How much of your day do you spend thinking about your socks? Hopefully, not much. But you might feel discomfort if the elastic is failing, if the socks become wet, or if they have holes.
A particularly nice pair of silk or cashmere socks might make you smile occasionally as your pampered feet spike your oxytocin.
Other than that, your socks are probably easy to ignore. Maybe you put some effort into selecting your socks in the morning and enjoy the chance for your feet to breathe when you take them off at night.
What you may not realize, however, is that your socks have taken a long journey across centuries, even millenia, to arrive at your feet in their current form. From prehistory to the Classical era, the middle ages to the modern era, socks have evolved in many ways to become the garments we know and love today.
So take a moment to appreciate the fabric sleeves that keep your dogs warm and dry. Here are thirteen things you never knew about socks.
Without historical records to inform them, anthropologists attempt to piece together the lifestyles and habits of prehistoric humans from preserved evidence. While it’s hard to be sure, anthropologists suspect they know enough about our ancient ancestors to deduce that cave-dwelling humans probably wore socks.
Cavemen and cavewomen would have killed animals, skinned them, and wrapped those skins around their feet, securing them in place by tying them at the ankles. They probably did so to keep their feet warm during cold seasons.
Whatever the cave peoples’ footwear choices might have been, the first historical record of socks date to between the 3rd and 5th Centuries AD. They were discovered in the 19th Century at a dig site alongside the Nile river in Egypt, where an ancient Greek society lived in a village called Oxyrhynchus.
The discovered socks were woven from red wool and had split toes. You can see them on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The term “sock” may come from the Latin word soccus, which referred to a loose-fitting stocking worn by comedic actors in ancient Rome. The term could also refer to a low-heeled light shoe. Over time, the term “socc” entered Old English to refer to lightweight slippers.
The word might also derive from “sykkos,” a Greek word referring to a thin shoe worn under the sandals, like a sock would be worn under a shoe. Both Greek and Latin evolved from Proto Indo-European, a lost language that linguists believe gave rise to the languages spoken by 43% of today’s human beings. So there could be an even older version of the word “sock” we will never know about.
Prehistoric socks may have been made from animal skins and the first discovered socks from a familiar construction of woven wool, but other materials have gone into the production of socks.
Eighth-century Greeks wore socks made from matted animal hair. They were called piloi. References to them appear in the writings of the Greek poet Hesiod from that era.
From these non-breathable beginnings, socks have expanded their repertoire to be made from materials like cotton, cashmere, bamboo, polyester, acrylic, spandex, nylon, and silk.
If you want to get weird looks as you walk down the street, one surefire way is to wear socks with your sandals. It’s a major fashion faux-pas, even if you’re wearing socks with split toes.
How times have changed. Archaeologists have discovered ancient Roman socks with split toes and signs of rust residue between the toes. The most likely source of that rust was the nail that formed the fastener of the sandal, Rome’s most popular footwear. Ergo, ancient Romans were wearing socks with their sandals.
Romans weren’t the only ancient poindexters wearing socks under their sandals. The wool socks discovered at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt were also meant to be worn under sandals.
You may have seen Argyle socks on the ankles of golfers or as part of smart workplace attire. You might not have known that Argyle socks originated in Scotland in the 15th Century. Highland clanspeople used this pattern of intersecting diamonds as a complement to their clan tartan, the multi-colored plaid pattern featured on Scottish kilts containing a range of colors from greens to reds to blues.
Each Scottish clan had a distinctive tartan with unique colors. If you have Scottish heritage and know your clan ancestry, consider looking for Argyle socks that match your clan tartan!
It’s as predictable as tax time—it seems like with every load of laundry, a sock goes missing and its partner becomes a widow.
Unless this fate befalls a favorite pair of socks, this may just seem like a minor annoyance … but lost socks actually add up. A study revealed that lost socks incur the average family as much as $300 in extra expenses. For many people, that could be several car payments or cell phone bills.
