Socks are a staple ingredient of fashion and our everyday lives. Whether you have cold feet, are going on a run or simply want to look your best for a job interview, socks are something we always need but so rarely properly think about.
Socks aren’t just a fashion item however. A good pair of socks could be the difference between blistered feet and healthy feet for a mountaineer. The wrong pair of socks could get you into trouble at your workplace. Any pair of socks always make a standard go-to Christmas present in the Christmas stocking.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled everything there is to know about the wonderful world of socks.
History of the sock
The word “sock” derives from the Latin word “soccus”, which literally translates as ‘light shoe’. Socks have been in fashion (so to speak) since as far back as the 8th century BC when the Greeks and Romans wrapped their feet in woven fabrics to protect their feet. For their early history, the sock was actually a sign of status in society, largely down to the fact that early socks tended to be worn by holy orders in Europe. Furthermore, the actual manufacturing of a sock was deemed a trade secret, so the value of these new practical fashion accessories soared. As times went on, the sock was increasingly associated with comfort and protection for the very richest who didn’t want to suffer sores and blisters as they walked.
By the time the Middle Ages came around, the sock had evolved from fabric wrapped around the foot, to a coloured cloth held up by garters on stockings. Traditionally, pants and stockings were one item of clothing but as stockings required changing more often than pants, they became separate items and as such, the modern sock was born.
The introduction of the knitting machine in 1589 rapidly changed the adoption rates for wearing socks. Socks could be manufactured six times faster than before and soon started to become every-day items rather than the social status symbol they had been nearly a thousand years before.
Some 400 years later in 1938 the very first nylon sock was produced thereby creating cheaper, more durable socks that could be coloured and patterned for mass market. Today, most of the world’s socks are produced out of Sock City, China (or Zhuji in Zhejiang province) – with an estimated 8 billion pairs of socks produced here every year alone. Socks are patterned, styled and coloured for billions worldwide and are now serious fashion accessories for those looking to add a little fun into their fashion.
What types of socks are there?
There are numerous varieties of types and styles of socks worldwide, but today we’re going to look at the most popular types:
Traditionally ankle socks are low cut socks that can’t be seen when wearing a trainer or boat shoe. The ankle sock is usually the preferred option for those looking to wear a light shoe like trainers.
Probably the most traditional and common sock, the crew length sock are usually 6-9 inches from the heel to cuff and tend to suit all occasions. They keep your feet and upper ankle warm and also ensure that if you’re wearing trousers that you won’t be showing any skin.
Knee Length Socks
The knee length sock tends to be more popular amongst women, especially for those wearing boots or skirts during colder periods. That being said, wool knee socks are still worn by men – most commonly during sporting events e.g. soccer or running.
Thigh high socks
Undoubtedly for women, thigh high socks go well above the knee and up to the thigh. Used for both keeping warm in the winter as well as creating a seductive fashion statement.
How are socks made?
Today’s modern socks can be made up from multiple fabrics and materials. Certain fabrics can help prevent moisture, others provide greater comfort. Synthetic socks are usually the most common for men.
Most men’s socks tend to be made from nylon which means they are also cheaper. The durability is usually fairly decent but can cause sweating of the foot and toes leading to that annoying toe wriggling feeling you can get from a rubbish pair of socks.
Better quality socks might be manufactured using plain cotton, wool or even silk to provide greater comfort and less friction against the skin.
The process of making socks isn’t as simple as you think. If you consider you want some fun work socks with a pattern and variety of colours, quite a lot has to happen before the finished product as we show below:
- Materials are washed and spun into a simple yarn. If the socks are to be coloured then they are usually dyed several days in advance.
- The yarn is then put onto a knitting machine that knits the material around a cylinder. Knitting it in this way means there are less seams on the sock so therefore there are less points of friction against the skin and better overall durability
- Once knitted, the toe seams are seamed together
- Socks are then rewashed and dried to remove any yarn residue or other materials that could’ve come into contact with the sock during the process
- At this point, the sock doesn’t really look like it would neatly fit on the foot, so a machine is used to form the material into the right shape and size. After this, the socks are paired, steam pressed and packaged up ready to go
Sock style etiquette
It goes without saying that socks are not only important for foot health, but also for style. As such there are a number of internationally recognised sock etiquettes that most follow:
Socks are not for life
Socks that are clearly past their best i.e. have holes in, have faded colours or stains should go straight to the trash. A scruffy sock suggest that the character of the wearer may be one who isn’t meticulous or bothered about presentation.
