Join us as we journey through time to discover the history of the sock and find that this oft-overlooked garment is much more interesting than you might think.
Today, the sock might be something we slip on without much thought and just a small groan of discomfort as we try to reach our feet, but that was not always the case. In fact, there was a time when the humble sock was a luxury only the wealthy could afford, and before that, an animal skin tied around the foot had to do.
Join us as we journey through time to discover the history of the sock and find that this oft-overlooked part of an outfit is actually a lot more interesting than you might think…
In the beginning… there were socks
The sock is probably the oldest type of clothing that’s still in use today. Long before the concept of shirts or trousers, those in the Stone Ages were wearing socks. From cave paintings and archaeological finds, we can date the first socks back to around 5000BC. Although there are no socks left from that time, not even those at the back of you drawer, the evidence suggests these rudimentary socks were made from animal skins and pelts that were tied around the ankle.
The first knitted socks
By the 8th century BC, the Greeks were wearing socks made from matted animal hairs called ‘piloi’. They were worn under sandals – bit of a fashion faux pas there Ancient Greece! – and were mentioned for the first time in literature by a Greek poet called Hesiod in his poem ‘Work and Days’. Fast forward a thousand years to the 2nd century AD and the Romans were sewing pieces of fabric together to create fitted socks they called ‘undones’. These are the first socks to resemble the garments we wear today.
In Egyptian tombs of the 4th to 5th centuries the first knitted socks in history were discovered. As you can see, these socks featured split toes and were designed to be worn with sandals…
A mark of nobility
As we progress towards the Middle Ages, woven and knitted socks had become a status symbol. Noblemen spent their time flouncing around in leggings, with the trousers and stocking together forming one piece of clothing. Eventually, stockings became fully independent items of clothing and it was not until the 12th century that feet were added.
By the end of the 12th century, much of Europe’s working classes were knitting their own homespun socks, while the hosiery of noblemen was generally made from cloth of higher quality. By the 15th century, the French and Italian aristocracies had become trailblazers with their preference for a hand-knit silk stocking which allowed them to move more easily. But, much more importantly, it also gave them the opportunity to show off a shapely leg!
The English reverend William Lee invented the knitting loom in 1589. He made the Queen a pair of black stockings using his new loom, but so horrified was she by their crude form that she did not grant a patent for his invention. The King of France came to the rescue by offering reverend Lee the financial support to build a stocking factory in the port city of Rouen.
After the industrial revolution, the largely woollen socks became easier and cheaper to produce and their appeal spread across Europe. At the start of the 19th century, circular knitting frames were introduced which further mechanised sock production and led to the loss of many jobs.
Socks as a service
At the end of the 20th century, the digital world came along and transformed the way we shop for socks forever. Now, with specialist sock retailers like Corgi, the good people of the UK can browse online and have handmade, luxurious socks delivered to their homes. Browse our range of men’s and women’s socks and get yours delivered to your door today.