Once upon a time, socks were little more than a cop-out of a Christmas present. The only rule was that they should match, at least past your school years, and the only time they’d come up in conversation was after a couple of glasses of pinot, when someone shared the story of a seducer who’d failed to take theirs off when things progressed to the bedroom. Fast forward to autumn 2017 and, following several seasons of midi skirts and cropped trousers dominating trend reports (and shop floors), how to dress exposed ankles is firmly on fashion’s agenda.
The humble sock has been around since ancient times, when folk wrapped their tootsies in animal skins or matted hair to protect their soles and absorb sweat (apologies if you’re eating your lunch). By the 1400s, knitted stockings were the commonly worn thing and hosiery continued to consist of fairly coarse, shapeless garments until nylon came along in the 1930s. Cheaper than silk and more sheer than cotton, socks and stockings suddenly clung to and enhanced shapely ankles. The 20th century saw a veritable explosion in the hosiery department as hemlines inched upwards and attention alighted on the ankle as a new erogenous zone. Decorative stockings were made available to the masses; once the preserve of the rich and royal, when a pair rendered in silk and embroidered with flowers could even get a smile out of Elizabeth I, patterned pantyhose dominated during the 1960s.
Desperate times didn’t dim their allure – women would go so far as to draw a mock stocking seam down the back of their calves when rationing took hold during the Second World War. Men were equally susceptible to the joy of socks – hinting at the wearer’s character, they provided a brief respite from the crushing boredom of the business suit. As one of the few universally owned items of clothing, the cotton sock was even blessed by a common phrase in the English language.
Fast forward to now and, after a dry spell of “five-pack black cotton rich” bulk buys and grotty little trainer socks, it’s time to celebrate your sock draw once again
Fast forward to now and, after a dry spell of “five-pack black cotton rich” bulk buys and grotty little trainer socks, it’s time to celebrate your sock draw once again. Worn with ripped-hem jeans, fishnet socks currently adorn the loafer-clad feet of Instagram’s most fashionable. Socks featured on the catwalks this month at big-name brands Burberry, Fendi, Erdem and Preen, guaranteeing their reign for a while yet. No one, of course, has done more to make the case for pairing socks with a ladylike heel over the years than fashion’s high priestess, Miuccia Prada, and her latest collection is no exception – knee-high ribbed styles offset slingbacks, worn with smart skirts and suiting. Several logoed tributes to sports socks feature on Net-a-Porter by way of Givenchy and Vetements, alongside peak-luxury Falke stockings and cosy cashmere varieties. At Prada’s prices, however, there’s good reason to be wary of losing one in the wash.
Luckily, socks are a challenge well met by the British high street. Once the preserve of embarrassing uncles, novelty socks now sell in every Topshop in the land (£3.50 a pair, three for £8) to those looking for a budget-friendly means of cheering up an outfit or just a crappy day. A caveat regarding “novelty”: the mid-calf length, rainbow-stripe, individual-toe-encasing sock remains resolutely out of fashion. Instead, it’s all about sheer or lightly glittered pairs in autumnal tones – deep reds and burnt oranges – to bridge the gap between summer’s bare legs and depths-of-winter black opaques, extending the shelf life of your favourite backless loafers past the first frosts. Find more at & Other Stories, Cos and Happy Socks (the new Hysteria range is a sock lover’s dream).
Regarding shape, it’s time to pull them up, literally – the popular style du jour is ankle-high, emerging neatly from boyish brogues or ankle boots like a silky cuff from a chunky jumper. Wear them poking over the top of your Converse with a midi skirt, or jazz up a trouser-and-flats combo. And if appearances alone don’t win you over, it will only take one blister-free day spent in warmth and comfort to do the job. Happy feet, indeed.