As mass-produced, fast-fashion goods made with synthetic materials have come increasingly under scrutiny for multiple transgressions around labor standards and wasteful production to drive insatiable demand for the ‘new and the now,’ there’s been a visceral and opposite reaction advocating a return to smaller scale production and ‘natural’ materials. Buzzwords like ‘organic cotton’ and ‘100% wool’ fill product description pages everywhere. But, how practical is it? And, are these items really 100% cotton?
Cotton is, of course, a natural fiber. And we make a lot of the stuff-with some 60 billion pounds of the stuff produced on a yearly basis. While, as Dana Thomas notes in her 2019 book Fashionoplis, cotton is used in everything from coffee filters to bank notes (75% cotton, 25% linen to be precise), the vast majority of cotton goes into what we wear. Cotton T-shirts. Cotton suiting. Cotton-or denim- jeans. Even disposable diapers are mostly cotton. And, of course, cotton socks.
As cotton is, indeed, an organic material, it logically follows that more of it would be better in a product. To some extent, that’s true. Cotton is far more porous than synthetic polyesters. This results in a more breathable item, far better for regulating body temperature. And, it is better about controlling odors than a polyester-based ‘performance’ fabric.
However, there is a limit to how much cotton you really want in an article of clothing. Cotton, unlike wool, isn’t naturally elastic. It doesn’t maintain shape the way wool does. Or, if it gets stretched out, it’s harder to return to the shape it once was. Anyone who’s tried to put a T-shirt on a wriggling toddler will know this experience!
Or, consider socks. A true 100% cotton ‘dress’ sock would have very little shape. It wouldn’t conform to your foot or, especially, your calf. It would fall down when you walked, leaving a sloppy appearance and rather unpleasant feeling. It would stretch out, bunch up in your shoes and around your toes, leaving-you guessed it, a sloppy appearance and quite an unpleasant feeling slopping around in your shoes.
In short, 100% cotton dress socks would be ill-fitting, wouldn't stay up and wouldn't last nearly as long as a sock made with a blend of cotton and other materials. So, what should you look for in men's cotton dress socks? Continue below for more details.
Some major manufacturers and fashion labels put out what they call ‘supersoft’ versions of socks. They’re 100% of something, but it sure isn’t natural. While they are, undoubtedly, soft and squishy, they’re not the most comfortable to wear long-term. As we mentioned earlier, these kinds of socks may retain heat-but they don’t regulate it very well. They merely trap heat within, leaving your feet sweaty and clammy. This isn’t just uncomfortable in the long run, but can result in unpleasant foot odors, too.
A sock with more natural fibers may not have that ‘squishy’ feeling, but it does a better job of keeping you warm-or cool-without overheating.
So, what’s the solution? There isn’t a universally accepted ‘golden ratio’ between natural textiles and manmade fibers, and different socks for different purposes might require different blends. Our extra-long staple cotton dress socks are 74% cotton, 23% nylon, and 3% spandex. We’ve found that this mix of materials delivers the best comfort and wearing experience for our customers.
Using a blend helps us to deliver a better-fitting product that holds its shape and is more comfortable in the long run. It allows for a flat toe seam that doesn’t bunch up in the toe box of your shoes. It ensures our socks won’t stretch out or significantly shrink. And, most importantly, it helps them stay up all day (for more information, read our in-depth article on dress socks that stay up).
Sure, “100% cotton” sounds good in theory. But, when you pull on the thread a little more, it unravels quite a bit-literally. In practice, we need a blend to keep us both comfortable and secure. A little metaphor for beyond the style game, when you think about it.
Thanks for reading.
Yours in Style,
Our editorial staff is comprised of menswear experts dedicated to providing you with helpful information. Sharing everything from style tips to sock care instructions, these gentlemen are a wealth of knowledge for both our customers and the Boardroom Socks team.
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