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Yanto Barker: How to wear socks

Cyclist magazine
6 Sep 2017

Le Col’s Yanto Barker lends his stylish guidance to a little area where a lot can go wrong

I’ll start as any stylish cyclist would, by declaring my love for socks. A wise man once said, ‘The socks maketh the kit,’ and I couldn’t agree more – they are little canvases on which to display a bit of your character; a cottony window into your soul.

As a young amateur based in France I had very limited funds for kit so the guys I raced with and I saved new socks as a treat to feel special on big race days.

Just as they were then, they still are a crucial part of any outfit that can tie the whole ensemble together, if they’re done right.

Surprisingly though, you just can’t beat a plain white sock. In other parts of an outfit, white is an unadventurous (although admittedly versatile) colourway, but not so with the sock.

White says classic, understated taste. White harks back to the illustrious days of Coppi and Anquetil – I know my stuff when it comes to style but those guys were on another level.

White is an homage to those glory days and anyone in the know will afford you some serious respect for wearing a pristine white sock.

Just pay attention to the weather – if there’s even a sniff of a shower on the forecast, switch to a more forgiving colour. Spray-stained grey is not so glorious. 

So the beautiful doesn’t become the mundane, there is definitely a place to intersperse white with more vibrant sock designs – the so-called movement of ‘sock doping’.

Modern art

I guess this came in around 2014, imported by those crazy southern hemisphere chaps who race crits on fixed gears and have tattoos.

Now you have cartoon-inspired graphics, camo, fluoro colours, tartan… in fact you name it, it’s all happening at your ankles.

Personally I welcome it, and recommend dipping a toe (pardon the pun) into sock doping.

It does create some challenges, though. If you have a bright, busy jersey you can’t sock dope with a pair that doesn’t match because it will clash in the worst way – sort of like the visual equivalent of an orchestra with terrible timing. Messy.

You either need the specific socks to match the design or choose a core bright colour that picks out an accent of the main kit.

Length is as crucial as colour. Around the turn of the millennium there was a trend among Italian pros for really tall socks, but most in the peloton stuck to short ones.

Armstrong arrived, then Wiggins, and nowadays the rule for length is two fingers below the belly of your calf muscle.

A note on garment-care: never tumble-dry your socks. The latest fabrics and ‘sportwools’ don’t take well to that and I’ve had many a training ride held up by teammates having to change shrunken socks for a pair of a more appropriate length. Amateurs.

The sock world is ever changing and the latest introduction is the aero sock, another marginal gain that the pros now exploit.

It’s a bold bit of kit but provided you stick to the rules above there’s no reason you can’t wear it.

Just be sure you are the strongest rider in your group. Rocking up to the club run in those will guarantee you a world of pain otherwise.

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