A Brief History of Socks

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Brother Ranulf
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A Brief History of Socks

Post by Brother Ranulf »

Lidimy raised the question of socks in another thread and I thought others might be interested. Here, as briefly as I could make it, is a "starter for ten":

The Latin word “soccus” means a foot-covering or low shoe of wool, often worn by comic actors in the classical theatre (tragic actors wore buskins). The soccus was widely worn as footwear indoors but was unsuitable for outside the home. Two other terms exist in Latin – “pedale” and “udo”; perhaps one of these is the toe-less and heel-less ankle-sock worn under the sandals by a Praetorian guardsman on the Cancellaria relief of around 83 AD (this is the only known example of this type of sock) – evidence perhaps that the Praetorians were wooses?

The Saxons wore “socca”, which also figure in the English Monastic Sign Language. These are likely to be woollen slippers worn indoors and in bed, the direct descendants of the soccus, rather than leg-socks worn with shoes. This seems to continue to be the meaning of “sock” well into the 13th century. There is no term for sock in Anglo-Norman French, which may or may not be significant. On balance, it seems that wearing socks within shoes is unlikely until much later.

The Middle English words “sok”, “socke”, “sokke”, mean a light woollen shoe or slipper, but also (perhaps later) a sock or stocking. In have noticed that some historians are inclined to translate the word “hose” as stocking, which only serves to complicate the issue.

By the 1400s, “stocks” appear – but I will leave it to those better qualified to explain what they are.

Scandinavian socks have a different history – both low woollen slippers and longer (modern style) leg socks were made by a technique called naalbinding, rather similar to crochet. Each naalbinding stitch is a knot so that holes don’t run and repairs could be kept to a minimum. The technique certainly pre-dates the Viking period and its use extends into areas with long Scandinavian influence such as Scotland and York (the evidence from York, however, is only for low, slipper-style naalbinding socca). I understand from German friends that the technique was being used in Germany in the 12th century to make proper leg-socks, worn with the German equivalent of clogs.

By 1583 the word "stocking" was used for a covering for the feet and legs. Reverend William Lee of Nottinghamshire invented a sock-knitting machine in l589, and started to make hosiery out of cotton, wool and silk. The machine made bright colored socks easier to produce, cheaper, and encouraged their popularity.
Brother Ranulf

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lidimy
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Post by lidimy »

Hmmm.. interesting. Maybe a modern equivalent would be those thick socks with rubber grips on the bottom - can be worn on their own indoors, but unsuitable outside.
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Post by m300572 »

I think there is more than one statue showing either short socks or the toe and heelless type from the Roman period - Alex Crooms book has details as far as I can remember but I am at my desk and the book is at home so I cant check it.
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Post by m300572 »

Oh, and there is a small sock in 2/2 twill cloth from Vindolanda (made from cloth not knitted) and a writing tablet letter which asks for more socks and underwear! (must have been a student! :twisted: )


While trawling for these I came across this which may be of interest to all clothies!

http://assets.cambridge.org/97805213/41 ... 1073ws.pdf
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Shadowcat
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Post by Shadowcat »

Thanks for the reference - great resource. (Sets aside an afternoon for browsing!) (And another.) (And another............)

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Post by seamsmistress »

A loooooong time ago, I came across a reference for an Egyptian sock?, which I think was found in a burial find in England - so long ago, I can't remember the exact reference or where.

What stuck in my mind though, was that it was made of cotton and had the big toe knitted in separately, rather like mittens with the thumb. The hypothesis was that the burial was medieval and the socks would have been a prized possession brought back from foreign travels. The big toe suggested it was worn with a thong type sandal. I think I must have been researching evidence for early use of cotton when I came up with this.

Has anyone else come across this?

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Post by Colin Middleton »

So does anyone know anything about 15th C socks? I know that they were worn and I have some idead about what they may have looked like and what they were for. Can anyone offer anything solid?
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Post by Sue Green »

Seamstress - I can't give you any historical sources and my geography may even be out but I can quote you a lovely poem entitled Coptic Socks based on an exhibition in the V & A of socks from the 4th-5th century AD :


Fancy the Copt
Possessing socks!
Elastic topped,
Perhaps, with clocks.

What marvellous wool
From Coptic flocks
To last as well
In Coptic socks!

Some will get shocks
Who cast an optic
On knitted socks
Then read they're Coptic

___________

Not sure this furthers the discussion at all but I had to share the poem as I've always loved it!

