The slice of history warming up in every pair of socks

history of socks
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As essential summer essentials as they are winter staples, socks sum up a world of comfort. Warm and fuzzy to the feel, redolent of the sniff of hot chocolate laden days made for Instagram worthy captures, with of course a book along the side of the steaming cuppa, oozing such vibes that make you want to slip away into your cocoon of cosiness, with a rush of hygge running over you, socks are surprisingly luxurious. Yet never in their lifetime they rise to be beholders of our unwavering adoring, restricted instead to lie beneath, covering maybe our feet but still caressing the soul with a warmth so typical to it.

Even in portraying such romantic a picture of socks however, it is indeed delightful to note that these unlikely elements of fashion have been in style among humans since times in the past. An item of clothing that have evolved over years extending into centuries, socks are quite deep rooted in history. Sometime in the 8th century BC, there have been evidence of Ancient Greeks wear a type of socks called piloi. Made then from matted animal hair as compared to the mass produced modern day pairs that are mostly woolen though can encompass a range of other materials as well, the socks of the earlier era found prominence also among the Romans who wrapped their feet with leather or woven fabrics. It wasn’t until the 2nd century AD however that the same Roman people started sewing the fabrics together to make fitted socks called “udones”. But while socks served the Romans and the Greeks the purpose of keeping their feet warm and dry much like why we still majorly wear them today, the Europeans also had been ancient slippers into the socks of comfort though for somewhat different purposes. By the 5th century AD, socks called “puttees” were worn by holy people in the European continent to symbolize purity. Socks however were of rather popular prominence in Europe in even earlier times, at least as far as the royalty and aristocracy has been concerned, as is evident from the 47 pairs of royal socks unearthed alongside all the precious and semi precious belongings marking the contents of the famous tomb of King Tut. As concerns its etymology as well, the European and Roman linkings with socks is as evident, with the word being derived from the Old English word socc, meaning “light slipper”, that which again finds its origin in the Latin soccus, meaning a “light, low-heeled shoe” worn by Roman comic actors, derived thereof from the Ancient Greek word sykchos.

But while socks of the times far flung in the pages of history had only one purpose- that of function and utility, modern day socks tend to be more ‘versatile’ in their avatars. In fact, the earliest known surviving pair of socks are one that came also with split toes for making them fit also to wear with sandals, keeping much in sync with the idea of necessity for which they came into being. While this is a piece of history unearthed in Egypt, quite fittingly near the Nile River, and that which might come as a fashion faux pas because of how unacceptable it seems to be donning socks with slippers and stuff, it also is the European nation of Germany that continues with this much frowned upon combination of the sartorial even today. Talking therefore of style over sensibility as we already are, fashion however started gaining precedence even in this rather’ down to earth’ realm, sometimes even overruling the ambits of function sometime since the 11th century, socks soon came to become status symbols. And as whimsical as it might sound, wearing socks indeed became the monopoly of the wealthy since closely guarded secretive methods of knitting socks meant that only those with money and prestige could afford these items of otherwise commonplace humility. Even the socks of the 12th century came with such interesting anecdotes, with such knitting methods that started toward the toe and worked up towards the leg, making allowance for a heel attached with loops that was meant to be detached and replaced when it was worn out enough!

sock history
Source: Shosett

The Middle Ages saw the socks emerge as tight, brightly colored clothing to perhaps offset them from the then significantly lengthened trousers. In also the absence of elastic bands, these socks were held up in place by ribbons or ties or garters. Over time however, as pants began to vary in length, typically becoming shorter, socks emerged to be longer and pricier, manifesting even boldly their stature as status symbols, sometimes even presenting themselves as quite ornamental. In fact so distinctive had been the presence of such ornamental design on the ankle or side of a sock that they came to be referred distinctly as a ‘clock’, possibly an allusion to the way the stitched or woven pattern can look like clock hands when viewed from far away.

The revolution that the invention of the knitting machine in 1859 heralded for the fashion industry as a whole meant that socks also were not left out from the purview of ‘fast fashion’, though obviously not in the way we know them today. In amping the knitting process of socks by upto six times than what it took for the human hand to meticulously craft them out, socks began to once again become fairly accessible to all, much like what they had been in inception. Nevertheless, hand knitting of socks continued alongside machine production till at least the 1800s, as did the ‘trend’ of socks being held up by garters, the latter though being more by compulsion than choice. Even as Englishman Jedediah Strutt invented the stocking frame, popularly known as the Derby rib machine back in 1759, popularly mass producing stockings, it still was quite expensive to sew elasticated bands along the girth of the socks. Whatever that might be, the next big revolution initiated in the history of socks spanned the 1900s. With the introduction of nylon in 1938, sock production began to witness a shift from such materials as silk, cotton and wool to instead being made by blending two or more yarns, something that continues even now, close to almost a century later.

