Back in the cavemen days, men used animal skins gathered around the ankle and tied for socks, sometimes adding animal furs to keep their feet warm.
But the real history of socks really began their official history with the Greeks.
Socks are known since the 8th century B.C. and were initially designated as “piloi”. The poet Hesiod (750-700 BB.C.) mentioned in his masterpiece “Days and Works” that while wearing sandals, one should cover his feet with “piloi”, a cloth made of wool or animal hair (“Days and Works” verse 542).
And so the socks were officially born and engraved in the world literature for the rest of eternity.
Then the Romans were wrapping their feet in strips of woven fabric called “udones”.
Around the same period, in the far-east, Egyptians were adding a technological breakthrough to the socks. In their tombs, we found traces of the first knit socks.
Later in Europe, socks were worn as an extension of the trousers (which were all short trousers). They were called “leggings”. It’s only during the Middle-Ages when the length of the trousers grew, that the sock became close to what we know today as mid-calf socks. It was a piece of cloth held by a kind of garter. Of course, those who wore socks were the noble classes. Socks were woven or sewn by hand.
With the changing fashion and the advent of “breeches” which were shorter, socks became longer (equivalent to the over-the-calf or knee socks that we know today). Men desperately needed socks to cover their legs.
But it’s important to notice that until the 12th century, none of these socks had feet.
Knitting was brought from the Middle East to Europe by Arab traders and became a standard domestic occupation for women.
It’s funny to think that it is because William Lee, an English clergyman, fell in love with an unmarried neighbor who supported herself by knitting that he invented the knitting machine. She was more interested in her knitting than in William Lee when he used to visit her. Frustrated, he gave up and began his technological venture. It took him many years of R&D to develop what would render the cherished skills of his precious love useless.
With the invention of the knitting machine in 1589, knitted socks became more common. This technological breakthrough allowed for tighter woven socks and for the first time in history, they did stretch. The “stocking-frame” as it was known, allowed to knit socks faster and more reliably than any human. At the time socks could be knitted 6 times faster than by hand.
Later under the Spanish influence, fashion imposed Men’s socks made of knitted silk and embroidered with emblems and even jewels sometimes.
Late 17th century, Cotton appeared and was gradually used for socks.
Usually socks were made of wool for the general population (when they could afford it) and silk or cotton for the upper classes.
In the 20th century, nylon appeared and quickly became popular as it allowed more strength and elasticity.
And then history repeated itself. Men’s pants began to be longer and socks shorter and shorter.
Nowadays socks have enough variants to match all tastes. Today’s socks fanatics can find color, pattern, shapes and materials to fit any tastes.
The term of socks has a long story. It all started with the ancient Greek word “sykkos” which was representing a Phrygian shoe. Some of the greeks were wearing these sykkos in their sandals and, once at home, would remove their sandals and hang around the house in their sykkos. The word “sykkos” was later translated into the latin word “soccus”.
The word “sock” itself come from the latin word “soccus”, which was a low heeled loose-fitting shoe or slipper used by the Greeks (again) and Roman comedians. It was later transformed into “socc” and later “socke”.