We recently added a selection of vintage deadstock socks to our store, from a variety of eras. It got us reading up on our sock history.
Men were wearing socks for a long time before they became acceptable for women. In the early 20th century, men's socks were generally black or grey wool, as they were likely to get quite dirty. In the 1910s, you could get smooth or ribbed socks in silk, cotton or cashmere with contrast heels. As high speed technology improved, socks became available in a wider variety of colours and patterns. As they were not elasticated, garters were worn to keep them up. Drawstring cords were used among the working class.
Attitudes towards women's socks really changed around the time of WWI when women were working outside of the home. Clothing had to be more practical and functional. The development of sportswear for women coincided with this. Silk stockings were put aside in favour of over the knee cotton and wool ribbed socks.
In the 1920s, American schools had developed gym attire for students and girls wore bloomers with socks over stockings so as to not show any bare leg. This is when nude tone stockings became common.
For sporting activities, women wore wool socks rolled back below the knee, creating a cuff. They were called sports hose. Men also wore long sports hose over the knee with plus-fours trousers.
Women adopted men's jersey or wool spats as fashion accessories, also over stockings.
By the late 1920s, ankle socks, called anklets, were also being worn over stockings. They had elastic (Lastex) cuffs to help them stay up when worn over stockings. In the late 1920s, manufacturer's developed a solution to wearing both stockings and socks at the same time by making a 2-in-1 garment.
For men, the Duke of Windsor popularized argyle pattern socks. They often coordinated their socks with their suits, ties and pocket squares. Rayon socks could be of diamonds, stripes, checks, plaid or Art Deco patterns.
For sports in the early 1930s, women finally began wearing ankle socks without the need for stockings underneath! The shock of bare skin wore off and people started sun tanning. Albeit, bare legs were still not acceptable daywear for women, but teenagers could get away with it.
Ankle socks became hugely popularity and came in a range of colours for both men and women. Pastel shades were a common choice. For men, textures such as bouclé and crochet weaves added extra diversity.
Cotton, silk, wool and rayon were all used in their production. Rayon was the most economical option.
When WWII broke out, hosiery became more difficult to obtain. Women experimented with leg make-up and wearing pants became more common for practical reasons. What better to wear with pants than ankle socks! The iconic 1943 Norman Rockwell Rosie the Riveter picture features red ankle socks. Socks were usually worn with loafers and oxford's. Women also wore knee socks with skirts, worn just below the knee with a cuff and they often knitted their own wool socks for Winter.
Nylon came into use when natural fibres ran short. Sock elasticity improved and garters were needed less and less. Silk socks were very rare by this point.
After the war, shorter socks and synthetic fabrics remained into the following decades.
1950s Teenagers were wearing colourful or plain white 'bobby' socks with flat shoes. They could be worn rolled up or pulled down. Novelty designs were popular, as were 'days of the week' socks. They also wore knee socks that could be colourful and textured. Chunky knits were popular in Winter and argyle patterns with shorts in Summer.
Over the knee socks and tights were common in the 1960s in a variety of vivid colours, patterns and lace effect textures. New fibres such as polyester and spandex were developed, which resulted in better fitting socks and tights. These styles continued into the 70s and 80s.
For men, socks in the 60s took a boring turn with more muted colours and less patterns in use. White crew socks came into fashion. There was a time in the 60s when men ditched socks altogether and wore boat shoes in their bare feet!
With Romantic fashions, the 1980s saw a return to cuffed white or pastel ankle socks, often trimmed with lace, known as ruffle socks. Lace effect patterns were popular.
Girls started layering socks and wearing them slouchy, creating a leg-warmer effect.
For more sock history and info, check out Vintage Dancer.
You can view our collection of vintage socks through the link below:
And we have kids socks here: