The joy of socks

TRIED & TESTED; If it's socks for Christmas again, make sure they're the right ones. Our panellists sort out the potentially holey from the wholly desirable

Christmas approaches, and fathers begin to twitch with the thought that under the tree they'll find a selection of small squishy packages - each containing another pair of socks. Fortunately, the men's accessories market is catching up with the women's in terms of diversity, style and availability, so receiving a pair of socks does not necessarily mean you'll get something grey and acrylic out of which a large toe will pop come March. If you can't think of anything else to buy your dad, our guide separates the holey from wholly desirable.

THE PANEL

Our testers, all experts in socks or feet, were shoe designer Nicky Lawler; Alan Woods, managing director of Alan Woods River Cruises, and father of three with drawers full of the socks of Christmases past; Max Karie co-owner of and buyer for Soho fashion shop Shop; and dancer Mark Vincent, currently in Chicago at London's Aldwych Theatre.

THE TEST

We chose a wide selection of socks, differing in style, fabric and price. Apart from the Ralph Lauren, Burlington and Hackett socks, which bore the name of their makers, testers were unaware which socks were from which shops. Testers felt the socks and tried them on, and the father of the panel, Alan Woods, explained how he would feel if he were given the socks for Christmas.

*LITTLEWOODS MERCERISED COTTON

3-pack pounds 6 (pounds 2 per pair)

When cotton is mercerised, it is treated with caustic alkali which gives it greater strength and added lustre. The finish that results led to a variety of remarks from Max Karie's "they're a horrible fabric, like the chenille of the sock world," through Mark Vincent's "they're really average" to Nicky Lawler's "they are nice. They're smooth and fine." They were generally popular for a business or more formal environment, although their colour (sky blue) proved unpopular with Max Karie, "It's a hard colour to go with anything. It's a cheap blue."

****MARKS & SPENCER LAMBSWOOL RICH SOCKS WITH LYCRA

3-pack pounds 7.50 (pounds 2.50 per pair)

As with underwear, when most British men think of socks, they think of M&S, and we picked a fairly standard, short pair of socks with a 1 per cent Lycra content for comfort, reinforced heels and toes and a seam in the toe which is designed not to annoy. Alan Woods' second favourite from the selection, he said that they were perfect for "business or semi-formal wear". Max Karie was happier with the colour, dark charcoal, and pronounced it "a colour that doesn't offend", before adding that "it's not too fat; an okay sock for wearing with, say, Gucci loafers." Mark Vincent, who was sizing up the socks' ability to make it to the barre, said, "I'd use these to dance in. They are a good, sensible sock."

***BURLINGTON ARGYLE

pounds 6.50 per pair

Soft and lovely, and with their trademark small metal tag on the side of one of the pair, Burlington is the pre-eminent name in the world of argyle socks and produces a rainbow-wide range of colours. The socks are 75 per cent polyacrylic and 25 per cent polyamide, which makes them long- lasting and helps their dye take better. It seems everyone has an issue with the pattern, "they look like something an American tourist who plays golf would wear." (Mark Vincent). "They look like granny knitted them" (Nicky Lawler) and "I like Burlington, I used to wear them at school" (Max Karie). But the response to them was generally positive. With reference to the feel of the socks, Max Karie said they were "a bit synthetic, but that makes them wear well". Alan Woods said: "they feel good quality," and Mark Vincent added, "they're really soft and comfortable and a good length."

*****RALPH LAUREN BOUCLe CASHMERE MIX

pounds 20 per pair

With cashmere and angora in the mix, these socks are the luxury buy, and they came out the winners, too. There was a slight resemblance to a pair of terry towelling socks, but the softness of this pair combined with those magic words Ralph Lauren subtly printed on the sole, banished any thoughts of nasty white sports socks. Mark Vincent was initially unconvinced, "they look quite dreadful. They remind me of baby clothes or naff hikers." But once the socks were on, it was a different story. "They're comfortable and warm, they're good for my skin tone [black] and they look much better on than off." Nicky Lawler couldn't quite decide what they were: "They're definitely slippers. They're really cosy and I think I'd wear them inside out. But then I wouldn't have the designer name showing, would I?" Alan Woods, who spends a proportion of his working time clambering around boats and a some of his free time walking with his dogs, also liked the idea of them: "These would go with walking and all sorts of sports." Even the often sceptical Max Karie was satisfied, "because I am, for want of a better word, a label queen, I love them."

***HACKETT

From pounds 10.90 per pair

Looking like something you might see on the playing fields of England, Hackett's range of socks with toe, heel and top in a contrasting colour have become such a "must-have" with well-heeled men across the country that other retailers have been imitating their design. While not cheap, the socks are distinctive, long-wearing and become increasingly comfortable. Alan Woods was not convinced: "They're a bit too prissy." What a good thing he's not the father of Nicky Lawler who said: "I thought of buying these for my dad. They're lovely." Highest praise came from Max Karie. "I love the two-tone effect. They're the kind of socks that you wouldn't feel embarrassed to be wearing if you got run over and taken to hospital."

**BODEN WOOL AND NYLON MIX

pounds 9 per pair

Marketed by quality mail-order fashion outlet Boden as Boring Socks with the caveat "your socks should never be happier than you are", these are anything but boring. Long socks are sexy to wear even if not necessarily to look at, and as winter marches on you'll be glad both to keep warm and to avoid showing that segment of leg between trouser and sock when you sit down. The panel wasn't convinced. As Alan Woods said, "they're too long although they do have a good feel and they are obviously good quality." Even Max Karie wasn't sure. "They're too bloody high. They're kinky high." But with Mark Vincent, the socks had found their soulmate. "Oh wow. These would be great for dancing in. You could have them up or down and I like the red stripe [round the top]. They're quite soft and they're very comfy."

***DORe DORe WOOL NYLON MIX

pounds 11.99 per pair

Every DD sock comes with a message in French explaining that the heel and toe are reinforced and that the finest spun threads are used. As well as this, Dore Dore socks are made for present giving, filled as they are with a small piece of tissue paper, the crinkle of which shouts quality as the present is opened. The panel was split, with Max Karie and Mark Vincent against and Alan Woods and Nicky Lawler for. Max Karie thought them "a bit depressing and naff" while Mark Vincent thought them, "a little bit short; they look like they would be soft but they don't feel that soft. They look like they've been rolled on a cat." Nicky Lawler thought they were the wrong length: "I wish they were sports length or knee length, but I do like socks like that. They're very good basic socks." For Alan Woods, they were the best of the bunch, "because they look like a good size. You could put them on with anything. They feel good and I like the reinforced toes."

STOCKISTS

For stockist information call Marks & Spencer on 0171 935 4422; Littlewoods on 0151 242 6050; Burlington on 0171 580 8355; Ralph Lauren on 0171 491 4967; Hackett on 0171 730 3331. DD from Selfridges, Oxford Street, London, 0171 629 1234. Boden available by mail order on 0181 453 1535. !

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam