A lot of us have feet and a lot of us wear socks, or even more precisely, people who have feet wear socks. Socks are everywhere, they are made by billions, sold by packs and thrown away by tons. If you are reading this article, you probably have a pair of socks. Maybe on your feet, maybe in your drawer or lying under your bed, but you probably got a pair somewhere. Nobody counts socks these days, we use them, we dispose of them, we buy some more. But take a closer look at them, socks are not a simple conception. They need to be elastic, snug, tubular, in many cases warm, sturdy and hopefully cheap. And where did they come from? Who invented them? And why do they magically disappear inside of a washing machine?
To tell you the truth, we can only answer the first question. Some form of socks served humans as long as homosapien walked the planet we call Earth. Cavemen wrapped their feet in leather and leaves, if you can call those wrappings socks. The Ancient Greeks were more advanced and wore socks called “piloi” and made them out of tangled animal hair, so in some sense you can identify them as early Uggs. The Romans, not to be outdone by pesky Greeks, wore “udone”, nicely fitted socks made out of simple cloth.
But we are more interested in knitted socks, as they are the first true form of socks, at least in my mind. We cannot be exactly sure who made the first knitted socks, as materials for knitting does not survive for too long, but the earliest ever found are originated from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt and dated all the way back to somewhere between 300 and 500 AD. And they were a nice pair, bright red with separated toes to wear sandals. You can still find them at Victoria and Albert museum, if you wish to look at old socks.
Now, the first cottons socks, as in knitted from cotton, were once again found in Egypt, it seems like those Egyptians really like them socks. The coolest feature for those feet warmers was a detachable and replaceable heel. Got a hole? No worry, chuck your heel and get a new one.
Europe was not far behind and by 1000 AD. socks became somewhat of a symbol of wealth and nobility. But those were not just any socks, but rather stockings, long socks that went all the way up men’s, yes, real men wear stocking, legs. At some stage they actually were integrated into pants, but soon gained their independence for a simple reason that you want to change your socks much more often than your pants.
Then came 1589 and one English chap named William Lee invented the knitting loom, and suddenly socks could be made cheaply and quickly. William tried to get his invention patented by Queen Elizabeth herself, but she turned it down as she found his socks crude and ugly. On other hand, King Henry IV, the ruler of good old France, loved the idea and was ready to give William all the support he needed. The loom moved to Rouen and soon migrated all over Europe. Socks became better fitting, more colourful and easily accessible by less fortunate. Well, at least woollen socks, silk was reserved for those damn aristocrats.
Time kept on slipping and over the following centuries socks changes styles, sizes and appearances. In the 16th century cotton became the preferred material for socks and feet became less sweaty. By the 19th century most socks were produced on looms and hand knitted socks went out of fashion, unless they were knitted by your grandma of course.
And then the most incredible thing in socks history had happened, in 1938 nylon was invented. Nylon is strong, stretchy, light and, at least now, cheap. Blend it with wool or cotton and bam! You got yourself the best fitting socks. You simply cannot argue with that. Then came other materials like polyester, spandex, and everything in between, but nylon socks are still the most popular feet huggers.
Over the last century socks pizzazz became quite tame, mostly black or brown in shade, but by the 90s colours came back in force, and today I own a pair of socks with cute pugs on them. Now there are all types of socks — long, short, colourless, colourful and transparent. Socks with a separate compartment for each toe, sport socks, hiking socks, work socks and fun socks. Some people even wear socks with crocs, but we do not like to talk about those weirdos. What socks do you like to wear?