Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Monday, December 1, 2008

History of Socks and Stockings

When did it all begin? I’m sure you can guess why…our feet were cold. But have socks and stockings changed all that much over the years?

Way back in the cavemen days, we used animal skins gathered around the ankle and tied for socks, sometimes animal furs to keep us extra warm. In early medieval times, those who wore socks were considered of the noble classes. Socks were woven or sewn by hand. And in the 16th century with the invention of the knitting machine, tighter woven socks were made. They were often made of wool for the general population and silk or cotton for the upper classes. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that nylon socks were introduced.

Socks are not only used to keep our feet warm and dry but to ease the chafing of shoes. Shoes today are a lot more comfortable then they used to be, and I know I need socks with some of mine. Can you imagine what it would have felt like to wear some of the medieval shoes without socks? Ouch!

Men wore stockings before women even did, but they were called hose and by the twelfth century a staple in a man’s wardrobe. Women generally wore socks, pantyhose weren’t even invented until 1959. Today’s thigh-highs are a lot like what women used to wear historically, garters included.

The hose that men wore were knee length and tied at the top, usually with some form of embroidery. Perhaps not unlike men’s knee socks of today, minus the embroidery and ties. Over the next couple hundred years, socks differed in lengths, from mid-calf, to knee to mid-thigh. They were different colors with decorations or stripes all over rather than just embroidery at the top.

By the 16th century however these two-legged hose, became one garment extending all the way to the crotch. The reason being that men’s tunics shortened over time as did their braies or breeches, which turned into a codpiece, so more of the leg was exposed. This pushed men to also feel that they needed to have nicer legs. Do you remember Henry VIII being quite proud at the turn of his leg?

In 1560, Elizabeth I, received her very first pair of knit silk stockings (knee length) and from there continued to collect many in bright colors and designs. I love my socks and stockings to be brightly colored and designed. She’s my kind of woman :)

Knitting schools opened in the 16th century making it easier to acquire socks. As more and more places specialized in types of socks, you knew if your sock was from a certain place, what quality it would be. This was because of whatever wool was available to the sock maker. For example, in Yorkshire you were more likely to get a coarser sock, like those worn by children and workers. For a better wool sock you’d go to the Midlands, which many merchants did.

I must say I’m glad presently it isn’t necessary for women to wear stockings or pantyhose everyday. I always rip mine. In fact when I know I have to wear them, I buy two, because without fail I will rip the first pair while putting them on. The second pair is usually totaled by the time I’m ready to take them off…

So that is a little history on socks and stockings. What kind do you wear?

32 comments:

Miriam Newman said...

What kind do I wear? Plain, white, utilitarian. So much for romance! Great article.

Susan Macatee said...

I like the little, short sports socks, although in the winter months, I'll go with a crew sock to keep my ankles warm. I hate panty hose! I only wear shirts and dresses in the summer when I can go bare-legged.

Eliza Knight said...

lol, thank you Miriam!

I love ankle socks Susan! And you are so right about during the summer being able to go bare-legged.

Delilah Marvelle said...

I can't even remember the last time I wore "stockings." I usually almost go for bare or plain old little bottie white socks. More comfortable and like you said, no rips! Talk about a waste of money, LOL. As always, Eliza, fabulous, fabulous post!

Anne Sorgeson said...

I wear both nylons and socks. I put on a new pair Sunday morning, went to church and squatted down to get my son out of his coat. And the whole back side ripped. Good thing I was wearing pants. LOL

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks Delilah! I am so with you on what a waste!

Thank you for your comments Anne! I've had that happen more times than I can count. So glad you were wearing pants!

willow said...

I love socks with quirky colors and patterns! And in the winter, I can't live without my woollies!

Fun and fascinating post.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

As usual you have come up with a great blog with lots of interesting information. I hate wearing any kind of shoes without socks so am most grateful for our intelligent forebearers. I actually prefer just wearing socks and leaving the shoes off. :)

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Willow! I love big fluffy socks in the winter too :)

Thank you Paisley! Tell me about it! My kids love wearing their shoes without socks and I never understand why...

Bearded Lady said...

I love a man with a good leg :) They used to stuff their hose with horse hair too. oh my that must have itched.

cyurkanin said...

Leave it to tou to make socks interesting, Eliza. By the way, am I the only man who regularly follows you? Hmmm, better go watch some football before I get too uncomfortable ...

Alabama Book Worm said...

You come up with some of the most interesting things to read about. I work in a business casual atmosphere so most of the time I wear trouser socks. I wear white sport sock with my sneakers. I never wear pantyhose if I can help it1

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

I'm all for the no toes, no hose axiom. But winter is here so the woolies are out keeping my ankles warm. Why is it when your feet are cold your entire body feels cold?

Renee Lynn said...

Okay, I am always cold in the winter so socks are high on my list LOL.

Thanks for a fabulous post!

Renee

Michelle said...

