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Article: The history of the Sock

L'histoire de la Chaussette

The history of the Sock

We wear them today without paying much attention to them, yet socks have undergone numerous revolutions before becoming this essential accessory in our daily lives. In this article, we retrace the history of the Sock with a capital C.

1° The discovery of the first socks

Let's talk about the birth of the sock. We don't really know who invented it, but Egyptologist Albert Gayet went to meet the first sock wearers... And they were the Egyptians! Indeed, during excavations in the city of Antinoé, the Egyptologist discovered a mummy with socks on his feet. His tomb dated from the 5th century AD. Socks have in fact been worn for over 1,520 years! And it is no coincidence that the first socks were worn in Egypt because Antinoe was the fashion capital at the time. Paris and Milan had better watch out!

In their early days, socks were not knitted as we see them today: they were made of both animal fur and leather, then wrapped around the feet to keep warm and protect against dirt. At that time, we were far from putting art at our feet!

Example of a sock worn by the Egyptians, exhibited at the Lyon Fabric Museum (their atypical shape allowed the Egyptians to wear them with sandals)

2° The Middle Ages and culotte socks

If today the sock is a universal accessory, in the Middle Ages, it was a real tool of social distinction reserved for the wealthy classes. Each piece was knitted by hand, without a machine, making the sock a luxury accessory whose manufacturing secret was well kept.

However, the socks didn't really look like ours. At that time, they looked more like tights. Stockings and panties were one, and it was not until the 18th century that the sock became a garment in its own right. Nobles, men or women, wore tights (better known as stockings) in all circumstances.

Oil on canvas representing the evolution of breeches (models painted in 1533, 1566 and 1621 respectively)

3° The industrialization of the sock

1589 is a pivotal year in the history of the sock: it is the date on which the Reverend William Lee invented the first sock knitting machine. Unfortunately, Queen Elizabeth I did not find the right fit and refused their industrialization. Lee's machine fell into oblivion, for a time.

William Lee's stocking knitting machine

It was finally in France that the sock managed to prove itself. In 1656, Jean Hindret discovered Lee's work and decided to import it to France. He opened the first sock factory (located in the Château de Madrid in Neuilly-sur-Seine) and, from then on, the artisan “sock maker” developed. Thanks to the machine, new materials are used such as silk, linen and hemp. The feel is more pleasant and the socks are more and more sophisticated!

4° The revolutionary sock

In the 18th century, the sock became an accessory of social struggle. Indeed, during the French Revolution, the “sans-culottes” refused to wear these culotte socks, symbols of the enemy to be defeated, the aristocracy. They then replace it with pants with accessories, including socks, as a sign of distinction. So aristocrats are “sockless”? The mid-calf, knitted socks like we sell at Label were exactly like them. Socks are therefore one of the symbols of the Republic.

Sans-culotte in arms, gouache by Jean-Baptiste Lesueur, 1793-1794, Carnavalet museum

Subsequently, the sock follows the classic evolution of an industrial product. It is industrialized, becomes less and less expensive to produce and becomes a consumer product. Massive layoffs followed in this sector, linked to the development of machines and tools. The accessibility of socks is increasing, as is the diversification of models, color palettes and materials used. The sock is gradually becoming a taste and fashion accessory in its own right.

Broussaud Textile, textile factory partner of Label Chaussette

5° The return of the sock as an accessory of distinction

Today the sock is once again becoming a key accessory to stand out. It is no longer a distinction of class but of style.

You will have understood, the sock has a long history behind it. In each era, she has been able to reinvent herself, and she never ceases to surprise us!

Emma & Juliette from the Label Chaussette team

Sources: (and yes, our colleagues also thought about it!)

Image sources:

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