How socks became the unexpected fashion hero of lockdown
I’m calling it: socks are the new shoes.
Just as staying in is the new going out, conference calls are the new birthday drinks and a flourishing sourdough starter is the new aspirational accessory in our topsy-turvy world, so outdoor footwear has been swiftly relegated in favour of its former deputy. Socks. It’s a dismal time in most respects, sure, but a really exciting time where your second drawer down is concerned. The underwear-as-outerwear trend, one of fashion’s most elusive legends, is finally playing out for real. But on feet.
Of course, socks have been shuffling back onto the fashion agenda for a while now. It happens every decade or so, when the separate trend spheres of kitsch, preppy and 1970s all swing back into orbit around the same time. For the past few months, we’ve seen more and more statement pairs grace the catwalks and Instagram grids – thick, sturdy hiking socks casually rumpled above our lace-up Little Women boots, glittery neon guys dressing up our Dad sneakers, and sheer, lacy numbers peeking out from platforms and prim Mary-Janes. Once the preserve of the dowdy and blister-prone, pop socks are finally part of the outfit.
Then came *All This*. Shoes became redundant for 23 hours a day, and suddenly socks have been propelled from supporting cast member to a starring role, the likes of which they haven’t enjoyed since the gymnasium “sock hops” of the 1950s. Especially now that so many of us have given up brushing and/or washing our hair for the foreseeable, and it’s easier to just point the camera at our feet (probably next to a slice of banana bread, improbably balanced on a duvet).
As the days merge together into one continuous mass of stretchy grey, socks are a cheery way to punctuate the meh. Some mornings, I start with my socks and work upwards.
Naturally the fashion world is one step ahead on all this. Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine Cohen has been doing fantastic work in the status sock canon, while artist and stylist Zeena Shah’s candy-coloured grid is full of enviable anklewear. Hashtags like #socksoftheday and #sockselfie are growing apace, and last year’s socks-and-sliders obsession has transitioned seamlessly into socks-and-slippers. Meanwhile the crafters among us are busy tie-dyeing them, making more, or learning to darn favourite old pairs. I’ve been alternating between pink, lilac and polka dot lurex numbers with several beautiful, chunky pairs hand-knitted by my mum.
And of course, we all know socks are the best gift there is. Give me socks, be they trendy or decorated with disembodied teddy bear heads, and I’ll always be delighted – it’s one of the few things Dumbledore and I have in common, besides longer-than-sensible hair. But right now, when we can’t give hugs, they’ve taken on deeper meaning.
It seems others agree – Happy Socks, whose collections range from trend-led prints and colourblocking to nostalgic collaborations with Spongebob Squarepants, Disney Pixar and Queen (that’s the band, not Her Majesty), have seen a steady rise in online sales after an initial dip in early March. The brand’s head of marketing, Laura Fisk, attributes it to their mood-boosting quality. “The idea that ‘socks are the new shoes’ has definitely had an impact,” she says, “but also the fact that people want to wear something, or gift something, that can brighten up someone’s day.”
Even the indie brands’ sock stock is rising. “We’ve had some great support since the lock-in began. Our March and April sales are up on last year,” says Ed Vickers, founder of Jollie’s, a social enterprise which matches each sale with a pair of socks for a person who is sleeping rough. “I think it’s a mixture of our customer base wanting to support small businesses, socks being an easy gift for a loved one, and also wanting to support homeless shelters with sock donations.”
Currently the Original style, made from super-soft organic cotton, is the brand’s bestseller. “They’re a little thicker, so are the perfect bed/sofa/snug sock,” says Vickers. When everything outside the window feels perilous and uncertain, it’s hardly surprising that we want to swaddle ourselves in something cosy and reassuring. It’s harder to stay positive with cold toes.
So while the tricky ethical question of whether we should still be buying clothes in a pandemic remains inconclusive, socks feel like a safe bet. They’re a sound price-per-wear investment, and they’ll always have a function; whether that’s comfort on a cold night, or looking cute under strappy sandals. Unlike all the quick-fix trend items that you’ll be bored of by the time we’re allowed out again, they won’t date. We should give priority to all those too-thick-for-shoes pairs languishing at the back of our drawers, of course… but if you’re going to shop just now, shop socks.
And hey – those you’re not wearing can always double up as makeshift puppet friends. In another couple of weeks, it may come to that.