Why do Socks Exist? The History of the Sock. April 07 2020, 0 Comments

Socks have a long and storied history that started with the use of animal skin and hair and continues with woven fabrics. Find out more about how sock-making methods developed over time, from the invention of the weaving loom to the advanced materials used in custom socks today.

History of Socks Infographic

Animal Skins and Piloi 

Cave paintings and archeological finds indicate that humans have worn foot coverings since the Stone Age. The earliest socks were animal skins tied around the ankles. In the eighth century B.C., the Greek poet Hesiod referred to “piloi,” or garments made of matted animal hair worn under sandals. Romans were also known to wrap their feet and lower legs in strips of leather or fabric.

Udones and Woven Wool

By the second century, Roman soldiers wore “udones” consisting of fabric sewn together in a manner that resembled modern socks. This concept spread throughout the empire. Some of the earliest known woolen socks are child-sized garments found at an archeological dig at Vindolanda, a Roman auxiliary fort in northern England, which date back to the second century.

The first knit socks in Ancient Egypt were made between the fourth and fifth century through a process called “nalbinding.” These socks feature split toes and were intended for wear with sandals. Examples of these socks have been found at Antinoe and Oxyrhynchus, though it remains unclear whether these garments were worn everyday or only used as ceremonial offerings for the dead.

Knitted Socks and Silk Stockings

The earliest knitted socks in Europe were crafted in the 13th century by artisans employed by Spanish royalty. Knitted garments became more common throughout Europe during the 14th century. Homespun garments were made and worn by much of the population while aristocrats preferred silk stockings.

By the late 15th century, breeches and hand-knitted hosiery were joined together to create tights. The 16th century saw the use of sumptuary laws to regulate the use of foreign products or materials deemed too luxurious for people of lower social ranks.

The Weaving Loom

The invention of the mechanical knitting machine in 1589 transformed the way socks were produced. An English clergyman named William Lee created the stocking frame and used it to make wool stockings. Queen Elizabeth I rejected the products of this mechanized technology in favor of custom made socks from Spain, but Lee obtained the patronage of King Henri IV of France and built the first stocking factory in Rouen.

Knitting loom technology spread across Europe over the next century and was gradually modernized during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Derby Ribber patented by Jedediah Strutt in 1759 allowed for the production of ribbed stockings and garter stitch. Circular knitting technologies advanced throughout the 19th century.

War Shortages

The first World War saw the frequent occurrence of trench foot as water-repellent boots ripped at the seams and hobnails in the soles transferred cold temperatures to wearers’ damp socks and feet. The American Red Cross issued an urgent call for knitted goods in 1917 that led to a large response from hand-knitters and the widespread use of knitting machines.

A worldwide shortage of materials such as wool and silk coincided with World War II. Clothing was rationed in the United Kingdom and old woolen garments were unpicked and reused to produce socks. While the United States did not ration clothing, popular designs reduced fabric usage and materials such as cotton, rayon and blends became more popular. Hand-knitting allowed for the production of custom socks, but machine-knitted products remained more affordable.


The next major innovation in socks was technological. In 1935, DuPont developed the first commercially successful thermoplastic polymer after eight years of research. Nylon stockings debuted at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and began being sold in 1940.

During World War II, nylon supplies were diverted to the war effort. Knitted socks made of other materials remained daily standards among civilians, with methods of production varying between hand- and machine-knitting based on economic circumstances. After the war ended, nylon re-emerged as a leading material for socks and stockings on the consumer market. Customizable socks are still made of nylon stretch yarn for a comfortable fit with superior cushioning and moisture-wicking properties.

Custom Socks

Continued improvements in technology allow for the affordable customization of socks. Rather than choosing from mass-produced designs, buyers can order socks in almost any color or pattern. It is also possible to add unique logos or text to sock designs. Customized socks are available in a full range of sizes for children and adults.

Every new pair of socks is based on centuries of sock design and manufacturing history. Although mechanical methods are now used to produce most socks, the quality of the finished product far exceeds that of early weaving loom stockings. You benefit from all of these advancements when you order personalized socks in your choice of color and design.