My thanks to reader KB for pointing me in the direction of the marvelous socks made by Gammarelli. A business that's been around for over 200 years, it is one of the many historic shops in Rome selling clerical attire but with the added honour of having served the former Pope, Benedict XVI. In particular, they are known for making the white socks that Pope Benedict wore, and for making other versions in black (for priests and, well, anyone really), purple (for Bishops) and red (for Cardinals). They come in either cotton or fine wool, and are knee-high (which I like, as you may know).
Of course, I am neither a bishop nor a cardinal (and not currently in the running for Pope, to my disappointment), but I don't think that should preclude anyone from wearing beautiful socks in bold colours, so I bought myself a red pair and a purple pair from Mes Chaussettes Rouges, a French company which is the only authorised online retailer of these socks. They have a charming delivery style, with the socks coming neatly wrapped in brown paper with no business franking but an array of colourful stamps to make up sufficient postage. Above the printed address is
l'impeccable Jacob Bate written neatly in ink. (Although, as one friend pointed out, it looks a fair bit like l'impossible Jacob Bate which is equally suitable.)
Inside the package is an attractive felt drawstring bag, containing the socks. I'm an absolute sucker for nice packaging, it's an important way for high-end companies to demonstrate the customer service and attention to detail that is an important part of their brand, even though they increasingly have to trade online. Still, it's the socks that really matter, and they are great - a perfect fit (as you'd expect for socks that come in not just individual sizes but half-sizes) and beautifully soft and thin. The red ones are a good look, and went particularly nicely with my black tie on Saturday night - even more so since they matched my favourite red braces. And yes, I wear red socks with black tie. I happen to like it.
The purple ones are a bit more unusual (and perhaps a bit more explicitly clerical although, to be fair, I think Roman senators got there first) but that's no bad thing.
Give them a go, you won't regret it, and you can wear them over the next few weeks as you speculate on the outcome of conclave.