If you want to stop flushing this money away with the dirty wash water, consider taking a few steps to avoid losing your socks. Clip them together or roll them into balls right out of the laundry; wash your socks in a laundry bag to keep them together; dedicate a separate hamper for your socks; consider investing in sock clips that are washing-machine safe.
One of the things that stops people from experimenting with socks is discomfort with the art of matching sock colors to pant and shoe colors. It may encourage you to know that there is actually an established etiquette involved in the color coordination of your ankle-and-footwear.
Here’s how it goes:
There are, of course, no hard-and-fast rules, and out-of-the-box coordinations can look sensational. If you’re having trouble understanding where to even start, however, this etiquette can serve as much-needed guidance.
Your socks have their work cut out for them. Other than your scalp and your armpits, the feet secrete more sweat than any other part of your body—up to half a liter a day!
Your socks play a crucial role in keeping you presentable and your shoes odor-free.
Starting in the 10th Century, silk socks became a symbol of wealth and high rank in Feudal European societies. In addition to being luxuriantly comfortable, silk was expensive, a boutique product of the faraway Chinese Empire, costly and dangerous to import, the very means of production a state secret guarded by Chinese artisans under pain of death (it turned out to be the secretion of silkworms).
Just as today, those were eras of extreme income inequality. It was expected that the rich would always be rich, the poor would always be poor, and economies were considered finite rather than expansive. As such, “conspicuous consumption” was considered a virtue. The rich lived in elaborate palaces, indulged in expensive hobbies, and literally wore their wealth on their bodies in the form of jewels and elaborate getups.
One way to wear wealth was to clad your ankles and calves with long silk socks. Trousers and breeches were adapted to show a lot of leg, so the peasants could see just how much silk stocking the noble or royal in question could afford.
The era of conspicuous consumption has passed, with today’s patricians affecting a more sedate and uniform suit-and-tie look to connote authority and downplay their elitism, but upscale socks, like those from No Cold Feet, are still de rigueur for formal occasions like weddings, banquets, and balls.
In fact, China is the home of “Sock City.” Most Chinese socks are produced in the Datang District of the city of Zhuji in the Zhejiang Province of eastern China.
Consumers who care about the impact their purchases have on the environment have driven a market for conscientiously-produced socks, made from natural materials with little carbon footprint, produced without the use of pesticides or chemicals and manufactured under ethical labor standards.
A particularly sustainable material is bamboo. The evergreen material grows quickly and abundantly without the need for pesticides. If you want to make an ethical sock selection, bamboo may be the way to go.
If your sock has a design around the ankle or up the side of the leg, this pattern has an old-school name—the “clock.” It may have originated in the 16th Century because these patterns can look like hands on a clock from certain angles. Regardless, the name has stuck, despite the fact that socks can’t really be used to tell time.
Never turn down an excuse to celebrate. December 4 is National Sock Day in America. Why not arrange a fun-sock party, in advance of all those ugly-sweater parties you’ll shortly be facing in the holiday season.
The UK takes a more melancholy approach to socks. Sock orphans get remembered on May 4, officially dedicated as “Lost Socks Memorial Day.” Brits with a mind to do so commemorate this day by wearing mismatched socks in heartfelt tribute to their fallen partners.
Experts believe that a fluffy pair of warm socks can promote better circulation throughout your body while you slumber, allowing you to achieve a more restful night’s sleep. Note that we said sleep, not other things you might want to do in bed. While keeping your socks on might be a mood killer, consider slipping your bed socks back on after intimacy time is over and bedtime is upon you.
You probably never realized there was so much to know about socks! The way we dress evolves over time—from animal skin to Chinese silk, conspicuous consumption to sustainable sourcing, from socks with sandals to never never never socks with sandals!
Whatever the future holds for socks, we’re grateful for the past and the present, the innovators and manufacturers across the world who keep our feet dry and comfortable.
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