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March 22, 2019
We may take our comfy, well-made, subtly ironic socks for granted, but we shouldn’t because the road that brought us here is strewn with the god-awful worst socks you can ever imagine. Scratchy, unprocessed wool socks, rough-hewn animal skins and probably...I don’t know...bronze socks lined with pointed sticks.
People throughout history have had to make do with whatever they had available to them when it came to socks, which explains why war is a central theme across the eons. If only the Romans had access to cotton/nylon/spandex blends they likely would have been content to raise sheep and strum lutes all day instead of conquering the entirety of Europe.
So how did we get to the cornucopia of sock bliss that we enjoy today? Let’s pull up our knee highs and wade into the history of under-shoe footwear.
The earliest socks would only be recognized as such by people that think wrapping their feet in freshly-peeled animal skin is an appropriate accouterment to tennis shoes. Paleolithic humans likely used animal hides tied at the ankle as proto-sock/shoe combinations. In the winter these hides would have included the animal's fur, for warmth, and in the summer their stench would have made them effective biological weapons against neighboring tribes.
After the short-lived, ill-conceived, sharpened stick craze died out socks went back to being made of what they had been for millennia, woven wool. The earliest socks we have date to around 1,600 years ago. Found in an ancient burial chamber along the Nile in Egypt these socks had split toes, to accommodate sandals. Socks. Made specifically for sandals. Can you imagine? Ancient Egypt was a very silly place.
The Romans continued this tradition of lining their sandals with socks. In fact, the word “sock” derives from the Latin “soccus”, which was a light, low-heeled shoe. And this, in turn, derives from the Ancient Greek “sykkos” which was a thin, sock-like shoe worn with sandals. So maybe the next time we aim to deride some aging hippy turned television repairman for his choice to rock socks with sandals, we should remember that this footwear combination conquered most of the known world at one time. And it would have been very unwise to laugh in the face of an entire Roman legion.
Prior to 1589, when Englishman William Lee invented the first knitting machine, socks of any reasonable quality were the exclusive domain of the rich. Socks at the time were woven by hand, and decent, comfortable socks took a very long time to make, pricing commoners out of the market.
So if you had a dresser full of socks, and a dresser, it’s likely there was a group of pitchfork wielding peasants plotting your demise in some particularly gruesome fashion. But at least you could take solace in the fact that you’d likely die of natural causes at the ripe old age of 34 before your goon squad could make their move.
If there’s one takeaway you should pull from this article, it’s that you are one of the luckiest people to ever exist. You get to live in the present, where socks aren’t fashioned from the side of a caribou or filled with termites. Instead, you get supremely comfortable, affordable, and fashionable socks, and you can wear a different pair...every day! Oh, the unbridled luxury of it all! Pick up a few pairs for yourself today and celebrate the supremely lucky happenstance of your birth.
Ozone Content Creator
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