isolated

Archived Story

The scandal of black socks during sports

Published 9:15am Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom

The truth is, thanks to some young men who used to play basketball at the University of Michigan, it doesn’t really matter. You are free to wear whatever color of socks trip your trigger.

My fashion faux pas. -- Dave Sime
My fashion faux pas. — Dave Sime

I’ve been getting some good-natured grief lately about the color of the socks I wear when I disc golf. One ribbing came from a co-worker and another came over Facebook. Both were from women with good senses of humor.

I wear Keen shoes that are marketed toward disc golfers and only come in black. And with them I wear black socks, usually a little on the thicker side. Black socks, apparently, are a fashion no-no. Some rule somewhere states that all men wearing shorts and sneakers must wear white socks.

I told these women that their comments on my footwear faux pas really tells me that their fashion sense is stuck in the 1980s. Lots of men wear dark-colored socks when playing sports these days.

It was 1991 when Michigan started five freshman on their men’s basketball team. Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson were called the Fab Five, and they changed the look of men’s sports.

Before them, shorts were short and shoes and socks were white. Think of Larry Bird and John Stockton. Think of physical education class. Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls began wearing somewhat baggier shorts, but the Fab Five came along and really lengthened the shorts. Plus, they debuted black shoes with black socks. Basketball fashion hasn’t been the same ever since. No longer were black shoes the realm of old men in loafers playing bocci ball in Central Park in New York. Suddenly, black socks were cool.

It’s hard to think of that as 22 years ago. Yikes!

So are black socks still cool? Let’s find out.

• Quarterback Peyton Manning wears white socks while in his Denver Broncos uniform, but NFL uniforms are regulated down to the socks, so the players cannot just choose the color of their socks.

• Lance Armstrong, the cheater doping bicyclist who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, is an athlete who when he was cool actually could choose the color of his socks. He wore black socks in the photos I found of him on the Internet, except for one photo, where he wore white. In fact, there were sports stories about his black shoes and socks turning cycling fashion on its head. However, maybe Armstrong is not the best role model.

• Golfer Tiger Woods, who cheated in his wife, isn’t the best role model, either, but he has lent his tastes to the fashion of his sport. Pro golf rules require pants, not shorts, so it isn’t quite the same. I suppose black socks were OK with pants in the 1980s, as they are today. Photos show Woods wearing whichever socks match the color of his shoes.

• LeBron James is the king of the NBA these days. The color of socks for the Miami Heat changes depending on the uniform. They wear white socks with white jerseys and black socks for their red jerseys.

• Roger Federer is a tennis champion. He sometimes wears black socks and sometimes white socks, depending on his outfit.

• Swimmer Michael Phelps wears no socks. Strange.

There are Internet forums where men argue about the color of socks. It seems one common reason for black socks is they hide dirt well. One runner said this: “Simply put, I wear black running socks for the simple fact that they don’t get dingy after about five runs like white ones do.”

In a forum for bodybuilders they debate whether the color of socks a guy wears is a way to tell if he a jerk at the gym. It seems about half the guys favor white and half favor black. Some joke about wearing one white sock and one black sock.

Here is how I ended up wearing black socks during disc golf: I used to hike a lot in Washington state. Hikers wear thicker socks because they retain greater comfort after miles of walking uphill. I found hiking socks were more comfortable for the walking and waiting that disc golf requires. Hiking socks by Smart Wool or even worksite socks by Carhartt generally come in black, gray, blue or brown — not white.

Today, I either wear those socks or just the regular black athletic socks a guy can find next to the white ones in any clothing store. They wouldn’t sell black athletic socks to men if they didn’t wear them, right? It turns out guy disc golfers wear black socks a lot.

Even my son wears black socks, and my wife buys his clothes. She must have a pretty good fashion sense.

 

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.