Socks are socks, right? Well, no — there are several different types of socks (16, to be exact) that are each appropriate for different occasions and shoe types. This guide from Sheec will help you understand the differences and help you choose the right socks every time.
Types of Socks, from Shortest to Longest
To make it easy, this list is sorted by length, from the shortest you can buy to the longest. This will help you narrow your choices down if you’re looking for a specific type of sock.
- Half Socks
- No-Show Socks
- Ankle Socks
- Quarter-Length Socks
- Crew Socks
- Mid-Calf Socks
- Calf Socks
- Knee-High Socks
- Thigh-High Socks
The shortest of all socks (unless we’re counting high-heel cushions), these are exactly what they sound like — half socks. These socks only cover the toes, and generally come about halfway up the foot, leaving the ankle free. Also called toe socks, these are perfect for shoes where the back is open — think sandals or clogs, for example, where the toe is closed, but the ankle is completely open, or just has a strap. These are a great option when you want to protect your toes from blisters or rubbing, while still allowing the entire sock to be hidden from view.
- Best Worn With: Mules or Clogs
Like half-socks, no-show socks are designed to be worn, but not seen. With options for both women’s and men’s shoes, these socks sit low on the foot and are generally designed to cover the toes and heel, while remaining invisible behind the shoe. They are a perfect choice for dress and casual shoes of all types, providing protection from rubbing, keeping the feet dry, and providing a more comfortable overall experience.
- Best Worn With: Low-Cut Dress Shoes or Sneakers
Next up are ankle socks. These are also designed to be worn with lower-cut shoes like sneakers or ankle boots. They are more casual than no-show socks, as you will be able to see them. They’re perfect for occasions when you don’t mind seeing the socks, but don’t want to wear something bulky. These types of socks generally just cover the ankle, but still sit fairly low on the foot.
- Best Worn With: Higher Coverage Sneakers or Ankle Boots
Quarter-length socks generally come up a bit higher than ankle socks. They provide good coverage to protect the heel from blisters and rubbing, and they’re often the choice for athletic use cases such as running or sports since the extra length will help them stay in place. They are another sock that is considered casual, although, depending on the material, they can also make a good professional sock to wear with full-coverage dress shoes.
- Best Worn With: Athletic Shoes
Crew socks come up to the mid-calf, approximately halfway between the ankle and the knee. These are a great choice for shoes such as hiking boots or high-top sneakers, where the shoe itself comes up higher on the leg, so the protection needs to sit higher as well. These are also a great type of sock for those who like to have a pair on their feet during the cold months of the year, as they strike a good balance between coverage and flexibility.
- Best Worn With: Boots or High Top Sneakers
The mid-calf sock type sits about mid-way up the calf as the name suggests — they go a bit higher than crew socks, but not quite as high as a full-calf sock. These tend to come in one of two styles — woolen or thick materials to keep the feet and legs warm, or sheer or net materials that pair well with certain types of women’s dress shoes for a fashion statement.
- Best Worn With: Boots or Dress Shoes
Full calf-length socks will come all the way up the calf, to just below the knee. These sock types are popular with athletes, as they protect most of the lower leg, while still leaving the knee to move and bend freely. Anyone who enjoys running, sports, or any high-intensity activity will find these to be a good choice for protection.
- Best Worn With: Running or Sports Shoes
This type of sock comes up to completely cover the calf and the knee. In industries where socks are a part of the uniform — such as flight attendants, for example — knee-high socks are often the length of choice. They are also a popular choice for those looking to add a layer of warmth to their outfits during cold months, as they not only protect the foot and ankle from rubbing or blisters, but the extended length means more of the leg is insulated against the weather.
- Best Worn With: Boots or Dress Shoes
These socks extend up to about mid-way up the thigh, and often have either a garter belt or a thick elastic band to help hold them in place, and prevent rolling or slipping. The most common pairing for these socks is with skirts or kilts to provide extra protection from the elements. Many women use thigh-high socks are a fashion statement, with a wide range of patterns and colors helping to add an extra pop to an outfit. They are often worn with both shoes or boots, and pair perfectly with both.
- Best Worn With: Boots or Dress Shoes
Bonus Round: Other Types of Socks
In addition to classifying socks by length, there are a few other ways to sort your sock drawer. Here is a look at a few other types of socks you might come across, as well as a look at how they might fit into your wardrobe:
- Compression socks. Compression socks are designed to be tight on the leg and foot, stimulating blood flow in those areas to help reduce swelling and pain. You often see these in use during air travel, especially for long journeys, but they are a great choice for anyone who is going to be sitting for extended periods. You can find them in various lengths, from ankle socks to thigh-highs, depending on the coverage and amount of compression needed.
- Slipper socks. These types of socks can be worn indoors without shoes. They feature a grippy bottom designed to make it easy to move around without sliding across wood or tile floors. They are a great option for the cold months of the year when you want protection and warmth without the bulk of a full slipper.
- Tube socks. A variation of the calf sock, these are designed to come up to cover the calf and end just under the knee. Unlike most socks, this style doesn’t have a heel and is instead shaped like a tube, which is where the name comes from. They tend to be made from cotton or polyester, and have a reinforced toe, making them a good choice for sports, although some people find them to be generally more comfortable, and will choose these over the traditional calf sock for that reason.
- Dress socks. Typically calf-length, dress socks are made from finer materials, and are designed specifically to be worn with dress shoes, They are perfect for wearing under loafers, protecting the foot and ankle without adding bulk or standing out.
- Split-toe socks. Also called Tabi socks, these are traditional Japanese footwear designed to pair with the traditional Japanese shoe style. They can also be worn with slip-on sandals that have a strap that falls between the toes, such as flip-flops.
- Leg warmer socks. These knee-length socks are specifically made of heavier materials such as wool, to provide warmth. They can be paired with a heavier boot, but can also be worn alone when walking around indoors.
- Boot socks. Ideal for cold weather, boot socks are designed specifically to line fall and winter booties. They are generally a thicker material to protect the feet from rubbing and help insulate them from the cold.
How to Choose the Right Sock Type
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the right type of sock for you. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Match the type of sock to the type of shoe you’re going to wear. The sock that works with a fancy dress shoe is going to be different from the one you wear with your sneakers, and yet another pair will be needed for your winter boots. Choosing the right style for your shoe will go a long way toward ensuring comfort throughout the day.
- Which is more important to you: comfort or style? You might choose a sock that isn’t necessarily the fashionable length for the shoe type if you’re more concerned with how your feet will feel at the end of the day, or if you prefer a certain type of sock, such as compression, regardless of the length or shoe type. On the other hand, if you consider socks a part of your personal style, you might choose one that matches or compliments an outfit, rather than focusing on the length. Sheec socks are a perfect way to balance comfort and style, keeping your socks hidden and your feet healthy.
- Finally, choose the right material for the job. A thick, bulky sock is going to be great when you want extra warmth and moisture-wicking but isn’t going to pair well with dress shoes at a dinner party. And silkier socks aren’t going to provide much protection from the cold or elements, so they might not be the best choice with boots, for example. Make sure you consider the features you’re looking for when you choose your sock material.
At the end of the day, it is important to have a diverse sock drawer with a number of different types of socks that range in both length and material. If you’re looking to build out your sock options this year, try starting with a men’s variety pack or women’s assorted sock bundle to help you find just the right pair for the job.