Tom Whitehead. Photo by Martin Boling


Tom Whitehead’s sense of fashion is buttoned-up—literally. “I wear my golf shirt with the top button buttoned,” he says. “I’m of the generation where if you wear brown shoes, you wear a brown belt.” When it comes to what he’ll wear on his feet and ankles, however, all bets are off. “I’m the most conservative guy there is,” he says. “And I wear crazy socks.”

On any given day in his role as the director of marketing and development for Monroe Hospital, Whitehead may don socks emblazoned with Sriracha bottles, owls, or astronauts heading to the moon. And he’s not alone. Flamboyant socks emerged as a men’s fashion trend over a decade ago, sometimes replacing neckties as a way to sneak some self-expression or humor
into business and formal attire.

“The sock has become an important fashion statement to allow people—even some really conservative people—to have some flair,” says Andy Mallor, owner of Andrew Davis Clothiers, 101 W. Kirkwood. “It’s because you can walk around all day in them without anyone noticing—they’re basically covered until you sit down and cross your legs.”

Jim Mitchell. Photo by Martin Boling

“We had a group of doctors come through the hospital a while back and I noticed they were all sock guys like me,” says Whitehead. When the group returned, Whitehead gifted each of them with a pair of Happy Socks—a Swedish brand, founded in 2008, that helped launch the trend—with a card that said, “Happy Socks for happy docs.”

Jim Mitchell spent 35 years wearing dark, uniform socks as a police officer in Bloomington. When he retired in 2013, he and his wife took a trip to Europe and “saw all these wild socks,” he says. “Since then I’ve been hooked.”

Nowadays, he works part-time in the bus terminal downtown, where he’s free to wear whatever socks he pleases—pairs with cartoon characters, polka dots, bright, mismatched patterns. His co- workers routinely ask to see what he has on his ankles today, and gift him with new pairs. “It’s something kind of fun and silly to do,” he says.

Sock design can also be serious fashion, says Mallor. Andrew Davis carries socks by Ghanaian designer Edward Armah, which are “sophisticated works of art,” he says. “We even have sock collectors who buy the socks not to wear, just to collect them— who like them because of the art.”