Unless you’re lucky enough to live someplace where you can wear flip flops on the beach every day, then you probably have a drawer full of socks in your dresser, to the point where you could open an online sock store.
Even though you wear them daily, it’s easy to overlook the unique history of the humble sock. Let’s take a look through time at why socks were invented, how they’ve evolved over the years, and where sock trends are today.
Why Wear Socks, Anyway?
Foot care is so important that even early man figured out that wrapping animal skins around his feet was a pretty good idea. Cuts and blisters on the feet limit movement and can quickly become infected with devastating consequences, especially if you’re a caveman with no penicillin–or a soldier on the battlefield walking miles each day with no drugstore around for supplies. In addition to that protection, we actually sweat quite a bit through our feet too, so soaking up that perspiration with natural fabrics is critical–and that’s why cotton socks are still so popular.
If you have certain health conditions, such as diabetes, then foot care becomes even more critical. The Mayo Clinic states that wearing clean socks can help prevent simple infections that can–horrifically–lead to amputations. So owning quality socks can be very important for everyone.
Early Man: No Underpants, Just Socks
The earliest socks date all the way back to the stone age and can be found depicted in cave paintings. Our ancestors invented socks long before they invented pants. Of course, these early socks were not fancy patterned ones; they didn’t have polka dots or anything as stylish as that! The polka dot was also unknown back then, of course…
Probably, the early development of socks occurred because early man had to walk everywhere so protecting the feet was very important; they were so busy hunting and gathering, and moving from place to place.
You’ll also find literary references to socks from early Greeks and Romans. Romans first sewed cloth together to make fitted socks called “udones”. The first wool socks were found and dated back to the 2nd Century AD. In the 5th century AD, holy people wore purity socks called “puttees” that kind of resembled hooves, with a deep split–a far cry from the brightly colored foot-shaped socks we all wear today.
From Foot Health To Fashion Statement
Even though socks were meant to protect our feet and keep us warm, in the middle ages they also became a fashion statement. Socks became much more expensive due to better and more colorful fabrics being imported, and since pants were short back then, the socks had to be quite long. They were always plain, i.e. undyed and unpatterned because there was no manufacturing sophistication as yet. Of course, they were nothing like our modern plain dyed socks, being somewhat rough, itchy and hairy–and with a lot of unwanted mud and grass seeds, stalks etc finding their way into them. Foot mites were also a regular thing.
As the price of socks rose, they became a status symbol and were only worn by nobility. Although lower-class citizens made their own knit or wool socks at home, they didn’t purchase the expensive and more comfortable socks the upper class wore. Naturally, they still didn’t have the luxurious socks we have today, although rudimentary stripes were beginning to be seen.
Around the 1400s, socks and sock fashion rules became so important that London literally created the “sock police” to make sure no one in the London Town was seen wearing the wrong socks. And, no, I’m not making this up!
Modern Socks with So Many Choices
By the 17th Century, pants finally got longer and socks got shorter. That combined with the invention in the 1500s of the industrial knitting machine made socks much cheaper. By the 1920s and 30s, we were making socks with fun colors and patterns like the aforementioned spots, stripes and Argyle.
One of the most important sock evolutions came with the invention of nylon, sometimes now present in modern socks either under its own name or as polyamide, as in this plush purple pair.
No doubt about it, synthetic fiber changed the fashion world and other industries as well. The most common sock blends today include cotton, wool, and polyester or nylon, but socks can also be made with silk, spandex, bamboo, and other fun fabrics. We also have a lot of different sock lengths and styles to fit everyone’s needs and wants. There is truly a sock for everybody out there.
Today’s Sock Technology and Trends
When you think about socks, the word technology might not pop into mind first of all. I mean, socks don’t have computer chips and don’t make regular appearances in sci-fi adventure stories, so what’s the deal?
But–ask any sock maker–sock technology is a real thing, and it has a lot to do with advanced knitting machines being able to knit finer material. We’re also blending different materials and infusing it with various things to achieve certain advantages such as warmer socks, enhanced patterns and colors and intricate designs, moisture reduction capabilities, compression socks for blood flow, and antibacterial socks for health.
If you think socks aren’t important anymore, just ask Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is constantly in the news for his choice of themed socks for different political events. Socks like those from really can make a statement, and these days, they can also be unisex if you have a foot size that is not too big or small!
Socks and fashion trends have quite a history and many people disagree on what’s right or wrong. If you ever want to stir the pot at a family dinner, for example, ask everyone if it’s fine to wear socks with sandals. It’s a timeless question that seems to have no right answer. Here are some other fashionable sock rules to follow, as reported by The Guardian:
- Should socks be pulled up? Yes, pull those bad boys all the way up. While scrunchy socks were hot in the 80s, today’s trends require a more polished look–especially at formal or semi-formal events such as weddings. Some companies such as No Cold Feet even offer socks specifically packaged for wedding parties.
- Are white socks OK? It depends on the reason for wearing them. In sports, white socks are the norm–but when dressing up, colored socks are the way to go.
- Can you wear socks with sandals? Depending on who you ask you’ll get a different answer. Right now in 2020, the answer is (oddly) YES, so feel free to wear colorful socks, pulled up, with sandals.
- Should socks match your pants or your shoes? To make your legs look longer, match the socks to the pants instead of the shoes.
- When is the right time for novelty socks? Fashion experts will say never, but you and I know that’s just not true. It’s fun to wear silly socks now and then, especially if no one can see them but you. You can even get adorable, luxuriously packaged Valentine’s Day socks. You know you’re loved when someone sends you those!