Socks exist because your feet are disgusting. Your feet can produce a pint (roughly half a liter) of sweat per day, and if you don’t help them out with the sweat-removal process, they will turn your footwear into a bacteria ridden filth swamp. In cold climates, socks prevent your feet from freezing and falling off. Both functions are important as heck.
Socks didn’t have to be invented
People have been putting stuff on their feet going back all the way to the beginning of time. It’s pretty obvious, really – if your feet are cold you should cover them up. If your feet are exposed, you should cover them up. If your feet hurt, you should cover them up. If your feet are visible, cover them up. Nobody wants to see your feet.
The earliest record of something sock-like existing goes back to the 8th century BC. Greek poet Hesiod wrote about piloi, which was a bunch of animal hairs tied around the foot.
By the 5th century AD, Europeans were wearing something they called “puttees” to symbolize purity. The name was appropriated from the Hindi “patti” which meant bandage. These early socks were essentially strips of cloth that were wrapped around the foot.
Another few centuries later, socks became a symbol of wealth. Knit socks with ornate designs were worn by the nobility as obvious signs of wealth. And of course, to hide their gross feet.
In 1589 a knitting machine was invented that allowed socks to be created much faster and more efficiently. Socks started going mainstream and poor people had one less thing to whine about. (One down and about seventy trillion to go.) Queen Elizabeth I refused William Lee the first patent for the invention of the knitting machine. She did not deny that he invented a machine that would create socks, she just didn’t care for the socks it created, preferring fancier silk socks exported from Spain.
Shortly after, the invention of nylon actually reduced the cost of a pair of socks dramatically, ensuring that every person would receive a package of socks for Christmas and be required to dedicate an entire dresser drawer to a giant pile of low quality knitwear.
But why are socks called socks
The word sock probably derives from the Latin word soccus, which described a light shoe. The use of the word “sock” is actually fairly new, though. Until the 20th century it was much more common to call socks “stockings.” Stockings varied greatly in length. Some were as short as modern day socks while others were as long as the item that is currently referred to as stockings.
Many other names have existed for the sock, including:
- animal skins
- footwraps (clever naming scheme)
- and many more
Socks as you know them are the result of the development of machinery to create cheap and standard clothing that can be worn by anybody, but they have basically always existed in one form or another. While the socks that were worn thousand years ago would be basically unrecognizable to you, they still did a pretty good job of covering up cavemen-feet. (They probably didn’t, but at least the cavemen tried.)