Light in the Loafers

Here at Ivy Style HQ, I’ve lately taken to wearing socks lighter in shade than my trousers, such as a light-gray sock paired with charcoal pants and black tassel loafers.

There’s something about light socks that puts a spring in your step. As you move, you catch the light color from the corner of your eye, especially if you’re wearing pants with a barely-there break.

Gradually this sinks into your mind so that you’re always slightly conscious — which is not the same as being self-conscious — that you’ve got on light-colored socks, and it lifts your spirits.

It’s like the effect of wearing plain white sneakers while playing tennis, which make you feel like you’ve got Mercury’s wings on your ankles and can run down any ball, or wearing patch-madras shorts, which make you all but impervious to being in a bad mood.

Pictured above is a 1984 photo of Steven Wilde from the book “Jocks and Nerds.”

Of course, during Ivy’s heyday, teenagers were fond of wearing white athletic socks with their penny loafers and rolled-up jeans. Below is Paul Newman doing a slightly more grown-up version of the look by adding a collar-popped jacket:

Newman again, contrasting aviator sunglasses with the youthful socks-loafers look:

Light socks, tassel loafers and slim cords by Ralph Lauren:

From the Japanese book “Take Ivy,” which chronicles Princeton students in the ’60s. (Note: Don’t try this at home; or rather, try it at home, just not in public):

From the movie “School Ties”:

Cary Grant at age 60, proving light socks aren’t just a young-man’s game:

And finally, one of Grant’s finest style moments: In “North By Northwest,” Grant is given a random change of clothing that includes light socks and loafers. The outfit superbly conveys that he’s ready for action, which includes nothing less than scaling Mt. Rushmore, getting the girl, and keeping the world safe for democracy. — CC

Note: this post originally ran in November 2008

28 Comments on "Light in the Loafers"

  1. I’ve been experimenting with the lighter coloured sock look myself lately. I’m not sure if I’m going to integrate it into my permanent repertoire but it is a fun look.

  2. Great article and awesome pics. I like wearing bright yellow socks with navy pants and black shoes. With brown shoes, I’m partial to light blue. These create a nice contrast not seen everyday.

  3. Great pictures!

  4. Thanks. I was thinking of posting a note for readers to send their own shots (historic or contemporary) and we’ll do a follow-up post. I’m sure there are endless shots out there of this look.

    If anyone has anything, send it to me by using the contact button above.


  6. What brand and/or model is the loafer in the second picture from above (the guy sitting on the car and the lowcut loafers) and that of the last picture, (Cary Grant)? I really like them, they are low cut enough to be worn sockless, and also look comfortable. Thanks.

  7. Alan,

    Agreed that pale yellow socks are an excellent complement to light or grayed navy trousers (even though some here eschew navy trousers). I don’t care for brown shoes with navy; it’s black or, best of all, burgundy for me.

  8. When one must wear socks this looks great. The key word there being when.

  9. This is one of a handful of pedigreed (as the pics show) trad looks that I’ve attempted, but simply can’t do.

  10. Charlottesville | August 24, 2016 at 3:11 pm |

    A great look, I agree. I also like wearing light gray socks with darker gray pants (unfortunately for me, one of the only things I share with Cary Grant). I’m also a fan of yellow socks and loafers. With khakis and camp mocs, or a similarly casual shoe, I sometimes wear cream colored ribbed wool crew socks, even in winter. Light socks are a nice change from the usual argyles or plain dress socks.

  11. eric stewart | August 24, 2016 at 3:13 pm |

    Letterman wore the light socks with a certain panache. Not for me, but he carried it off.

  12. Mitchell S. | August 24, 2016 at 3:22 pm |

    For those born after the Nixon era, “light in the loafers” is a euphemism for “queer.” Perhaps the title is an allusion to Cary Grant.

