Reader Request: Styling Knee Socks and Leg Warmers

how to wear knee socks

Kaitlin threw this doozy into the suggestion box:

Knee socks and leg warmers!!! I love them, but how to wear them? They’re great casually, but I’d like to figure out how to work them a little more professionally–can I? I like them with tights or leggings, but then they tend to make my legs look really weird.

And let me tell you, friends, I had to scour the archives to find an outfit in which I’d utilized knee socks. I also unearthed this one, which is pretty similar to the above, but that’s about it. All this to say that I don’t consider myself a bona-fide expert on knee socks OR legwarmers, and hope you can all chime in with your own suggestions.

I’ll get the ball rolling.

Can knee socks and legwarmers look professional?

Well, that depends. If you’re working as a VP in a corporate office, probably not. If you’re working as a VP at an ad agency, maybe. Kaitlin is already doing her knee socks with tights and leggings, which I think is a good bet for making them appear a bit more sophisticated. When incorporated into a mix of hosiery, these pieces seem like finishing touches rather than afterthoughts. Dark, dusty colors will likely feel more office appropriate than brights, metallics, neons, or prints.

How should they be styled?

In my biased opinion? Knee socks look great worn over a pair of tights or leggings (as we just discussed) and under a pair of boots. I like to let mine just peek out the top of a pair of tall boots, and scrunch them a little for a casual-chic vibe. I can’t say I’m fond of the pulled-up-knee-socks with non-boots look myself, as I think it reads a bit schoolgirl and/or soccer player. If you’re either of those things, go for it. If you’re trying to get a more grown-up look, try boots instead.

I generally prefer to do knee socks just below my knee cap or grazing it, paired with boots that hit an inch or two below. I’ve also done scrunched knee socks with calf-high boots, but that tends to cut my calf at its widest point, making it look even wider. Adding socks to the leg-boot equation can monkey with your proportions, so if you try it and it looks off, make some adjustments: Scrunch the socks lower or pull them higher, add a low-contrast tight underneath, try a higher or lower shaft boot. Play around until you hit on a combo that works. It’s all gonna depend on your proportions and figure flattery priorities.

Leg warmers are pretty foreign to me. I bought a pair on a whim, thinking I’d wear them with a specific pair of shoes, but just never did. They’re languishing in a drawer somewhere. I did, however, come across a photo of leg warmers that I thought were styled well on the MaxStudio website.

Of course, this gal is a model so virtually everything will look amazing on her. But note: It’s a monochrome look, with black leggings layered over black tights for a nice, long leg line. Her fingerless gloves mirror the scrunched leg warmers. Can’t say as I think this would fly at the average office, but for Casual Friday or weekend wear? Why not?

How should they fit?

On models, knee socks and leg warmers always seem to slouch into loose, rumpled perfection. I’ve got 14″ calves and most knee socks pinch the crap out of me. My solution? Lop off the sleeves of ruined or thrifted sweaters, tuck them into my boots with the cuff side peeking out, and pretend. Socks aren’t generally sized, but sweaters are. If you have trouble fitting actual socks or legwarmers, DIY your own!

Where can I buy them?

Sock Dreams is always a favorite and carries a fairly wide range of sizes, but I’ve gotten the majority of my knee socks at good ol’ Target. Amazon is another good bet. Or you could always join Ravelry and learn to knit/crochet your own.

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  • Anneesha

    Thanks for the “sleeves as boot socks” tip, Sal! I’m trying to work it in myself.

    Would you agree that this tends to work best if the boots themselves have some room around the calf and are more casual, versus a calf-hugging, sexy boots dressy style?

  • Mia

    I didn’t wear knee-highs for a long time because I thought they made me, with my 16.5″ calves, look like a rugby player, but you know what? I wore some yesterday and I think I looked pretty dang cute. (And who says rugby players aren’t cute, anyway?) The thing I like about wearing higher socks is that they look good with shoes with a higher vamp–like the oxfords that I wore them with yesterday. It’s not cool enough here yet for knee-highs with boots, but it’s just around the corner!

    • Shaye

      Rugby player! I’m so glad someone else’s brain works like mine. At 18″ and muscular, I always say I have the calves of a Brazilian soccer player. 🙂

      Needless to say, it’s hard to find knee socks (and boots!) that fit. Mt tip is that you can always take a pair of scissors and snip the back of them if the cuff is too tight. Since they’re knitted they probably won’t unravel, and it won’t be TOO noticeable in the back. Works best with chunky knits.

      I’ve done knee socks with flats and heels both (attempting to squeeze both a thick sock and my calf into a boot is a no-go) but my favorite knee sock look is probably for outside of work only, unless you happen to work in a fashion-conscious industry. Layer a pair of fancy high-waisted shorts over patterned tights, then knee socks and a pair of heeled oxfords. Your legs will look fantastic. 🙂

  • I wear knee socks under tall boots a lot, but doing them with regular shoes or heels is tricky. I work at a school, so I don’t want to evoke a schoolgirl vibe at all. The few times I’ve worn them on my blog, they were with a skirt that came to just the top of my knee (no mini skirts and I stay away from pleated skirts with knee socks to avoid the Catholic school vibe.) Keeping them in a neutral color helps too.

