All About Socks
A Brief History of Socks
Derived from the Latin term soccus, the Old English word socc and the Middle English word socke, socks are a knitted or woven type of hosiery designed to protect and cover the human foot. Socks provide comfort, ease chafing of the foot, protect the foot from perspiration, keep the feet warm and help define personal style.
Socks in Ancient Times
From the earliest times in history, socks were used to warm the feet. It wasn’t until the fifteenth century that socks were used to enhance personal style.
In socks’ earliest incarnations, animal skins were gathered and tied at the ankles to provide a crude barrier between early man’s foot and his harsh environment. The ancient Greeks wore socks made from matted animal hair, while the Romans wrapped their feet with leather or fabrics. In the fifth century, priests wore socks to symbolize purity.
By 1,000 AD, socks came to symbolize wealth - but these were not the socks that we know and love today. Sock wearers in the Middle Ages donned colored cloth tied around their legs, then secured with garters. Garters were placed over the top of the sock or stocking to prevent them from falling down.
It wasn’t until the fifteenth century that socks became decorative, and the first printed sock designs emerged. At this time, socks crudely resembled the ubiquitous foot coverings of today. People began to wear stockings in various lengths, depending upon their attire. Styles ranged from just below the calf, to the knee, or thigh-high, becoming true extensions of an outfit.
Over were the days of rudimentary foot covering: men wore stripes of different colors on their socks or different colors on each leg to express individuality and add flourish. As men's pants grew longer, socks became shorter, with the word sock replacing stocking for these smaller foot shelters.
The Advent of the Knitting Machine: Fast Socks
In 1589, sock history sped up when the loom was invented by Englishman William Lee. Now socks could be knitted six times faster than by hand. The loom took the world by storm, and by the early 1900s, the first circular knitting frames were developed, which allowed for a mechanized process. Voila: the mass market production of socks.
Modern-Day Socks: More Fabrics and Colors
In 1938 nylon was developed, which led to the blending of two or more fabrics together, a process which is commonly used today in the manufacturing of socks. Other fabrics such as acrylic, polyester, polyamide and spandex are also used.
The introduction of sock coloring led to a major infusion of new styles, patterns and looks. Colored socks are often part of school uniforms and figure prominently for sports teams who need to spot teammates on the field.
Socks, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. There are knee high socks, toe socks, short socks, anklets, over the knee socks, bare socks and more. There is even a National Knee High Sock Day on June 11 that started in 1942. Trends will always come and go - like the Argyle patterns popularized during the Roaring Twenties - but basic, solid color socks continue to be a favorite among men.