You’ve swapped your highlights for balayage, ditched your Sambas for Gazelles and embraced tweakments with an open mind and a lighter wallet. Just when you thought you were comfortably passing for a nonchalantly stylish and well-preserved midlifer, along comes another microtrend determined to age you. This time, it’s socks – not an item you had on your bingo card (is that a hip saying, or an ageing one?) but here we are. 

Vogue has reprimanded the actress Jennifer Lawrence for wearing “millennial socks” – trainer socks, to you and me. While at 33, Lawrence is some way off from drawing her pension, it seems her sock choice is almost as ageing as a free bus pass. For, according to Gen Z, ankle socks mark you out as an “elder millennial”. They themselves wouldn’t be seen dead in such an item, preferring instead to wear ribbed white sports socks pulled halfway up their calves. While these will only ever remind midlifers of Alan Partridge, one can only presume that in 2024, “sports casual” is an aspiration, and not an insult. 

Like oat milk, the sock debate is dividing generations. “As a 45-year-old Gen Xer, I just can’t bring myself to do it. It feels wrong,” says influencer Alison Perry in an Instagram reel which has already garnered 62k likes. “I feel like everyone is missing the point,” says another user. “High socks when it’s cold, low socks when it’s warm. It’s not a generational thing, it’s a weather thing.”

Whether your socks mark you out as a product of your time is a matter of debate. So let’s debate it. If you recognise your own sock-tiquette in the examples below, you’re likely not alone... 

Silent Generation (1928 - 1945)

Your average war baby may have been brought up in an era where children were seen and not heard (hence their name), but this taciturn trait flies out of the window when it comes to the provenance, merits and failings of their socks. Your average octo or nonagenarian falls into two categories: those who still revere the unimpeachable quality of M&S (although they’ll always tell you “it was better when it was St Michael”), and those who, usually thanks to their grandchildren, have discovered Primark. 

Primark blows their minds: generously located escalators, copious choice, and prices that make them feel as though it’s 1988 again. They’re of the firm opinion that Primark’s sock quality is fantastic, a consideration that trumps all others for a generation brought up to make do and mend. However affordable its replacement, if an elderly person develops a hole in any sock bought within the last five years, they will dutifully darn the hole. 

Ribbed socks, £4 for 2, Primark

Boomers  (1946 - 1964)

What type of socks do Boomers wear? How long have you got? Like their cup, their sock drawer runneth over. As millennials never tire of telling them, they’re the golden generation; the lucky ones who were born at a time when they could actually afford to get on the property ladder. They’re probably padding around their five-bed semi in diamond-encrusted socks spun from the finest vicuna. 

In truth, Boomers don’t pay much heed to the nuances of their socks. Male boomers might wear the odd novelty sock – a Union Jack pair on Jubilee days, a pair in the colour of their chosen political party on polling day – but otherwise it’s a case of whatever’s clean. If pressed to discuss length, they’d say they do like a pair that sits snugly on the lower calf. Always mindful of the vagaries of the British weather, they don’t see anything wrong with wearing socks and sandals. 

Female boomers take an equally pragmatic view. They love a five-pack of black cotton-rich ankle socks from John Lewis. They did recently buy a Lurex pair after watching Griselda, but they were so scratchy and uncomfortable that they got binned. Boomers can bin things with impunity, because they’re all millionaires.

Trainer socks, £8 for 3, John Lewis

Gen X (1965 - 1980)

They’ve tried the hoicked-up sock trend in the privacy of their bedroom (worn with Hokas, black leggings and a Burberry trench). But it’s a hard “no” from them. Brought up on a diet of fashion magazines that asked them to consider whether their body shape was an apple or a pear, they’re hardwired to judge every microtrend on the sole basis of whether it’s flattering. 

Those same magazines that told them they were pear-shaped also told them that only tall women should wear calf-length boots. So why would they wear a calf-length sock? Socks should lengthen the leg, not appear to truncate it. This is why they’re married to their sockettes, little nylon thingies that look invisible under trainers. For actual sport, they’ll concede to wearing sports socks, but only low-cut ones. Ankle socks are solely for ankle boots (they have a lot of ankle boots), but only because sports socks fall off.

Footie socks, £6.99 for 3, Calvin Klein at TK Maxx

Millennials (1981 - 1996)

While it’s true that millennials own more than their fair share of sports socks, it would be unfair to say that these are all they wear. Being priced out of the property market and forced to rent has, out of necessity, made them adaptable, and they apply the same pragmatism to their sock drawer as they do with the rest of their lives. 

They have socks for most occasions: red socks for when they’re meeting their hipster friends, silver socks for parties, and yes, sports socks for running in, because they’re practical. Long accustomed to being the butt of other generations’ jokes, being maligned for their socks at least represents a step change from being maligned for eating too many avocados and destroying the rainforests. Sports socks are a no: Nike and Adidas are too cliched. They’ll get theirs from Arket or Uniqlo. 

Ribbed socks, £3.90, Uniqlo

Gen Z (1997 - 2012)

Ask Gen Z why they wear shin-length sports socks and they’ll say “IDK”. So let’s enlighten them. They wear them because Kendall Jenner, Kaia Gerber and the Hadid sisters do, who wear them because their PT (personal trainer) does, although he calls them “tube socks”, as is the American way. This is a post-workout look imported from LA, and has been adopted wholesale in the UK, right down to the Ugg Ultra Minis/Birkenstock Bostons/Gucci pool slides their idols (“don’t say idols – cringe”) team them with. Like baseball caps and iced matcha lattes, shin-length socks signal to other Gen Z-ers that you’re not a neek. 

But if millennials want to co-opt the look, they’re welcome to. It’s totally last month. Gen Z has already moved on to knee socks: black, nylon, 15 denier, as seen on Sabrina Carpenter. These, they’ll wear with pleated mini skirts and loafers. Surely, the elder millennials won’t copy that. Cosplaying a schoolgirl at 41 would be too jarring. 

Sheer 20 denier socks, £11, Falke

Gen Alpha (2013 – ) 

Given that some of them are still pre-verbal, it’s hard to arrive at an exacting conclusion for this demographic. What’s that you say? “Stop putting those weird things over my toes?” Those old enough to talk reveal that their drawers are full of Kindness Socks or at least socks made either from bamboo or organic cotton because mummy says they’re more sustainable. 

Bamboo socks, £19.50 for 4, Bam

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