Woven socks were probably used for the first time around the 8th century BC, when a Greek poet mentioned socks (so-called piloi) that were made of matted animal hairs in his writings.
The early Romans used pieces of leather or a type of woven fabric to wrap around their feet. Around the 2nd century A.D., they started using socks that would fit over the feet, more resembling the socks we use today. They were called udones and made of sewn pieces of woven fabric.
The earliest knitted socks were found in an Egyptian tomb from around the 3rd- 6th centuries AD, whilst on the European continent, people would wrap strips of fabric or animal hide around legs and feet (like leggings) to keep them warm.
During the Middle Ages, trousers (breeches) started getting shorter and more fitted. Skin tight hose were then used on the lower part of the leg instead of socks, and around the 12th century these hose were also made to cover the feet.
At the end of the 15th century, they started combining breeches and hose into once piece of clothing, so-called tights. These were usually made of velvet, silk and wool, with each leg often having a different colour.
In Scotland, knitted hose were being worn from the early 15th century; a little later they also started appearing in France. In 1589, the first knitting machine was invented by an English clergyman, William Lee. He invented it because the woman he loved was spending all her time knitting. Love clearly fuels innovation!
A lot of the principles that Lee used to develop his knitting machine are still utilised in modern textile machinery. Lee couldn't get a patent granted by Queen Elizabeth however because she didn't care much for the coarse feel of the stockings that were produced by his machine. Being the Queen, she had access to the best quality silk stockings from Spain, which had a much finer feel to them than the wool stockings that were produced with Lee's knitting machine.
Lee's machine still gained popularity however and started being used regularly throughout Europe in the 1590s to make these alternatives to socks, so knitted stockings became a very common sight. In Switzerland and Germany they started wearing slashed over-garments that showed off their coloured stockings beneath.
Spain was a very important country in European fashion during the 1500s and 1600s. Since there was a lot of wealth in Europe during this period, men's stockings were often made of beautiful Spanish fabrics that were decorated with embroidery. Women's stockings were usually also adorned with fine jewels, but it was not until the late 17th century that cotton started being used for stockings.
During the 20th century, nylon starting gaining popularity for stockings because of the fabric's high strength and elasticity. Men's trousers also started getting longer again during this time and thus men's stockings were made shorter. Eventually, the word sock would be used to describe these short stockings. Argyle socks were in fashion for men during the 1920s, but later their popularity waned and more basic colors became popular.
Brightly coloured and patterned socks are now leading the sock fashion trend over the last decade, with companies such as Peper Harow leading the way. At Peper Harow London you can find a whole range of high quality striped, patterned, and plain socks. To get a beautiful pair of unique luxury socks through your letterbox every month, have a look at our sockscriptions. Our socks are guaranteed to brighten up your day!