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A Brief History of Socks

Post by Brother Ranulf »

Sue - a totally brilliant poem. 800 points, tick, VG :D :D :D :D
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Post by ViscontesseD'Asbeau »

I think there's a Roman naalbinding sock/stocking at the Yorkshire Museum, in York. If I remember right?

I came across a 17thC mention of 'socks' quoted in Marie Hartley's 'Old Handknitters of the Dales' - don't have it in front of me, but think it was to do with the stuff being ordered from out knitters by a mill? Will look it up and double check. I was surprised to see the word 'sock' for so early and from the context suppose it was interchangeable word for 'stocking', unless it referred specifically to something like a child's sock?

I've been knitting copies of the Gunnister stockings and was intrigued by the fact that the Gunnister man's purse is topped with ribbing and yet the stockings were started with rows of purl stitches - when the ribbing was obviously more elastic as a stitch and would have made stockings/socks self supporting from the get-go? And garters are never comfortable, above or below the knee. That really intrigues me.

I saw some quite nice stockings for sale at a re-enactors' fayre that started with ribbing - which I'd always thought was a no-no but people seem to be selling them. Do they know something I don't? I'd love to know when ribbing came in as the top of stockings/socks. Does anyone know?

If 'socca' is a word in Anglo Saxon it's not one I've ever come across - so am guessing it's one of those words that don't crop up too often. Maybe an academic word, they've translated from the Latin not knowing quite what it is (that happened a lot in Old English). Again will do a look up when I have my AS dictionaries to hand. You'd pronounce it 'sotcha' not 'sock-a' which makes me think it's probably just a monk's lazy translation. The modern word would be more likely to be 'sotch', not 'sock', too. :D

All the 'probably' worn as slippers too - I dunno how you could make this leap just from seeing a word on the page, unless there's some compelling reasons? We can't know if it's something worn under shoes or not unless specifically evidence points that way. Anyone who's ever walked around on an earth floor sees pretty quickly the whole indoors slipper thing is a redundant concept, in the earlier period. :D

Lee's machine existed from a much earlier date than it was commonly used, too. In fact, he had to go and live abroad and died in poverty, despite his invention. Elizabeth wouldn't allow him to go ahead as she felt it would put handknitters out of business. In the 1650s, Cromwell licensed the little circular knitting machine so from that point on, not from the point in the 16thC when it was invented, the machine knitted stocking became common.

As for colours, they were always available and the introduction of the sock knitting frame probably had little bearing on whether people could afford - or get - dyed, as opposed to natural stockings. :D

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Post by Brother Ranulf »

I hope I have not simply "made this leap just from seeing a word on the page, unless there's some compelling reasons?" I am a very firm believer in sifting evidence (as much as can be found) and then making reasonable assumptions based on that evidence.

All of my Old English dictionaries list "socc" so it's unlikely to be an unusual or academic word -

"socc m (-es/-as) light shoe, slipper", deriving directly from Latin soccus. Socca is a plural form which can indicate the genitive. I would strongly disagree with the "sotch" pronunciation, as the letter c is pronounced with a k sound if it comes before a back vowel (like o or a) or another consonant. If it comes before a front vowel (like i or e), or at the end of a word following a front vowel, it is usually pronounced like Modern English ch.

The English monastic sign language states:

"Socca tacen is Þæt Þu sette Þinne scyte finger [as in the previous sign, indicating a shoe] and rær up Þinne Þuman" - The sign for socks is that you place your index finger (as above) and hold up your thumb (the sign for "large"). So, if socca is larger than shoe, then it can not fit inside a shoe. If Socc is a light shoe or slipper, then it is worn alone, not under shoes.

Jocelin of Brakelond and the Constitutions of Lanfranc (late 11th and 12th century) refer to “night slippers”, that is those worn by monastics in bed. Not too fanciful to think these could be the socca mentioned in the sign list. If they are night slippers, they are not worn outdoors - shoes were worn outside the dormitory and church.
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Post by janes-wardrobe »

'So does anyone know anything about 15th C socks? I know that they were worn and I have some idead about what they may have looked like and what they were for. Can anyone offer anything solid?'

Can't say what they looked like but I have a quote (somewhere) from a manservants guide that mentions 'sokkes' I've often wondered if they might be a short (perhaps ankle length) linen sock made in the same way as hose. To me this would make sense as the linen could be washed frequently and it would be less necessary to wash the hose.

One day I'll get around to unpacking everything and finding all my reference material...
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Post by Brother Ranulf »

Sorry - way out of my period. It would be interesting to know when modern-style sox were first worn, though.
Brother Ranulf

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