Unless you live in a warm, sunny place like the Caribbean and enjoy a leisurely beach-based lifestyle, odds are that you wear socks most of the time. Socks keep your feet warm and dry and protect them from chafing by your shoes. If you’re a man, you most likely have a sock drawer full of socks in different materials and colors. You probably have so many socks that you occasionally ponder the mystery of the lonely sock that has lost its other half! (Speaking of, did you know someone has worked out a scientific formula to explain this phenomenon – you can read up on it here.) In any event, most mornings you pick out a pair of socks with about as much thought as you give to brushing your teeth. However, the history of socks is older and more interesting than your sock collection might indicate.
The Very First Foot Coverings
Our cave-dwelling ancestors most likely didn’t like cold feet and wore some type of foot covering made from animal skins that tied around their ankles. By the time the 8th Century B.C. rolled around, the Greeks were wrapping their feet in coverings called ‘piloi’ fashioned from matted animal hair. By the 2nd century A.D., the Romans had progressed to wearing recognizable socks called ‘udones’ made from a technique called nailbinding. You can wear authentic ‘udones’ today and imagine you’re a Roman legionnaire – click here. The earliest discovered knit socks were unearthed in Egyptian tombs dated from the 3rd-6th centuries A.D. By the year 1000 AD, knit and woven leggings were a status symbol of European nobility. However, it wasn’t until the 12th century that feet were added to them.
The Invention of the Knitting Machine
In the 16th century, the knitting machine made possible hose that was more tightly woven. It also made stockings accessible to people other than the wealthy. They were mostly made of wool for poorer people and silk for the noble classes. The knitting machine also brought about a change in style – up until this time men wore knee-length embroidered stockings that were tied at the top because otherwise, they would fall down. Tighter weaves made it possible for stockings to stay up on their own and ties were done away with.
The Manly Leg
Eventually, the popular fashion for men became short tunics and breeches that exposed more of the leg. This necessitated a change in the style of hose – instead of hose consisting of two separate legs, now there was a one-piece style that reached to the crotch. Stockings were initially worn just by men – you can see them in pictures of Henry VIII and other noblemen of that time. However, Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, wasn’t about to be left out – she made them popular for women starting in 1560.
Stockings to Socks
The next couple of centuries saw stockings longer or shorter according to changing fashions – anywhere from mid-calf to knee to mid-thigh. They also featured different colors, decorations, and patterns. German and Swiss gentlemen liked to wear clothes with slashes to show off their brightly colored hose underneath. Spanish gentlemen wore knitted stockings made of silk with embroidered emblems. In the late 17th century, cotton appeared on the scene and became a popular choice for socks. Up until this time, men’s hose had been called stockings, and it was only when men’s pants became longer, and stockings became shorter, that stockings came to be known as socks.
A Variety of Sock Materials
The next significant sock innovation involved the use of nylon which was invented in 1938. Nylon provided strength and elasticity and was perfect for socks. In fact socks today are often still blended with nylon. Nowadays, you’ll find socks for men and women made from wool, cotton, nylon, polypropylene, polyester, spandex, and more. You don’t have to settle for dull socks – you can find socks in brighter colors, bold patterns, and amusing designs. There are even socks made with filaments that light up. One final sock fact – the town of Datang (aka Sock City) in China produces eight billion pairs of socks every year – that’s two pairs for every person on the planet!
The Importance of Wearing the Right Socks
Not wearing the right socks, especially for certain sports, or wearing badly-fitting socks, can result in a variety of foot problems. Because socks provide cushioning between your skin and your shoes, socks can either prevent or cause friction. Friction may lead to skin irritation and sometimes injury. If you have any type of foot problem that may or may not be related to the socks you wear, come see Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle. We will diagnose your problem and also give you advice on the right socks.