The Shock of Full Ankle Nudity


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Happy Socks in Manhattan.

Credit
Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

As perversions go, how’s this? Socks in summer.

There, I said it. I like wearing socks. And more to the point, I find the flaunting of ankles to be mostly a mistake, and almost always gauche. The way a rigid pants cuff sits just above the bone, atop a foot that dead-ends into a sneaker or oxford — it’s brittle magic, tough to get right.

Someday I’ll draft a taxonomy of men based on how much ankle and (gasp) lower calf they reveal when the sun begins to brood. A true gallery of rogues. (For clarification’s sake: No, I don’t expect to see you shoving sock-clad feet into your Belgians or your Sabahs.)

Also, finally, this is New York: When you walk around a city, it’s nice to have protection.

One recent afternoon, I wandered around downtown to see what the landscape was like for someone who lives by this crucial code. First stop: Happy Socks, for a long time a brand that inspired mostly revulsion for its cheerfulness and for the implied misery that cheer was meant to mask.

Some elegance, though, has arrived at Happy Socks. The colors are less pastel, the designs more refined. There were socks seemingly inspired by the Memphis Group and by Q*bert, and maybe the Been Trill drippy font. A mustard argyle could have come from J. Press, and an oddball multicolor camo from Valentino (all $12). There were even appealing socks made in collaboration with Billionaire Boys Club — in essence, Pharrell’s personal-brand diffusion line.

It was a promising start, but still missing a sense of higher purpose. That’s where Sock Hop comes in, the Bergdorf Goodman of foot sheathing, hidden in a long, thin NoLIta storefront. A turntable was spinning Sturgill Simpson, and in back, a couple of guys fussed over custom shirts (the store’s side business, or perhaps the blockbuster that subsidizes the art-house dream).

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Sock Hop in Manhattan.

Credit
Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

This is a store where brands matter, notably the edgy conservative Italian Bresciani, the reliable German Falke and the eccentric Dane Henrik Vibskov. I should disclose here that maybe half of my socks are Vibskov, which are like the socks your grandmother might buy at MoMA, but actually beautiful, with influences from New Wave, Constructivism and Pop art.

Women also have phenomenal options here — half-sheer colorblocked ones by Hansel From Basel ($20) and low-rise ones by Clashist covered in sketches of Johnny Depp in various roles, perfect to wear with loafers, an ex-boyfriend’s moto jacket, and surly, thin lips hugging a Gitane.

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Sock Hop.

Credit
Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

I grabbed a pair of royal blue Bresciani in the pattern of television static ($34) and swooned over a pair of mosaic print Falke in an almost metallic pink ($30), but only the smaller size was in stock. I explained my predicament to a clerk, hoping for help. Instead, he told me — smugly, maybe? — that, yeah, I wouldn’t be able to find them anywhere. I spent an hour online that night trying to prove him wrong, and couldn’t.

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Happy Socks.

Credit
Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

Happy Socks seems to be premised upon the idea of sock as chore, as if it needed to be reframed as a pleasure in order to justify itself. Pooh-pooh to that. Sock Hop proposes the sock as a locus of art. I have no quibble with that, but there is still an implicit frivolity at the core, as if the sock needs to be elevated beyond its humble, utilitarian essence in order to be embraced. Pshaw.

I found pleasure in both of those shops, but none quite like the sentiment triggered by spending a half-hour in the Sock Man, a stubborn, three-decade-strong holdover from the souk days of St. Marks Place. Down a couple of steps from street level, it was staffed by an ex-ballerina who understood that a sock had purpose, and that therefore a sock had meaning.

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The Sock Man in Manhattan.

Credit
Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

The Sock Man was the only store of the three to take the validity and essentialness of socks as a given, with a selection vast enough to underscore the fact that socks have varying purpose. There were socks with functional swagger, by Stacy Adams ($6, Lycra); socks as expression of athletic loyalty, by Stance ($14); socks as gag gift, like the ones with a middle-finger motif ($10). Many had designs just this side of preposterous — say, Tetris pieces ($10) or Einstein faces with neon hair ($12).

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The Sock Man.

Credit
Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

It would have been easy to slide into chintz or schlock here, but I was determined to find the optimal intersection of necessity and playfulness. And there it was: a pair of beige leopard-print socks from the store’s house line (a steal at $10), something you might have seen sagging around Arto Lindsay’s ankles in the late ’70s, or something to spice up a pair of box-fresh Air Force 1s. It was a dash of punk finesse, and it was perfect.

Decades from now, when Mondo Kim’s is a floating vending U.S.B. port that materializes and dematerializes when you squint a certain way on a certain street corner; when Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York publishes a wistful map of where all the Duane Reades used to be; when out-of-town oil oligarchs have bought up all of the available parcels of land and begun charging $30 tolls on the bridges, you’ll want the Sock Man there, the last holdout of old-fashioned New York high-low functional beauty. Go there and drop $10. Do it for the look, to be sure, but also do it for the city.



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