A Brief History of the One-Size-Fits-All Tube Sock

Originally marketed as sportswear, the tube sock became a stylish accessory thanks to Farrah Fawcett and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks center Lew Alcindor (13), later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Los Angeles Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain, left, at the L.A. Forum on November 21, 1970. (Photo by the Associated Press)

 

If you’re an American down to your toes, those toes have probably been clad in tube socks at one time or another.

These once-ubiquitous, one-size-fits-all socks are a product of Americans’ simultaneous love of sports, technological innovation, and nostalgic fashion statements.

The tube sock’s trajectory is knitted into the growth of organized sports in America, particularly basketball and soccer, both of which were popularized around the turn of the century. Basketball was a new and uniquely American diversion, played in YMCAs and school gymnasiums, while soccer was a centuries-old tradition imported by European immigrants. They had a crucial commonality, however: unlike baseball and football, they both required players to wear shorts.

With so many bare, hairy legs suddenly on display, knee-high socks—called “high-risers”—became essential accessories. As Esquire put in in 1955, shorts “look like the devil unless you wear high-rise socks with them. High-risers are usually eighteen inches, but the rule to follow is, get them up to your kneecaps. You can turn over a cuff or not—it doesn’t matter so long as they don’t end halfway down your calf.”

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