Stories / December 2018

Sock it to Me: The Enduring Impact of the Humble Sock

Too often overlooked in the grand scheme of one’s outfit, socks provide a prime opportunity to demonstrate flair. The Rake pays homage to the hero of hosiery…

Elvis Presley sporting an argyle sock and penny loafer combination in 1956.

Albert Einstein didn’t just ponder the nature of space and time. He also considered his socks. After concluding that there was no way to prevent his big toe of wearing a hole in his, he came up with his own (for a genius somewhat disappointing) solution. He simply stopped wearing them. What then would have struck many as an affectation today passes for some kind of style - and a divisive one, quite aside from the fact that the sock provides a means to soak up perspiration that otherwise sets about destroying your shoes.

But, without such controversy, socks have seemed destined to be overlooked when it comes to consideration of men’s attire. They’re the sartorial after-thought; the Christmas gift of the unimaginative; hard to get excited about - and this for all that they are something that one is meant to pull up when it’s time to get one’s house in order, to work off when it’s time to get the job done, or have blown off when it’s time to be impressed. So much metaphor, so little acknowledgement.

Certainly men have wisely covered their tootsies since pre-historic times - in the eighth century BC, the Greek poet Hesiod noted how sophisticated ox skin and felted animal hair foot coverings were the in thing, while the Romans - who quite happily wore socks with sandals, and nobody called them nerds - didn’t come around to the idea of replacing their foot bindings with loosely-woven foot coverings until around 1000 years later. It’s their Latin word for this garment - soccus - from which we derive our onomatopoeically ungraceful word for it.

But it would be another 1000 years before hosiery became a matter of fashion, and not least because the trouser as it’s now conceived had yet to be invented. Those with the cash expressed as much by wearing their leg coverings in expensive colours and flashy fabrics the likes of silks and velvets. Some studded theirs with jewels, or slashed a pair to reveal - oh the extravagance - a second pair beneath. In ‘Twelfth Night’ Malvolio’s status as sucker is confirmed by his appearance in bright yellow, cross-gartered stockings. Today he’d be chased down the road for some blogger’s street style shot.

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Josh Sims

Josh Sims is a writer on menswear, design and much else for the likes of Wallpaper, CNN, Robb Report and The Times. He's the author of several books on menswear, the latest 'The Details', published by Laurence King. He lives in London, has two small children and is permanently exhausted.