Traditionally, socks should always match. Even accidentally pairing a black with a dark navy sock could get you a few tut tuts from the fashion police. However, the modern man has become more accustomed to odd socks – with many manufacturers provide fun work socks that don’t match intentionally. Just be aware that there is a time and place for this. Occasions such as funerals, job interviews and church are probably events you should have matching socks.
The right weight of socks for the shoe
Wearing thick men’s wooly socks with a lightweight shoe may get you a few odd looks. Likewise, ankle socks and work boots don’t tend to work well with each another. Make sure that your sock matches the shoe in weight thereabouts, otherwise you may risk sore feet as well as ridicule.
Know when to expose your bare skin
Very traditionally, men who exposed the skin of their legs were frowned down on by the “sock police”. It suggested that they hadn’t given any thought to their socks or even worse, their suit trousers were too small for them. In modern times, this is less so, with many men choosing to wear ankle socks with the likes of brogue shoes to make a fashion statement.
Socks to suit the occasion
As already hinted, it’s vital that you wear the right socks for the right occasion. White ankle socks are more associated with the gym or on holiday – not to accompany your suit. Vice versa, heavy knee length socks matched with shorts and sandals may gain you a few strange looks on the beach.
2017 fashion trends for socks
Socks have become more of a fashion statement for many men as the 21st century heralded in more positive attitude to men’s fashion. Men’s work socks have quickly changed from being conservative black socks to often colourful and even non-matching to make a fashion statement. Even Vogue advised sock wearers to be more open to novelty socks in 2016! With this mind, here are some sock trends for 2017 to keep abreast of:
Favoured by designer brands like Paul Smith, the three stripe sock is always a classic but strong fashion statement.
Socks & Sandals!
Who would’ve though the Brits and Germans were ahead of their time? GQ recently recommended that socks and sandals are now in fact fashionable. Of course, this style only works if the sandals are decent leather strapped sandals and the socks are luxury cashmere…
By contrasting, we mean ensuring the colours next to each another have the same amount of contrast next to each another. Put simply, if you’re wearing a tailored grey suit, bright pink and yellow socks is a no-no. Instead try to keep contrast levels between your socks and trousers about the same as between your trousers and shirt.
Ever a favourite, a simple bright block colour can be all you need for fun work socks. If you’re wearing a blue suit for work, bright red socks alone (or to match your tie) could be all that’s needed to inject some personality into your attire.
What you socks say about you
Last but not least, it’s always worth knowing what your socks may say about your personality (or how people might interpret it!):
- Bright block red – Often viewed as a strong, confident sock option, red is particularly attention seeking and often worn by those looking to make a strong statement but still reserving the conservative authority of a suit
- Motif socks – More subtle but also looking to communicate exclusivity. A simple motif whether a designer brand or club membership suggests that you’re understated but still want those in the know to recognise your authority
- Odd socks – This can go either way. It either says that you’re willing to break normal conventions, confident in yourself and happy to go off piste. Or, it says you don’t own enough clean socks!
- Patterned/Novelty socks – Someone who doesn’t take life too seriously and is willing to show off their sense of humour. It doesn’t mean you’re a push over, just that you don’t necessary care about “the rules of fashion.
- Striped socks – The ever safe striped sock shows you’re willing to be a bit liberal but not too experimental. If the stripes match the tie or other accessories then you’ve clearly thought about what you’re wearing
- Wooly socks – You better be wearing these somewhere cold otherwise you might be putting yourself up for ridicule!
- Ankle socks – To wear ankle socks with a shoe like an Oxford or Brogue is in keeping with recent fashion trends. It shows you care about your style and are willing to be alternative from the usual “sock norms”