Historical Fancy Facts about Socks

Have you ever heard that......?


After creating his revolutionary stocking frame machine, Lee approached Queen Elizabeth’s court to patent his invention. But Lee’s request, according to legend, was tossed out because his stockings weren't nice enough-Queen Elizabeth was fond of silk stockings and the wool ones Lee produced didn’t meet her standards. Lee reworked his knitting machine to producer finer quality socks, but once again was denied a patent, this time on the basis that a fast-paced loom could put knitting artisans out of business. After a second rejection (and the treason conviction and execution of his business partner), Lee headed off to France, where King Henry IV supported his invention. Unfortunately for Lee, Henry IV was assassinated in 1610 and the succeeding King Louis XIII didn’t find the stocking frame worthy of his time (which wasn't entirely his fault—he was only 8 when he ascended the throne). Lee died soon thereafter, and his brother James Lee continued the stocking business.


Before the 20th century, most stockings were a generous knee length. But as men’s trousers became longer during the early 1900s, long foot and leg coverings weren’t necessary and they began to shrink (this is likely where the stark difference between stockings and socks became noticeable). With the combination of World War I and flapper culture leading to shorter hemlines, more women relied on stockings for warmth and modesty. And thus, socks became a popular men’s garment, leaving stockings for women. Unfortunately, elastic wasn’t yet used in stockings, and women had to hitch up their sheers with garters.


The DuPont Company revealed the world’s first nylon stocking at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and American women fell in love with the stretch, comfort, and durability. But, when the U.S. entered World War II two years later, DuPont paused stocking production to create nylon parachutes, ropes, and cords for the war effort. Stockings became difficult to find, and a hosiery black market made nylons a high-priced luxury. When the war ended, DuPont went back to making nylon stockings, but high demand combined with heavy advertising and limited production led to full-scale riots. Women lined up outside stores to purchase nylon stockings, and crowds became angry when supplies ran out. From August 1945 to March 1946, women across the country fought to get their hands on nylon stockings. In New York, a crowd of 30,000 women tried for a pair; in Pittsburgh, some 40 000 battled for a meager 13,000 pairs.


Einstein is known for his eccentricities—like his flyaway hairstyle or his penchant for going sailing on days with no wind just for the challenge of it—but he also wasn’t a fan of wearing socks. Einstein didn't see the logic in wearing both socks and shoes, especially if socks were going to eventually have holes. His theory on going sock-less was often discussed, like in this letter to wife Elsa: “Even on the most solemn occasions I got away without wearing socks and hid that lack of civilisation in high boots.” Physicist Allen Shenstone recalled a similar comment from Einstein: “I have reached an age when, if someone tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to.” And maybe that’s the beauty of woven footwear—you can wear (or lose) any kind you like.

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