What’s quite interesting a fact stemming from the story of socks is that despite not being among the names uttered in history when it comes to chronicling the history and legacy of these foot warmers, it is the Asian country of China that is the current global leader in the production of it. So much so that the district of Datang in the country has come to be known as the Sock City, courtesy of it producing 8 billion pairs of socks each year that effectively amounts to a third of the world’s sock production. To good measure though, since wearing socks caters to your health much more than just being a mechanism to ward off the chills of the weather. Wearing socks help to keep your feet dry, by absorbing all the sweat and thereby also lend longer life to your shoes. They also therefore help keep such smelly bacteria at bay that might make sweaty feet their breeding ground. Beyond its aspects of hygiene, socks also help provide padding to the feet, cushioning and protecting them from blisters that direct contact with your shoes might lead to. As regards to the ravages of the weather, wearing socks also keeps your feet safe from developing cold feet and frostbites.

In such myriad ways that socks protect you and in their range of evolving history, it is only obvious that modern day socks come in a wide variety of types. Depending on the cut and length as also the occasion and function they cater to, socks go way beyond the just the basics. Here’s listing some such sock types you can pick from to stay cosily happy and comfortably healthy-

Dress Socks

Dress Socks
Source: Simons

Socks that are meant to be worn with formal dresses, mostly suits, are what dress socks encompass in essence. Much like dress shirts, these make for a part of your most formal ensemble, and therefore come in array of muted colors that cater to the demands of the formal. Matching the color of your dress socks to the color of the trousers is a ground rule for formal dressing though.

Toe Socks

Toe Socks
Source: Wikipedia

Socks that are knitted as such that encases each toe individually the same way a finger is encased in a glove, toe socks are also called finger socks, glove socks, 5-toe socks or digital socks. In reducing friction between the toes, these socks go the extra mile in endowing the wearer with added comfort.

Tabi

Somewhat of a variant of toe socks that are native to Japan, Tabi has a history dating back to the 15th century. Meant to be worn with thonged footwear that involves also traditional types like the zori and geta, these are socks that come with two encasings, one for the thumb and the other for the other four toes. Generally white and worn in formal occasions as tea ceremonies, tabi can be slipped on through its back openings that come with fasteners for easy closure.

Winter Socks

Socks might not be exclusive to the winters but there exist types of them made specially warm to cater to the exclusive demands of the damning chill. Also called thermal socks, these are generally made of wool or of some insulating fabric that keeps your feet sufficiently warm and dry and yet breathing at the same time.

Crew Socks

Crew Socks
Source: Goldie Socks

Short socks that are usually ribbed at the top of the ankles, crew socks however can be pulled up for a pair of lengthier socks. The ribbed edges help the sock to stay up better on the legs and make for quite a good pair to wear with almost every type of bottom and foot wear.

Diabetic Socks

Catering to the intense feet demands of diabetics as suggested by their very name, diabetic socks are specially designed to keep feet dry, decrease the risk of foot injury, and enhance blood circulation. In being an even advanced type of socks that cater to feet health and comfort, diabetic socks once again emphasises the utilitarian necessity of wearing socks.

Compression Socks

Another of the types of socks that cater even more to health are compression socks. An essential part of compression therapy that help prevent the occurrence of, and guard against further progression of, venous disorders, compression stockings are specially designed with stronger elastics to create significant pressure on the legs, ankles and feet. 

Loafer Socks

Loafer Socks
Source: Pinterest

Meant to be worn with low top shoes like loafers and moccasins, loafer socks are no show socks that which are also popular as low profile socks. Also referred to as loafer liners or invisible socks because of how they tend not to be very apparent, loafer socks provide good options for those who want to reap the goodness of slipping into a pair of socks without them being too obvious on the look.

Beoseon

Traditional Korean socks generally worn with hanbok, also a traditional apparel of the country, beoseon are cute looking types of socks made for protection, warmth, and style. Of many types in itself as regards to purpose and shape and sewing technique, and that which are known also differently, these socks of Korea are considered practical because of they are easy to handle after cleaning.


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