We might not give much thought to our socks. We wear them – some of us do every day! – but unless we have a passion for cool or crazy socks, they’re kind of just something we take for granted.
You might be surprised to know that socks have a long and remarkably interesting history!
Do you know when socks were invented?
Do you know how we got from the first functional socks to the vibrant and scientifically-designed wearable art for your feet than socks can be today?
Read on to find out!
What is a Sock?
First things first: a sock is a clothing item worn on the feet, usually covering the ankle and at least part of the calf. They are almost always worn between the feet and a shoe. Their purpose is to absorb perspiration (the foot generates a large amount of perspiration per day in most people), keep the feet warm, and prevent irritation between the feet and the shoes. Today, socks are a popular fashion item.
The word “sock” comes from the Latin “soccus”. This was a type of low-heeled slipper worn by ancient Greek and Roman comedians.
Socks are believed by historians to be the oldest type of human clothing still in use today. In the past, they were worn only by the nobility – and London once even had “sock police”.
The First Socks
- The ancients wore socks made from matted animal hair or leather. The animal skins were gathered around the foot and tied at the ankle. We know this due to Stone Age cave paintings and archaeological finds.
- In the 8th Century BC, during the era of Homer, the ancient Greek poet Hesiod described “piloi”, which was a type of sock that was made of matted animal hair. This was worn on the feet under sandals. The sandals were removed indoors and people walked around inside in their piloi.
He wrote: “Around your feet, tie your sandals made from brutally hunted oxen skin, and under these, dress them in piloi”
- The ancient Romans wrapped their feet in strips of woven fabric or leather. In time, these would be stitched together and called “udones”; these were the first “socks” to resemble what we know as socks today.
- The first knitted socks date from around 1500 BC Archaeologists found some of these at Jutland, which is now part of Denmark. There have also been socks dating from 200-500 AD found in Egyptian tombs by the Nile. These red wool socks were designed to be worn with sandals and they featured split toes.
- Around 500 AD, European holy men wore socks called “puttees”; these were worn as a symbol of purity.
- Knit or woven socks did not originally include feet – they were simply leggings and dated from around 1000 AD These were a status symbol and were exclusive to the nobility in Europe. By the 12th Century, feet were incorporated into these woven socks.
Next time, we’ll continue our history of socks by looking at socks from the Middle Ages.