Did you know that there’s no real reason for the rule about wearing white after Labor Day? Near as anyone can tell, it was a rule made up by the ‘old money’ society to try to ostracize those who were new to the upper class. Aside from being elitist, that tidbit speaks to the nature of fashion rather accurately: The invention of arbitrary clothing rules, for the purpose of separating the stylish from the dorky.
Fashion, by definition, is superficial. In all of its incarnations, it’s a souped-up version of the fabric that you’re legally required to drape over your torso. Over the decades, it’s morphed into a vehicle to express who you are (and maybe impress those around you) — leading to the creation of various “in-groups” by creating uniforms of sorts. Should you violate the code of your tribe, you can quickly be cast out from the proverbial “cool kids table.”
Among the fashion faux pas that everyone seems to know, wearing socks with sandals reigns supreme. Much like cargo shorts, the combination has become a punchline in and of itself, conjuring images of jam band devotees, out-of-touch dads, and those who’ve simply given up caring what the world thinks about them. Debenhams, a British clothing retailer, dubbed this style catastrophe “the worst of all time” after surveying 1,500 of their customers back in 2013. Scorn for the socks sandals combo in that limited data set was through the roof and made for a splashy headline. The news went viral, and the sentiment against socks with sandals seemed to be at an all-time high.
It’s worth noting that Debenhams poll went viral not long after some major archeological discoveries were made on the socks with sandals front. Back in 2010, scientists concluded that history’s most famous sandal-wearers, the Romans, were wearing a type of sock with them some 2,000 years ago. They weren’t knit socks in the traditional sense, but more of a loose-fitting slip-on called a sykko. They were typically made of animal fur (or skin) but nonetheless designed to be worn under the sandal.
It could have become an essential look — as classic as the white tee shirt — but the whole Roman fashion scene took a drastic turn when Constantine converted to Christianity. Showing your feet was suddenly considered indecent, and sandals would largely vanish until the early 20th century.
That commotion over Roman hosiery brought a pair of socks discovered in an Egyptian a burial tomb in the early 1900s back into the conversation. The socks themselves are thought to date back to somewhere around 300 to 500 AD, and were much closer to the socks we know and love than the sykkos worn by the Romans. These knit garments are now considered to be the oldest known pair of socks in the world, and they were made with forked toes — designed specifically to be worn with a sandal.
More recently, the sock-with-sandals contingent has gotten a nice boost by pro-athletes wearing white athletic socks with slip-on sandals coming to and from games. Since athletes are widely emulated, the look soon started to spill out of the locker room and onto the streets little by little. David Beckham, Tyler, The Creator, and Justin Bieber were all seen in some sort of socks/sandals combination in recent years.
Now, the sea change has arrived in full. Fashion bible Vogue noted in January of this year that socks with sandals were featured prominently on runways of the 2018 fall fashion shows, which means the look could be pushing its way past “grudging acceptance” into “stylishly chic.” This touches on another of fashion’s core characteristics: its fickleness. What was considered nothing short of style blasphemy one year can turn around and become the celebrated “must wear” item the next. It’s a roller coaster — a fun one for those who love style and an obnoxious one for those who don’t.
If socks and sandals do become hot this summer, it’ll be one of the wildest fashion comeback stories in the modern era. It could change the very nature of the style scene, with designers making pilgrimages to the suburbs to see what the dad-bod crowd is doing next. Get ready for wool-lined house shoes in 2025.