Saturday, 9 June 2007

Red Socked Fops!

I have recently been engaged in a delightful correspondence with various gentlemen members of the New Sheridan Club, a bastion of chappist civility which now boasts an Internet presence. I have particularly enjoyed an exchange with two members on the subject of red socks. My interlocutors and I hold the traditional view that red socks are a good thing. Alas, the long-standing high regard in which red socks have been held, and the VIF (very important feet) which they themselves have held, have been forgotten by a great many social commentators.

I discovered this myself in November 2005 in no less a respectable publication than the increasingly unrespectable former broadsheet The Times. Writing with reference to Her Britannic Majesty's former Ambassador to the United States of America, Sir Christopher Meyer (styled as a "red socked fop" by the sartorially-challenged John Prescott), Michael Gove, that otherwise sound Tory, wrote as follows:

"...our former ambassador to Washington has run into trouble for committing the sort of social solecism that could happen to any of us. If only he had consulted a wider circle of friends with practised judgment he might have escaped embarrassment.

"I’m not talking about Sir Christopher’s decision to spill the beans about his private conversations with his colleagues in return for a handsome advance for his memoirs DC Confidential...

"No, Sir Christopher’s real mistake was in the hosiery department. John Prescott’s revelation that Our Man in Washington was known throughout his time in the States as “the red-socked fop” exposed the real frailty in judgment. Just as every man over the age of 35 needs to know how to deal with aural hair growth, so no man over the age of 25 should attempt individuality with his socks.

"Brightly coloured or, even worse, patterned, socks worn with business suits are a catastrophic faux pas, ...

"The decision to go for red is meant to show an air of devil-may-care individuality and loveableness. But I fear it’s the sartorial equivalent of hanging a “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps!” poster above your desk. It is, in the profoundest sense of the word, a deeply Brentian act.

"...there is a very thin dividing line between dressing wittily and looking like a clown. Best not to go there, and leave the red socks to the Welsh rugby team."

Needless to say, such ignorance could not be permitted to remain unchallenged. I therefore set quill to parchment and scratched out an appropriate letter of correction which was duly published in The Times of November 26 under the heading "Knees Up in Rome":

"Sir, Michael Gove, that noted arbiter of taste, has decreed that by choosing red socks Sir Christopher Meyer has committed a “catastrophic faux pas” (times2, Nov 23).

Alas, this statement only reveals its author’s unfamiliarity with the dress code of the upper classes. Coloured socks have long served as a social indicator, revealing much about the wearer’s background and sympathies, and in a crowded room can help to identify kindred spirits. I have attended formal dinners at which those who were (or believed themselves to be) of the “blood royal” wore red socks with evening dress. Red socks are also occasionally worn by well-heeled gentlemen at certain exclusive dining societies.

If Mr Gove visits Jermyn Street or Savile Row, he will find any number of renowned gentlemen’s shops proudly selling the very socks he finds so objectionable.

For a true education, however, I would recommend a trip to Gammarelli, sartoria per ecclesiastici, a small shop off Piazza Minerva in Rome. Official outfitter to popes and senior members of the Roman Catholic clergy, it is better known by English gentlemen as the source of the world’s finest flaming-red knee-length socks."
(Link to the original piece in The Times)

One never knows whether columnists bother to read letters to the editor, still less whether they pay them any real heed. I was therefore delighted to hear from a friend that Michael Gove had referenced my letter in a subsequent column, which he wrote on December 21:

"Socks appeal: it works for men

"The last time I wrote about male footwear on this page I got it in the neck from a reader who fired off a learned missive upbraiding me for my hostility towards red socks. Did I not realise that a peacock display of scarlet hosiery was a badge of rank, up there with ermine, which signified that blue blood coursed underneath the red stockings?

"That’s as maybe. But I can’t help thinking that it reinforces my point that such self-conscious dandyism is best left to those who have no social summit left to climb...."

Mr. Gove might not have conceded his error, choosing instead to reinterpret his argument, but I had at least been afforded the opportunity to set the record straight and, hopefully, save other red sock enthusiasts from the misplaced smirks of those who might otherwise have considered them a fashion calamity.


Cato, author of said...

Cato's red socks sit happily next to the salmon pink socks in his chest of drawers, each ready to be worn at the next suitable occasion.

Your defence of the importance of red (and other colour) sock wearing is most welcome Rafe. Now you must join the battle of a certain other gentleman in denigrating the wearing of white socks with the Scotch kilt. As every true Scotsman knows, white hose (kilt socks) is NEVER worn with the kilt, and should only be reserved for tailors' dummies.

Beaverbrook said...

I too have been educated, to say nothing of amused. I am an admirer of Michael Gove, and found his reaction to being one-upped on this score quite funny indeed.

Rafal Heydel-Mankoo said...

Dear Cato, I have long-supported our mutual friend's campaign to eradicate white hose from kilted legs. Indeed, on my last visit to your fair city I was distressed to find white hose in the display of historical highland dress in the Edinburgh tartan-weaving museum next to Edinburgh Castle! Quite outrageous.

Consul-At-Arms said...

Red socks are also something of badge of honor among the "Redlegs" (see:

That is, the artillerists of the U.S. Army, most of whose dress uniforms (excepting the Army Blue Mess uniforms worn by Artillery officers) no longer feature either red trouser stripes or red facings/edgings on their uniform coats.

Today's artillerists will sometimes where socks of the appropriate shade of red with their dress uniforms when attending social activities in the evenings.

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