    GQ has an article written by him for “This Week” magazine and features a photo of him wearing a dark suit and black shoes (not loafers) with light-colored socks:

  13. Bags' Groove | August 24, 2016 at 4:38 pm |

    Lighter socks? Good Lord CC, you’re turning into Bertie Wooster.
    I’ve never been the light socks kind, but I once found myself sifting through the hosiery sections of London’s emporiums for the colour purple. I’d just finished another uproarious PGW and the following must have entered my subconscious: “Jeeves lugged my purple socks out of the drawer as if he were a vegetarian fishing a caterpillar out of his salad”.

  14. @Mitchell S

    I’m fairly certain that Cary Grant was not an homosexual. Is it an homosexual or a homosexual? I’m certain somebody out there will offer clarification.

    Olive drab suit poplin suit, blue and white university strip Troy Shirtmakers Guild oxford, black knit tie late ’80s Polo RL, with brown vintage Florshiem Imperial long wings (replete with V Cleat) and grey cotton Land’s End crew socks today. Three ladies commented favorably-one of them my wife.


  15. Vern Trotter | August 24, 2016 at 5:46 pm |

    Of course Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Gene Nelson and others wore white socks while they danced.

  16. This post was the one that inspired me to wear lighter socks in my loafers. I never turned back, and now I rarely wear darker socks.

  17. Roger C. Russell II | August 25, 2016 at 1:53 am |

    Newman is actually wearing L.L Bean Camp Moccasins, not penny loafers. I wear this look about every day.

  18. @sacksuit: it’s not “a” homosexual, or “an” homosexual; the proper pronunciation is “Rock Hudson”.

  19. gnarlygaytrad | August 25, 2016 at 7:22 am |

    Expressions of homophobia and racial bigotry (“Michelle looks like a wookie”) give trad a bad name, very bad. Why don’t you white boys die your hair copper and buy a few Armani suits? You’d fit right in with the DJT crowd.

  20. I especially like wearing WigWam wool athletic socks (in buff) or those from Brooks that are white with blue and red trim near the top with khakis and a turtle neck. They especially look good with a pair of broken-in Alden, cordovan penny-loafers.

    My recollection is that when CG in North by North West is sequestered towards the end of the movie, the director of the CIA (type organization) brings him a pair of black tassled Alden loafers, brand new in a box.

    Way to much analysis here……


  21. Kingstonian | August 25, 2016 at 8:14 am |

    Reminds me of the Ivor Biggun ditty on YouTube- ‘W**ker in White socks’

  22. gnarlygaytrad
    A. I didn’t start the debate concerning the attractiveness of women on the right or left.

    B, My, “Michelle looks like a wookie”, comment is in no means racist, I call them how I see them. It would be racist if I said, “All black women look like wookies”, I didn’t. That would be absurd, there are millions of beautiful Back women, I’ve dated some.

    C. “Homophobia”like “Islamophobia” are made up fascist words and racist is a card played so often to claim victim status it’s meaningless. “Why don’t you white boys” is racist by your standards isn’t it?

    D, How about you dye your hair dishwater blond, gain sixty pounds, have some pantsuits made from Motel Six sofa fabric and become a compulsive lying grifter. You’d fit right into the Clinton graft family.

    E. I like light gray and very light yellow socks with any color of pant, sometimes fire engine red. I think this look has English origins, Duke of Windsor and Phillip Mountbatten come to mind.

  23. Nonny, is that you?

  24. sacksuit
    No, I’m not married. There are too many fish in the sea to put up with BS.

  25. @Mac

    I thought gnarly might be nonny, not you. Incidentally, I put up with a hell of a lot more BS when I was single. A hell of a lot more. I followed my father’s advise “marry in haste, repent in leisure” and definitely came out on the right side of the ledger. There is nothing like happy family life.


  26. @sacksuit
    No doubt married life is the ultimate if one is lucky enough to find the right woman.

  27. I go by the rule laid out in the cult classic Making the Grade. Socks should only be worn to a wedding and then only if it is yours… Love the lighter color sock look. I picked it up from Cary Grant and David Letterman. You definitely get a Natty feel when you are wearing a charcoal grey chalk strip suit with a light grey socks. Throw in a bow tie and you will get noticed. Great article.

  28. Your own archive (of a shot from Polo’s 1980 catalogue) shows a good example of cabled, yellow socks in an unconventional setting

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