Who Invented Socks? 20 Little Known Facts on Sock History


Who Invented Socks?

Socks are important garments that every single person wears.

Rarely do we ever give it much thought. 

But, have you ever wondered how the socks on your feet came to be?

It was believed that Arabian nomads had been wearing some form of foot protection garment dating back to around 2-3BC.

Archeologically, knitting material and equipment have been discovered which were thought to have been made around that time.

However, the earliest recorded socks were thick wool socks made in Egypt from the 4th and 5th centuries. 

What Happens If There Are No Socks?

A world without socks is a dystopia I wouldn’t want to ever imagine. 

Wouldn’t you agree that socks are taken for granted?

While socks are always associated with being dirty and smelly, they actually serve a wide range of very practical functions.

From keeping our feet from smelling (worse than it does) and protecting it from wounds, let’s just take a look at what life would be if we didn’t have any socks. 

Smelly Feet

smelly feet

Socks can help fight off odour. 

Depending on the fibre of the sock, some socks have strong moisture-wicking capacity and can pull sweat and moisture away from the skin and into the exterior of the fabric making it easier to evaporate. 

The antimicrobial properties of certain fabrics in socks can also help fight off foul smells. 

Wounds on Your Feet

Unlike our ancient ancestors, we don’t have to trudge through sharp sand, pebbles, or scorching rocks in our bare feet. 

But, have you ever stepped on a piece of lego at home? Ouch!

If you weren’t wearing a sock, the reminder of that painful sharp jab would probably make you yell at your kids to do a better job of cleaning up their toys.

Shoes Become Old Quickly

old shoes

Socks keep our feet dry when we wear shoes. 

Wearing a pair of socks every time you put on your shoes, is an easy way to prevent foot conditions like athlete’s foot or foot fungus. 

They also provide cushioning so our feet don’t rub directly against the lining of our shoes.

“Thank You” to the Person Who Invented Socks

With all the benefits of a simple pair of socks, who is the person we should all thank for their noble invention?

Let’s take a look at a few theories on the origin of socks. 

The History of Socks

While the earliest documented use of socks was from 4-5AD in Egypt, some believe that socks were used even earlier than that by Arabian nomads. 

Arabian Nomads

arabian nomads

Why Were They Invented? 

The prototype of socks was believed to be made by Arabian nomads around 2-3BC. 

Sock culture developed because there was a need to protect the feet from dessert sands and pebbles. 

What Were the First Socks Made Of?

Ancient civilizations used an array of different materials to craft shoes and socks. 

Cloth, leather, fur, straw, animal skin, and hay were some of the materials used to protect the feet when walking on the ground.

Archaeologists excavated a 5000 year old sock in the glaciers of the Etz Valley in the Alps. The sole of the sock was made with bear skin, while deer skin was used on the sides. The bear skin and deer skin were sewn together from a string made by a bark. 

Soft hay was lined inside to keep the feet warm and to reduce the impact of the ground caused by walking. 

Health Aid for Feet

The nomadic lifestyle meant regularly moving to and from long distances. The rocky area that made up most of Arabia became extremely hot due to the scorching heat, socks protected the feet against extreme climates.

Egypt

Historical Records of Knitting

Knitted fabric from around the 7th to 9th centuries were excavated at an archeological site in Cairo. 

The intricately knitted fabric featured 36 stitches per inch. 

This discover comes to show that the knitting technology in Egypt was already present during this era, or perhaps much earlier.

Oldest Knitted Socks 

The earliest recorded of socks were found in Egypt from the 4th and 5th centuries. 

Socks created with many different types of textiles were found during the archeological excavation of tombs.

These still exist today and can be viewed at the Leicester Museum of Art and the Victoria Albert Museum in London.

Progression of Socks Throughout History

Spread of Socks

The practicality of socks led to a development of sock culture. 

Not only did socks provide warmth during cold winters, they also protected the feet from the impact of the ground when walking.

Socks also gained notoriety in the religious sector. It was said that those in the priesthood would wear them to keep their feet from directly touching the unclean earth.

The Invention of the Knitting Loom

knitting loom

The knitting loom was invented by Reverend William Lee in 1589 in an era where hand-knitting was gaining popularity.

He decided to mechanize this labour-intensive work because he wanted to make his wife’s job easier as he saw her slave away everyday grinding and knitting. 

In 1859, the first manual knitting machine was made.

Mass Produced Socks

factory

The first knitting machine knitted only thick threads and at a speed of 200 stitches per minute. 

With gradual improvements, it became possible to knit thin silk threads at a speed of 1000 stitches per minute.

William Lee applied for a patent to Queen Elizabeth but was, unfortunately, denied.

He continue to study further in Paris, but neither UK nor France recognized his invention. 

He passed away in 1610 without being recognized for his knitting machine. 

The knitting machine and technology were succeeded by his brother, James and his apprentices. 

The machine started to be manufactured in England and gradually spread to other European countries. 

The Rise of Short Socks

At the end of the 14th century, Paris-made long socks were commonly worn by aristocrats.

During the Middle Ages, long socks were worn because they were used to match the culottes worn by aristocrats. 

With the rise of pants in the 1810s, socks became shorter.

The general shape of the modern day sock was born.

The Elastics on Your Socks

You probably don’t pay much attention to the elastics in your socks. 

But, they are one of those things that work silently in the background without acknowledgement.  

Think about it, if there wasn’t an elastic band in the opening your sock, they would not stay up. 

Socks with rubber bands appeared only in the 1900s. 

Before then, it was common to hang them with a garter. 

Socks as We Know Them Today

Short socks and socks with rubber bands - these are the socks we know and are familiar with today. 

In other words, it has only been about 100 years since the socks have come close to their current shape. 

Why Are They Called Socks?

The origin of the modern-English word “sock” is derived from the Latin word “soccus”, which was used to describe a light slippered shoe worn by comic actors. 

This was derived from the Ancient Greek work “sykchos”.

Who Invented Fuzzy Socks?

fuzzy socks

Fuzzy socks have been growing in popularity over the years.

And rightly so!

Especially in areas with cold and harsh winters, a pair of fuzzy socks is like a sweater for your toes!

The inventor of the modern-day fuzzy sock, as we know today, is unknown. 

However, the ancient Greeks wore socks crafted with matted animal hair, which could have inspired the fuzzy socks we know today!

Who Invented Toe Socks?

toe socks

Toe socks look like a mitten for your toes. 

They’re also called 5-toe socks or digital socks. Just like a mitten, this specially designed sock features a special encasing for each toe. 

The toe sock was invented in the United States in the late 60’s by Ethel Russell. 

Who Invented Compression Socks?

Compression socks are specialized socks that help the flow of circulation.

They are made from a special elastic material that fits tightly at the feet and loosens towards the calf.

Conrad Jobst, a German engineer and tool-maker, who suffered from venous ulcers came up with this idea when he discovered his legs felt better when he was in the pool due to the pressure from the water.

Who Created Ankle Socks?

ankle socks

While we don’t know who invented the ankle socks, what we do know was that they became popular in the 1930s. 

In the 1930s, sports like tennis was a popular pastime. 

Ankle socks were worn by women as they protected against friction but at the same time allowed the leg to look cool and bare. 

Our Verdict

While we don’t know who exactly to thank for the invention of socks - the Arabic nomads or the ancient Egyptians, what we do know is the importance of socks.

Next time you pull on your socks, try to picture continuing your day without wearing a pair. 

You’ll probably realize and appreciate its importance! 


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