What’s the Right Order To Get Dressed In?
After an incident at the gym, a writer questions ~everything.~
For as long as I can remember, I have started each day virtually the same way: I put underwear on first, then pants, followed by a shirt, a sweater, and, last, socks. The only time I strayed from that routine was when I would wear a suit, in which case the shirt would come second—easier to tuck into the pants! And really, I never thought about the order in which I got dressed. Not once.
That is until a few weeks ago, when it struck me that most of the men in the locker room at the gym I go to were putting their socks on second, right after their underwear. A few of them were even putting them on first. I was shocked! Had I been getting dressed the wrong way my whole life? I tried to comfort myself: maybe it was because they were wearing suits and mid-calf socks, which are hard to pull on after you’ve put on pants. But why not put the socks on after a shirt? And why in the world were some guys putting them on before anything else?!
Facing an existential crisis, I did what any anxious millennial does: I turned to the group chat to assuage my fears that I had been egregiously wrong my whole life. Hot takes were lobbed at me from all angles: “Underwear, then socks, that’s the only correct way to do it”; “Who tf puts their socks on last? How do you even do that with pants on?”
Clearly, my faith in my friends had been misplaced, so I turned to Instagram and posted a story asking people to weigh in. The artist Joshua Vides, a Californian, was the first to burst my bubble. “Boxers, socks, bottoms, top,” he said, before adding that he’d “probably say accessories after top.” Clearly accessories didn’t include socks. “Boxers, socks, pants, (deodorant), T-shirt, hoodie/shirt” read one of the first messages I received. My four-year-old nephew agreed that socks came after pants, but I felt like he was mocking me when he added that underwear also came after pants.
At this point, I was downtrodden and resigned to the fact that I had been wrong. There was, it seems, a correct order in which to get dressed, and that order was underwear, socks, pants, a top, accessories and, last, shoes.
But why? I wanted answers.
When pressed, Vides told me that he was “just used to [changing after] getting out the shower.” One person told me that socks came second because “if I’m wearing pants, I just find it easier to put the socks on first. Plus, less walking around in the morning bare foot!” Someone else told me he “didn’t like putting socks on last because [he] couldn’t get them hiked up enough” with pants on. On an almost decade-old thread, Reddit user Niqulaz used the term “pantslube” to explain why socks should always come second and before pants. Another user posited that having nothing but socks and underwear on could be “sexy sometimes […] when you have a feet fetish.” They were all valid points I had never considered and, if Reddit was any indication, there were countless people grappling with the possibility that, they, too, had been putting clothes on in the wrong order.
These were all laypeople, though. I wanted to get answers from people who lived and breathed clothing—people who worked in the industry. I hoped that they would shed some light onto this philosophical quandary. I also really hoped that some of them would vindicate my decades-old habit.
I asked Lawrence Schlossman, the brand director for Grailed, how he got dressed. “Like how I build my outfit, or, like legit the order of how I put things on logistically speaking?” This was the first difference between the fashion cognoscenti and lay people: When I asked my friends and people at large how they got dressed, there was no confusion, but with industry people, many elaborated on the mechanics of getting a fit off, not the logistics of simply getting dressed. Interesting. “I honestly never even think about it,” Schlossman said, before adding that “underwear, socks, pants, shirt [is] just the way that subconsciously makes sense.”
Jian Deleon, editorial director at Highsnobiety, had a similar reaction to Schlossman, first enlightening me about how he builds an outfit—he’s an “emotional dresser [rather] than a uniform one, so generally it starts with a piece [he] really wants to wear; usually it's something super-directional”—before revealing that he “almost always” puts socks on “right before shoes” and thus leads with underwear, pants, and tops. I was no longer alone!
At this point, I wanted to know if there was a gender divide. There was! Two of the first women who answered me told me that they, too, put their socks on last. My girlfriend made it three, though she added the caveat that if she was wearing skinny jeans, socks went on before jeans.
I asked Kelly Harrington, a London-based denim designer and trend forecaster how she got dressed in the morning. “Always underwear first,” she said, “then jeans as I have hundreds to choose from, then top, socks, and shoes.” Maybe there really was some weird coding in our DNA that had men putting their socks on before women! Harrington told me that she found “that order [was] the quickest way to get dressed and out the door for work.” But, I wondered was there an objectively right way to get dressed in her eyes? “No,” she said, before adding that she did “find it odd that some people choose to put socks on before their underwear! Or bra before knickers!” That makes two of us, Kelly.
I was confident that I had a theory worked out: Women (and Deleon) had it figured out. The objectively correct way to get dressed was underwear, pants, top, socks and shoes. Confirmation bias? Perhaps.
It turns out, though, that my sociological study was for naught, because there is something of a historical body of evidence when it comes to getting dressed. The method most commonly portrayed in advertisements of yore was underwear, socks, pants, shirt, and then shoes, for men and women alike. The exception was a select few risqué ads with models wearing nothing but cotton tube socks; those among you slipping socks on first apparently have more basis than those of us putting them on last!
Ultimately what I realized is this: the logistics of getting dressed are predicated upon laziness, with little active thought going into the order we put clothes on. Very few of the people I talked to had thought of it before. We just do what we’ve always done. But the human psyche being what it is, when we’re faced with the prospect that others do it differently—gasp!—we start to wonder whether they’re right and we’re wrong. (Perhaps that’s why two buyers asked that they not be quoted directly, and the god Rick Owens turned down my request for him to enlighten me with his morning routine.)
But, as Schlossman told me, “Who gives a shit […] because what you do in private is your prerogative.” That ought to teach me about observing people when they change at the gym.