knee sock heroes
Some folks who have inspired me in my knee-sockery. Follow links for photo credits: 1. squats and lunges make parts of me hurt i thought were just for a smoother ride, 2. you’ll meet an army of me, 3. day158_three, 4. I FINALLY GOT A BIKE!

After I started wearing knickerbockers regularly, I quickly realized that I needed to make some improvements in my sock collection. You see, knickerbockers call for knee socks. Unlike regular pants, knickers put your socks on display for all to see, and it really makes the outfit if the sock goes all the way from your shoes to the cuffs of the pants. And knee socks are an opportunity to add another spot of color and pattern to your ensemble.

I had seen some very fine knee socks around town and on various fashion blogs, but all the wearers were women. A cursory look around my usual clothing shops and internet sources revealed that there were few options for men, at least intentionally “for men,” and, alas, most of the knee socks I found were not wool but cotton — and I definitely wanted wool. Wool is a great fabric for any kind of activity like walking or bicycling, especially in the damp Cascadia climate. More than that, wool is a great fabric to wear anywhere and nearly any time. It keeps you warm in the winter, even if it gets wet from rain or perspiration. Wool has the ability to wick away moisture and sweat, just like all those polyester miracle fibers, but unlike polyester, wool doesn’t require an oil refinery to do its job. There are lightweight wools that are comfortable and cool even in the heat of summer. And with all that, wool is naturally odor-resistant, so you don’t have to wash it as often as cotton or synthetics.

I like wool for all the garments I can find it in. Jackets, pants, hats, and gloves are great in wool. And I am a big fan of the classic Pendleton wool shirt. But I especially like wool for inner layers like long underwear, t-shirts, and, yes, socks.

You may have a memory of wool being scratchy or uncomfortable, but nowadays all quality wool baselayers, t-shirts, and socks are made with very fine merino wool, which is soft, comfortable, and itch-free. If you’re new to wool, and interested in trying out a good wool t-shirt, try one on from Rivendell, Smartwool, or Ibex.

Like so many things involving bicycles and practical style, there are a lot more knee socks in the world now than there were when I first started looking two or three years ago — particularly for men. Our choices were once limited to socks designed for skiing and snowboarding. My first few pairs were by Smartwool:

smartwool knee socks

Two years ago, their version of these socks was kind of lacking in top elastic. They didn’t stay up. They’ve since improved the design a bit, but the socks still look a little too, well, sporty.

I did some more extensive searching on the internet, and found a British eBay seller, Tenderfoot socks, that sells mostly-wool argyle socks in knee length for men. Despite the overseas shipping, the prices are quite reasonable, especially if you get more than one pair. They have lots of colors and styles; my two pair, one pink and one olive green, have withstood several years of wear. The socks are rather thin and less constructed than, say, skiing socks, so I usually pair them with a thin wool liner sock for comfort and warmth. I’m especially enamored of the pink ones:

Styling by miss matilda

The seller has a varied and rotating inventory, but appears to sell wool only during winter months.

Last summer we got a few pairs of the Over-the-knee knicker socks from Bicycle Fixation.

Bicycle Fixation Knicker Socks
Photo by Rick Risemberg

These socks are designed specifically to be worn with knickerbockers, and are composed mostly of merino wool. They are really long, nearing thigh-high length, which is pretty exciting in my book, and makes me wish I looked better in a little red tartan field-hockey skirt. They are high quality socks, but I found them to be uncomfortably tight on my legs and at the cuff. I’d also like to see some brighter colors or maybe some patterns, as black/dark socks aren’t my favorite. But if you like those colors and either prefer a very snug sock or have skinnier legs than me, give the Bicycle Fixation knicker socks a try.

About a year ago, I saw a woman pedaling a bicycle and wearing some terrifyingly fabulous striped knee socks. I caught up with her and asked her where she’d got them, and she said they were the new Smartwool knee socks.

smartwool argyle

I found some at REI, in womens’ sizes only. However, I found that a womens’ size L sock fit my 9.5-10US/43-44EU feet very well. So I got a pair of stripey blue socks and a pair of black argyle. These are by far my favorite wool knee socks to date. They don’t have any cushioning, so I sometimes wear them with a wool liner sock underneath. Their fit is snug and comfortable, and they look great. I saw some new colors last week at a shoe store in town, too — two new argyle colors and some nice patterns. Holly got some in green argyle.

new green knee socks from smartwool

Many friends and readers have told me about Sock Dreams, an online outpost that also has a brick-and-mortar location right here in Portland. I have never purchased any socks from these folks, but I have certainly perused their bewildering selection on their similarly bewildering web site. Unfortunately, most of the socks they carry are only available in one size, and most of the “wool” socks only contain a small amount of wool. Less surprising is that most of the knee socks are sized and styled for women. But I found a few things that look really nice, and when I need some sock refreshment, I believe I will hit them up.

What about you, gentle reader? Do you have any favorite knee socks to tell us about?