’s Michael Cera walks a fine line. At one point, Juno tells the young father of her yet-unborn child that she loves him because he’s so effortlessly cool. He responds by admitting that he works really hard at looking effortless.
Though he doesn’t wear socks and sandals in the film, he represents the cool power of not chasing cool.
To pull the look off with panache, there has to be irony. David Beckham and Jake Gyllenhaal have been photographed in sandals and socks. And while they have retained their sex symbol status, they have been judged harshly by style watchers.
Also, Toronto’s Georgia Groom has one piece of advice for anyone hoping to adopt the trend. “Make sure your sandals are fantastic. No Tevas.”
So, be warned, this sudden burst of interest in socks and sandals on the runways of Europe does not give regular Joes permission to engage with the look. Anyone considering it should approach with extreme caution.
Wearing socks and sandals is still the sartorial equivalent of pulling the waistband of your pants up to your armpits Urkel-style. Put a foot wrong in these new designer versions and you could be mistaken for a backpacking tourist from Dusseldorf.
That’s the challenge associated with all geek-chic trends – making sure the viewer knows you know better, but you’re doing it anyway.