Unfortunately, I'm one of those annoying women who are cold year round. In the winter, I usually wear three pairs of socks--one super-thin cotton pair, one pair of medium thickness, and then come the knee high wools! Sexy? No. Warm? YES!!!

PS: I'm a mom, too....and I hate hose. What is it with kids and pantyhose? They don't seem to mix!

Laura said...

Thanks for the great post!

I have 3 pairs of socks on at the moment, due to the fact that it's snowing and I'm freezing!

I have all kinds of socks. I usually go for silly ones with polka dots or stripes. I even have some with hedgehogs on!

And I do exactly the same thing as you with tights. Nightmare.

Once again, thanks for the enjoyable and informative post :)

TammiMagee said...

I wear any kind of socks-mostly winnie the pooh socks! I love them. Be sure to check back to histatic soon as there will be an article on Christmas Victorian style! Cheers!

Lise said...

I got a laugh out of this post. Very informative. But I do recall when pantyhose actually became popular - I was in high school and we were still doing the stocking and garter thing - where we usually ended up looking like Ruth Buzzi in Laugh-In by the end of the day. And you couldn't bend over because your garters showed. When Pantyhose actually were something we were all wearing, I thought they were great. But the twisting, hot, always too tight and run if you looked at them cross-eyed problems allowed me to reach the point where I am now. I wear no pantyhose, no stockings and when pressed - white Fruit of the Loom socks.

Fun post!

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Bearded Lady! I'm with you on the good legs :) I didn't know about the horse hair, that must have been very uncomfortable!

Lol Cyurkanin! No you aren't alone :) Thanks for the comment!!

Thanks for the comment Alabama Bookworm! I am finding that most women prefer not to wear pantyhose...how interesting!

Gwynlyn, I don't know! I can't sleep if my feet are cold, so most nights I wear these huge fuzzy socks :) Thanks for your comment!

Thank you Renee! Socks are always on my holiday list :)

lol Michelle! I've definitely worn three socks before! Especially if I'm playing in the snow :) And you're right, kids and hose don't mix!

Thank you Laura! Another three pairs of socks wearer! I love silly socks! Have you ever worn toe socks? I haven't tried them yet but everytime I see them I'm tempted.

Thank you Tammi! Winnie the Pooh socks sound fun! I will definitely be over there soon, your blog is very entertaining.

Lise, I would have been excited for pantyhose too! Sounds like you had to walk like a robot and learn to bend at the knees like a pro! I'd be hard pressed to wear anything now too! Thanks for your comment :)

[Tara] said...

Such a great post! I definitely didn't know all of this.

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you for the comment Tara!

Sara said...

I love pretty stockings! I only wish I had nicer legs to show them off with...I'm seriously wanting some 18th century stockings and garters.

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks for the comments Sara! I'm with you on this one! If only we lived in the day when the site of someone's ankle was a scandal!

Nicole McCaffrey said...

Great post, Eliza and so informative. These days I'm keeping warm and toasty with double socks, LOL. One pair of "normal" socks and a pair of fuzzy slipper socks over those. It's c-c-c-cold in my neck of the woods and nothing annoys me worse than chilly toes!

Denisse said...

Great article. I really enjoyed reading it. I'm a person that's always cold year round so I love socks! The different colors the better and even ones with designs.

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Nicole and Denisse! Cold toes seem to be the consensus!

Molly said...

Loved it. The only thing I would have added was the girls and women literally coloring their legs and painting 'seams' during World War II. I also remember garters (God help us) and the infamous fish net stocking of the '60's. I also remember when panty hose came in. The first thing this Irish girl learned was you don't buy panty hose made in Japan or France. Nothing wrong with them. But they are made for derriere that is much smaller than any Irish woman's derriere will ever be. Does anyone remember when L'eggs came in eggs? My mother kept her money in those eggs and hid them in her room. When she passed away, my father found all these white eggs with dollar bills stuffed in them. My mom would complain she had no cash so my dad would hand over whatever he had on him. She'd hide it! The funny thing was, he was more curious about the eggs than the money! (Though he did say 'why'd she always say she had no cash?') My sisters and I still laugh. My mom hid a LOT of eggs. And, yes, I have had stockings tear at the worst time. I once sat through a hearing where I was representing one side in front of an arbitrator. I didn't dare move. The left leg of my panty hose had torn and was, literally, hanging by a thread. I actually waited for the room to empty at the break before I ran to the Ladies to put on the pair in my purse! Now it's just jeans and socks, thank God.

W. A. Mozart said...

Pantyhose? Himmel! I cannot imagine that these would be comfortable for a gentleman!

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Molly for sharing that information!

Eliza Knight said...

WAM,

I can't imagine it either...but neither can I imagine why some men wore corsets :)

Armonis said...

Hey thanks, I wasn't sure if people used socks back then, so I looked it up. Your article will help in the design of my character.

Anonymous said...

i love the mid length black under armour or nike sport socks that u wear in basketball...except i wear them all of the time. talk about sexy! ha :)