D. Turner Swicegood spends most of his day as a civilian staff officer at the Pentagon, focusing on Middle East policy.
But the 2009 alumnus also spends plenty of time thinking about dress socks. Saying he has always been fascinated by men’s fashion, Swicegood is the creative director of the startup menswear company Penance Hall.
“My dad’s an architect, and he kind of introduced me to the world of style. He really showed me that it’s okay for a guy to be into fashion,” Swicegood said.
Swicegood, along with Navy officers Joshua Steinman and Jay Gaul, has tried to develop a collection of men’s dress socks that blend style with practicality and tradition with a punch of modernity.
The socks, which are made of wool but feel like the world’s softest cotton, are available in eight eye-catching colors and are guaranteed never to fall down or bunch up around the ankles, the founders say.
“We thought this is a great way to take these principles of men’s fashion that have been around in the states for a long time, and respect that, but add something new and interesting to it,” Swicegood said.
The surging demand for high quality menswear items has spawned companies specializing in everything from sunglasses to customized suspenders. But to Steinman, a company specializing in socks represented an opportunity both to express oneself and conquer a largely uncharted territory in fashion.
“I was in Baghdad and people were talking about my socks, and everybody in the embassy was wearing black socks except for me. As I was checking the idea, what I was thinking is that there’s no single company that you think of when you think about socks,” Steinman said.
The idea came to Steinman as a solution to the uncomfortable socks he was used to wearing during deployment. Not only did they bunch up at the ankles, but they became damp over the course of the day. They came in either boring, monotone colors or patterns that were far too silly or childish for his taste. And just like that, the idea for Penance Hall was born.
Today, Steinman and his business partners still hold jobs in the government and military. While the Pentagon and the fashion industry rarely intersect, the partners have found that their background helps influence Penance Hall.
The patriotism of the three entrepreneurs is reflected in their product, they said, which is manufactured completely on U.S. soil.
“A brand is nothing if it doesn’t have some ideals behind it. One of ours is that we support American jobs. We are founded in a traditional American style,” Swicegood said.
Although he speaks with an air of excitement, he admitted making the investment was risky and cutting overseas production only increased the company’s cost. Finding the perfect needle count, color combinations and sock height took hours of research and dozens of trials.
He said seeing the brand come to life was worth all the trouble it took to get there.
“Sure, it was a crazy idea and all, but I said yes. And now here we are,” Swicegood said.