Who Invented Socks? (Hose, Stockings, Footwraps)

who invented socks

We all take socks for granted. Those warm, fuzzy ones that keep our feet toasty, the lightweight ones that keep the sweat off our feet, even the dainty ones with lace or the funny ones with dinosaurs. Socks are a part of life, and they seem like such a give it’s hard to imagine life without them. But for a very long time, socks did not exist, not in the way we imagine them. 

So who invented socks ? What did people wear before the sock was invented ? Was it like an overnight idea or did it come from a long line of improvements ?

The exact person to first invent socks is unclear, but most accounts point to the ancient Greeks being the first to wear a primitive form of socks. They were called piloi, and were primarily made from matted animal hair and covered the foot. This was back in the 8th century BC, as accounted by Greek poet Hesiod. 

The very first modern sock (shorter, with a bit of stretch) came about after 1938, when nylon became widespread. 

However the shift from piloi to actual socks took a long time, and footwraps are a key character here. Here’s a quick history of how things changed, and who contributed. 

How Did Ancient Egyptians and Romans Cover Their Feet?

A pair of socks that was made with a method similar to knitting was found in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt and those socks date all the way back to the 3rd-5th century BC. These socks, unlike other versions, had a split toe configuration. They were made to be worn with sandals, which were the preferred footwear in Egypt. 

A bit later (2nd century AD), ancient Romans started stitching together their footwraps, resulting in something somewhat similar to a sock that covered the foot and did not require re-wrapping. These were called udones, and could be made of soft leather, or woven fabric. 

What are Puttees? Why were they commonplace for holy me?

Puttees were similar to a sock, in that they covered the foot but also went up the leg, sometimes all the way up to the knee. They were made of a single long stretch of fabric that would be wound around the foot and lower leg.

It provided compression, kept the feet cool or warm (depending on the need) and could easily be washed or replaced (like a footwrap). However the fabric used for European putees was still very fine, and expensive. It was white, and symbolized purity.  

Hose were an early form of fitted, very long socks

Medieval Europe’s hose were not like today’s nylon stockings, though they are their ancestors. And also the idea behind socks. They were usually made of woven or knitted, and the entire leg down to the foot. They were attached to the upper part of the body, usually tied to a doublet (a sort of vest). The most expensive material for hosen was silk, and it was rarely seen outside of royalty and holy people.

Hose were not exactly elastic, but they were definitely more flexible and comfortable than leather. And often, hose would be colored in a very bright color, and sometimes the legs were made of different colors. These hose were actually worn like we would wear leggings today. They’d be worn as ‘pants’, and they also had a codpiece attached for modesty. Women wore their hose under the dress. 

Some versions of men’s hose were a cross between hose and shoes, with leather soles sewn onto them and worn as-is. You’d wear these soled hose as pants and shoes. 

Of course, hose were expensive and had to be hand-knitted. The vast majority of people couldn’t afford this, so hose were worn by noblemen, royalty, and holy people. Commoners still wore footwraps. 

When Did Stockings Become Popular?

Hose covered the entire leg, but at some point breeches were invented in the 16th century AD. Those are somewhat tight pants that go from the waist to just below the knee, so the length of hose was no longer necessary.

Instead stockings became the norm, covering the leg from the knee to the toes. Stockings would attach to the inside of the lower part of the breeches, and were almost always white. Silk as material was still expensive, but became a bit more common, especially for women. 

This breeches and stockings combo was the norm for nobility and royalty, and even extended to high-ranking officials and military men. For women, stockings were still worn but under the dress and were just as long as men’s stockings (knee-high). Commoners still wore footwraps at this time. 

Knitting Machines and Socks

Stockings became easier to make once the knitting machine was invented, back in the late 1500s. However they were few and far between, and what they offered was simply knitted fabric. The sock or stocking still had to be sewn together by hand, but it was a good progress. Even so, the fabric remained expensive for commoners. 

What are Footwraps? When were they popular?

Commoners, farmers, and generally poorer folks could not afford hosen, stockings, or actual socks. So they used footwraps, which are rectangular pieces of cloth that are carefully wrapped around each foot. The footwraps are meant to offer a better fit in shoes, give the wearer more grip while walking, and could easily be washed and dried, compared to socks. 

Footwraps were so common in fact, they were standard-issue for the military throughout history, all the way to the 1900s. For example WWI soldiers on all sides wore footwraps, and they had extremely detailed instructions on how to properly fold their wraps to avoid chafing or blistering while marching or during combat. Footwraps were, in fact, far easier to clean and care for than socks, because of the materials used for socks. 

The only people who wore socks or stockings until the 20th century were royalty, noblemen, holy people, and very high ranking officers in the army. 

The very first modern sock (shorter, with a bit of stretch) came about after 1938, when nylon became widespread. 

Why were socks invented ?

Socks, and their very primitive counterparts, were invented as a way to keep feet warm in cold weather, provide surer footing while walking in shoes, to wick sweat, and in the case of the open sandals it was also a method of keeping twigs, insects, and sand out of your feet. 

For centuries people wore footwraps, as a simpler and cheaper alternative than the more expensive knitted socks. Modern socks were likely simply an improvement for comfort, and to reduce the time it took to put them on and take them off. 

When were socks invented ?

The oldest socks discovered date back to the 8th century BC, made out of matted animal hair. This meant that socks were invented at least as far back as the 8th century BC, and every iteration since then has been an attempt at an improvement. The socks they had back then were definitely not like the socks we use today. 

Interesting facts about socks 

Socks have come a very, very long way so there are quite a few interesting facts about them and how they have changed throughout history (and fashion). 

Socks and sandals used to be the norm

Never side-eye someone wearing socks and sandals again, they’re simply honoring tradition. It turns out that when the Romans started wearing their udones (sewn together pieces of fabric, forming a fitted sock), they wore them with their renowned open sandals. At the time, the terrain wasn’t so friendly and there were still a lot of rough patches. Aside from that, due to the amount of physical work laborers and soldiers had to do, the socks in their sandals offered a lot of protection. 

Argyle patterns date back to old Scottish clans

The pattern of intersecting diamonds and Xs is actually more than a cool fashion piece, it was a way for old Scottish clans to identify themselves. This style has entered mainstream fashion after WWI through Pringle of Scotland (not the chips, a knitwear company). The Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII) famously wore argyle in his golf clothing. 

Fort Payne, Alabama is the Sock Capital of the US

In the early 21st century Fort Payne was home to the largest amount of hosiery factories in all of America. These factories employed over 7000 people for this, and they produced over half the socks sold in America at the time. 

Nowadays the title of Sock Capital is held by Datang, in the People’s Republic of China. In 2014 this town produced over 28.5 billion socks, which were exported and sold world-wise. 

Read Also: Who Invented Wigs?

Never commit a sock faux-pas again 

Men’s socks are usually far less colorful and diverse than women’s socks, but for elegant or business settings they have a very strong, unbreakable etiquette. Here’s what you need to know, so you look like a million bucks. 

Got a dark suit ? The socks should be a shade darker, and in the same color family as your shoes. So if you’re wearing a dark blue suit, your socks should be an even darker blue, and your shoes black or very dark grey. 

Got a light colored suit ? Your socks still need to be darker, and your shoes darker still, and all colors should be in the same family or something complimentary. So for example if you’ve got a light grey suit, you’d need a dark grey pair of socks, with an even darker grey or dark blue shoes.