Lightness in the Loafers

There’s something about light-colored 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.

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:

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

 “Take Ivy”:

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

23 Comments on "Lightness 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. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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……


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

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

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

  18. @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.


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

  20. 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.

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

  22. Old School Tie | February 13, 2020 at 5:57 am |

    Yes. I love high contrast socks in general but especially with loafers. Are we taking bets on whether Stone will get out and what sock/shoe combo he will don if he does…?

  23. MacMcConnell | February 13, 2020 at 9:21 am |

    Old School Tie
    Expect a lot of pardons after the election. Stone will leave custody in a tux, no socks and opera pumps. ;-0

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