    Navy socks: http://futurelint.blogspot.com/2011/09/its-go.html
    Olive green socks: http://futurelint.blogspot.com/2010/09/khaki-wishes-and-cookie-dreams.html
    Khaki socks: http://futurelint.blogspot.com/2010/10/camel-horses.html

    I think they can work for a professional setting, as long as your dress code is pretty casual (like mine!)

    • Chelsea

      Oooh, I like these looks! Fun, but not at all child-like. This has inspired me to try knee socks. Thanks for posting.

      • Heather

        I also really like these outfits! Thanks for sharing.

    • Natalie

      I’m loving how you style knee socks! Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

  • Liz

    I just picked up some knee high SmartWool socks at REI this weekend. Today, I paired them with similar color leggings and a cotton dress. I work at a (casual) small-town newspaper office in Minnesota. The building is always cold, so wool socks are a must. I have RA, so my shoes are granny shoes, but my husband assures me I can pull off the clunky shoe look just fine.

  • Natalie

    I love knee socks with boots! I often wear them without or in place of tights/leggings – when segmented worm syndrome is driving me crazy, I’ll often toss the tights back in the drawer and pull out knee socks instead. I tend to go for bright colors that mirror or complement whatever I’m wearing on top (as I do with tights & leggings), and let them peak a few inches out of my boots. I tend not to scrunch them, in part because I’m tall enough that most socks are a bit too short for me, so if I scrunch them they can’t be seen above the boots. Also, I find wearing them not scrunched tends to minimize the appearance of calf wideness that can be exacerbated by boots that hit right at mid-calf.

    I wear knee socks instead of tights under long dresses/skirts for extra warmth, again because segmented worm syndrome makes me crazy. No one can tell that they’re knee socks rather than leggings, so I’ll wear them with all kinds of shoes, not just boots, in this way.

    As for where to get them – if you can’t seem to find ones that fit your body type perfectly, but don’t want to learn to knit to make your own, try etsy for knitters who might custom-make you some perfectly fitting knee socks. Like Sal, I tend to buy a lot of mine at Target, but I’m also a knitter, so I’ve started making my own that are long enough for my legs.

  • Dee

    What is segmented worm syndrome??

    • Natalie

      I stole the term from Sally: http://www.alreadypretty.com/?s=segmented+worm

      It’s the best term I’ve ever heard for what happens when tights squeeze too much at the wrong place, creating lumps that make you feel/look like a segmented worm.

      • Sal

        YAAAAY! So glad this term has taken life outside this blog. And my brain. 😉 Thanks for explaining, Natalie!

  • Tia

    I definitely recommend sock dreams if you have wider calves – they are SUPER fabulous and will check any pair of socks that doesn’t have the calf stretch posted on the website. :3

    That said, I have a bunch of knee socks that I struggle with all the time. I’m most comfortable wearing them with high-vamped shoes or boots, as well as layered over tights for fall-skirt-wearing weather.

  • Ros

    I prefer them with shoes than boots, to be honest. To avoid the schoolgirl look, wear them with straight or slightly A-line skirts that hit on or just above the knee, choose funky colours for your socks, and don’t wear mary-janes. As someone else said, they are also a good option under a long skirt.

  • I do like knee socks peeking over the tops of my boots. That’s even OK at my casual office. But leg warmers do not suit my style — although I adored them first time around as a young woman!

  • Love that floral dress! Where did you find it?

  • Oh, I love this post! Because of you I wore socks with my knee high boots and tights last year (It also protects the tights underneath from wear!) and really loved the look – the four days we had that the mornings dipped below freezing. I’m hoping for a cooler winter this year. And eager to scour the comments.

    When I was in college up north I had a pair of knee high striped socks and I wore them with my running shorts to go running, LOL. not a fashion statement but I loved it. I wish I still had those socks!

  • I had to check my flickr stream, and aha! I found evidence of Knee Socks Without Boots (and plaid-mixing – my, we are daring over there in the arts):

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/9848999@N08/2906324240/in/set-72157602708493136

    but mostly I stick to knee socks with high boots, like you. I think these plaid-cum-cross-stitchers have been the only socks that put me so over the moon that it seemed NECESSARY to show them off.

  • SKP

    I think legwarmers can look good if you use them to make a regular shoe read like a boot. For example a co-worker of mine has worn shortish legwarmers over tights and heels. The legwarmers extended from somewhere above her ankle down to cover part of her shoe (sort of like how extra-long slacks cover part of the heel.) The shoes were just pumps as I recall, but with the legwarmers the whole shape looked bootlike. Of course it helps if the legwarmers are a similar color to the shoes.

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  • Jenni

    i’m just starting to experiment with tights/boots/legwarmers. discovery of this morning: i can get the slouchy look by wearing over-the-knee socks (target) to just under my knee cap and bunching the extra fabric. of course, i have very short calves, so i don’t know if this will work for a lot of folks.