Socks evolution | Fashion History | Textile Technology | Cultural Significance

The Fascination Evolution of Socks

The Fascination Evolution of Socks

Socks have a rich and fascinating history that spans centuries, weaving through different cultures and evolving alongside the complexities of fashion, function, and technology. From humble beginnings to becoming a ubiquitous wardrobe staple, the journey of socks is nothing short of captivating.

In ancient times, socks were rudimentary foot coverings made from animal skins or woven materials, serving primarily as a practical solution to protect feet from the elements. The Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all had variations of these early foot coverings, highlighting the universal need for warmth and comfort.

Well, today’s “sock” is derived from the Old English “socc” meaing a light slipper, and originally from the Latin “soccos” meaning a light, low-heeled shoe.

You see, socks were originally made to protect our legs and feet and keep them warm and dry.  Back in the 8th Century BC, the Ancient Greeks made socks with matted animal hair for warmth, while the Romans would wrap their feet with leather and other woven fabrics.

This meant that by the 10th Century, socks were a status symbol.

Socks were a symbol of wealth and importance.

As the sock knitting process was a complex guild secret back then, only the rich and famous could afford to wear socks. 

And much like today, when the rich and famous do something, it generally becomes fashionable.

Socks were no exception.  Socks became a fashion essential.

It started with ornamental designs being added to the ankle or side of the sock. But these were just the gateway drug, and by the 16th Century, lots of brightly coloured and different materials were being knitted into socks of all patterns and designs.

Then, in 1589, something happened that changed everything. No, it wasn’t the first prototype bread slicer. It was in fact the first mechanical sock knitting machine.

Sock production changed drastically from this point forward, as socks became much faster to produce – over six times faster! They spread like wild fire throughout Europe, with the brightly coloured Spanish fabrics having a big influence on sock designs and patters.

The introduction of nylon in 1939 was the next game changer, making socks much easier and cheaper to produce. Nylon was also used to give socks added stretch and durability. In fact, even though most socks are marketed as “cotton socks”, they after often only 70-80% cotton, with the remainder being a combination of other materials, such as nylon, lycra or even bamboo socks. 

Over the last 100 years, we’ve seen it all. White socks, black socks, multi-coloured socks, trainer socks, business socks, socks with the days of the week on, socks with homer Simpson on, £1 socks from the Primark, £700 socks from Falke, socks that make the tea… the list goes on. 

Whilst they may no longer be a symbol of wealth or importance, socks are still considered an essential fashionable item of clothing.

Some might even say that with over 2000 years of fashion status to it’s name, the humble leather sock or light slipper has even evolved into a beautifully knitted symbol of people’s personalities, from hidden and rebellious, to bursting with energy.

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