The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - December 12, 2013

SOCKY HORROR How fascinating can socks be?
SOCKY HORROR How fascinating can socks be?
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I was in the gents urinals at work the other day when I started thinking about socks.

It isn’t unusual for my mind to wander while on the toilet, indeed I find being on the loo is one of the finest places in the world to stop, reflect and think.

I remember back in 2003 it was on the toilet I came up with the idea of Facebook. I wrote it on the back of a cigarette packet which unfortunately I lost on holiday in America later that year. Blow me, a couple of years later some kid called Zuckerberg came up with the same thing.

I took the matter to court but it got thrown out, something about lack of evidence, which clearly demonstrates the failings of the British legal system.

People ask if I’m bitter. Well, no. Sure he’s worth about a billion, has an incredible looking wife, and lives in a 106-bedroom mansion but would he cut it as a semi-successful writer on a regional newspaper? I doubt it.

So socks. I noticed, as I was on the lavatory, that I had odd pairs on, which in turn led to me to wonder why we wear socks in the first place and what they are for. And what came first - the shoe or the sock? (before you ask I’m not on any medication; this is just how my mind works).

I mentioned this to my colleagues on returning to my desk, but they all seemed strangely disinterested and said ‘there’s no way you can write a column about that – it will be rubbish and boring’.

While the second half of that statement is most certainly true, the first part not so, as, in a very roundabout way, I’m proving here.

I have undertaken some research on socks and have some findings I’d like to share with you.

Firstly, and most astonishingly, the foot, it turns out, is one of the heaviest producers of sweat in the body. The average foot will sweat more than a whole pint of perspiration per day – and presumably a good deal more if you’re a postman or Mo Farah.

Socks help to absorb this sweat and draw it to areas where air can evaporate the perspiration.

But when did we first wear socks, I hear you cry? Well, a lot earlier than I’d thought.

In 8th century BC (to jog your memory, Jesus was 800 years from being born and Blackpool were third top in Division Two), the Ancient Greeks, who were obviously starting to get cheesed off with the amount of blisters they were picking up, began wearing matted animal hair around their feet and ankles. The Romans followed suit, using leather or woven fabrics.

Fast forward a few centuries and by the 5th century AD socks called ‘puttees’ were worn by holy people in Europe to symbolise purity. By the 10th century socks were a symbol of wealth among the nobility; by the 16th century they started to have ornamental designs on the side; and by the 21st century you could find big baskets of them by the till in Sports Direct priced £1.99 for five pairs.

The invention of a knitting machine in 1589 meant socks could be knitted six times faster than by hand. The next big revolution in sock production (not a sentence I think I’ve ever written before) was the introduction of nylon in 1938. Until then socks were made from silk, cotton and wool.

The actual word sock by the way, derives from the Old English word socc, meaning ‘light slipper’. And there’s a town in China (Zhuji) known as Sock City, because it produces eight billion pairs of socks each year – a third of the world’s sock production, effectively creating two pairs of socks for every person on the planet.

I’ve got more clothes facts for you, such as how tights were originally designed for men of nobility for practical reasons when horse-riding, or that in 1913 a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob changed women’s fashion forever when she created the first bra by tying two handkerchiefs together with ribbon.

But there’s only so much excitement you readers can take so until next week...