One of my mentors told me to always take care of your feet. You will need them all your life. I was not sure what he was trying to illustrate until he asked me what is the first thing you do when you get out of bed? You put your feet on the floor so take care of your feet. He also helped do the math to see the importance of paying a little more for a quality shoe. I was from the school of thought that just went with the most in expensive shoe. If you understand what quality looks like you can have shoes that last for decades instead of a year or two.
There is Batman and Robin. Peanut butter and jelly, and shoes and socks! Once I started to making investments in my footwear, socks became a natural progression for me. Like any good student of fashion and style, we understand they move in a circle. This is why I always like to look at the history of socks and how they become such an important accessory over the years. Here I am sharing an interesting presentation about the history of socks, it is quite informative and insightful; happy reading!
The History of Socks
Dating back to prehistoric times, cavemen skinned animals and used their hides to wrap around their feet. Tied at the ankle, they would use the warmer and more comfortable parts of the animal skin mixed with fat and sometimes the meat. The purpose of these rudimentary socks was, of course, to keep the feet warm, but also, protect them from the harshness of the rougher hide and natural fibers used as shoes. Of course, for those who didn’t properly sanitize the hides or used raw meats and fat, the ability to contract more disease through open wounds would prove for many to be catastrophic and sometimes, even deadly.
Cavemen probably invented the basic idea of socks or stockings, but over years, they progressed into a far more advanced form of protection, offering comfort and separating your foot chafing in the shoe.
Socks = Luxury in Medieval Times
By the medieval times, socks were considered a form of luxury and as such they were reserved for nobility. Also, it wasn’t unusual for knights to wear socks underneath the suit of armor because it created a layer of comfort and prevented diseases.
Starting in the 17th century, even regular families could afford socks. Of course, the yarn was often homespun and the socks hand-knitted from itchy wool. On the other hand, the upper-class echelon of society preferred fine silk and cotton socks.
Sock Knitting Machines Bring Prices Down
Once sock knitting machines were invented in the 18th century, prices for socks decreased and the knit got finer. At first, socks were knitted flat and then they were sewn together, leaving a seam at the back side of the calf. For example, the Fort Belvedere Cri de la Soie knit ties are knitted on more than 100-year-old sock knitting machines which have been repurposed for silk knit ties.
The First Circular Sock Knitting Machines Appear in the 19th Century
The next big advancement was a circular sock knitting machine, also referred to as CSM. The big advantage was that it was now possible to knit a seamless tube. Of course, the heel and toe areas had to be knitted separately and closed off by hand. Then, in the dawn of the twentieth century, nylon socks came into play and changed the world of male socks and stockings forever.
In the beginning, the number of needles was limited to 72 which resulted in a thicker sock. Over time, the number of needles was increased and today you can find socks made on machines with 280 needles which represent the finest you can buy in the world.
Nylon Changes The Sock Game
In the dawn of the twentieth century, nylon socks saw the light of day and changed the world of male socks and stockings forever because it enabled the production of superfine socks. Even though the term hosiery and stockings are now associated with womenswear only, over-the-calf socks used to be called hose, and the term was used exclusively for the male socks. Fine hosiery often with embroidery such as clocks were a staple in every gentleman’s wardrobe. Nylon was the new thing at the time and hence it was used in blends most often.
Today, Nylon is considered to be a cheap material that makes your feet sweat and even though it provides strength it is preferable to use more breathable natural materials such as 100% cotton, or wool, cashmere and silk blends. Of course, the area around the calf requires a flexible material that keeps the socks up, but it wasn’t always like that.
Socks Become Fashionable
In the past, socks were secured at the top, not with an embroidered ribbon or string. As socks continued to take on a more traditional and fashionable role, the elegant dandies of France and London would begin wearing intricate socks, stemming away from the embroidery and moving into patterned socks with formal wear that ranged from height right around the calf to the upper thighs.
They are especially stylish with breeches when worn for white tie, as you can see in this picture of the Duke of Edinburgh. Today, even regular white tie outfits are so rare that you hardly ever see anybody outside of the theater, reenactment or costume party wear these full hose silk stockings.