Salty History Lesson

Salty History Lesson

The History of Socks

Nowadays you can buy a pair of socks with just the touch of a button but they weren't always so easy to come by. In fact, they used to be a sign of social class created only for noblemen. Some places even had ‘sock police’ to decide who had the right to wear them. With the ‘crazy sock’ trend all the rage these days, have you ever stopped to wonder where socks came from? Well, we’re here to help! Throw on a pair of your favorite comfy socks and spend the next few minutes learning about their ancestors.

The Early Days

During the Stone Ages (around 5000 BC) socks looked quite different than they do today. We don't have any socks from back then but cave paintings and other archeological finds give us an idea of what they might have looked like. Cavemen likely made socks from animal skins that they tied around their ankles. We don’t really see any other mentions of socks until the 8th century BC when the Greek poet Hesiod mentioned them in his poem, “Works and Days.” He mentions the term ‘piloi’ which was a type of socks made from matted animal hair that were worn with sandals. 

Early Romans were wrapping their feet in strips of fabric and leather and by the 2nd century AD, they were sewing fabric together to make fitted socks known as ‘udones.’ These are thought to be the first socks that are similar to what we wear today. Ancient Egyptians were making their own knit socks at this time. They had split toes and were designed to be worn with sandals.

Ancient Pair of Socks

Knit Socks Found in an Ancient Egyptian Tomb from 500 AD

The Middle Ages

During the middle ages, trouser length extended for a short time and socks were a tight, often brightly colored covering for the lower part of the leg. Elastic bands hadn’t been invented yet so garters were used to keep socks from falling down. As pants began to get shorter, socks got longer. By the year 1000 AD, socks were a symbol of nobility throughout Europe. However, they looked more like leggings and feet weren’t added until the 12th century. 

Silk stockings became all the rage throughout Europe by the 15th century because they were flexible and allowed easy movement, but they also let men show off their legs. By this time, socks were being made with colorful silks and other nice fabrics. It was common to wear a different color on each leg.

Old pair of tall socks Fancy dressed man in the middle ages

Examples of What Socks Looked Like During the Middle Ages

During the 16th century, socks were being regulated by strict laws. In 1566, London had sock police who were stationed at the gates of London to check people’s socks before entering the city. People who wore the wrong kind of socks weren’t allowed in the city. 

William Lee designed the first knitting machine in 1589. Knitting looms were then quickly spread throughout Europe. Socks became easier and cheaper to produce after the Industrial Revolution and spread in popularity among all classes in Europe.

Modern Day

Cotton became a popular choice for socks and other clothing in the late 17th century. By this point, trousers were longer again but socks were becoming shorter. It was at this time that the term ‘socks’ started to be used instead of ‘stockings.’

In 1938, socks received an upgrade that we still use today — nylon. Cotton-nylon blends became a popular fabric choice because it made socks stronger and more flexible. Elastane was later added to this blend to add even more flexibility to fit more wearers.

As with other fashion, we’ve seen sock styles come and go and come back again. Argyle socks are a popular pattern from the 1920s that are making their way back into men’s fashion. We also see a lot of bright-colored socks like we saw during the middle ages. Thanks to advances in manufacturing, cotton can be dyed easier so we get a lot more bold and fun colors. We also see socks with all kinds of fun patterns and crazy designs. 

We’ve come a long way since the Stone Ages in terms of socks (and everything else!) and boy are we glad. That split toe sock design has us majorly cringing. We’re thankful for the fun socks we have today and how easy they are to find, even if you’re not from a royal family. 

If you’re ready to hop on the funky socks trend (or if you’re already there and want to add to your collection) check out our collection of patterned socks — your feet will thank us!

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