I was recently interviewed by WWD/Footwear News for an article on the wild sock explosion that has rocked the world the past few years (that’s probably a bit dramatic). Unless you live on an island and have donned sandals everyday, I’m sure you have seen bold patterned and bright color socks on everyone from RG3 to George Bush Sr. The question that was posed to me was why is something that’s been a wardrobe staple for men and women for decades suddenly garnering attention from some of the biggest names in fashion, along with a new crop of startups focused on the category. In my mind there are three key macro events that have propelled this movement. The tech boom of the late 90’s, the economic crisis in 2008, and the overall shift in men’s buying habits the past few years.
In order to dig into the genesis of the trend, take a look at the early days of the tech boom of the late 90s in Silicon Valley. After college I moved up to San Francisco and took a job working for a tech startup. Armed with a brand new Hugo Boss suit, I walked into the office for my first day on the job. What I quickly realized was that the 22-year-old CTO and his posse of pierced & tattooed engineers frowned upon my ensemble. It was at this time that brilliant college dropouts (albeit from places like Stanford) were creating some of the most recognizable and influential companies in our world today, all the while unknowingly changing the course of acceptable work attire. Suits were seen as the establishment at a time when those kids were pushing the limits of technology and challenging the business and financial models that were the norm. It was then that I decided socks were going to replace the tie for me as a way to express personality. Fast-forward 15 years and that suit only makes it out for weddings and funerals.
And then of course came the economic crisis. Prior to 2007/08 many people lived well beyond their means. Gas guzzling Bentleys and Hummers could be found everywhere. This all changed in 2008 when our economy melted down. Suddenly people no longer had the same discretionary income and the pendulum swung, and pendulums don’t stop halfway. Less became more and the term frugal became en vogue. Walking into a store and spending $12 instead of $200 on an item was all that was possible for most, and just enough to scratch the consumer itch.
Finally there has been a major focus on the male consumer over the past few years. With the help of brands such as J.Crew, Mr. Porter, and Refinery29, men have just figured out what women have known for years, we must pay attention to the details. It’s no longer ok to wear oversized shirts, baggy jeans, and white socks. The metrosexual of the past has gone mainstream and so have well-designed, colorful socks.
Do I think the sock trend will continue? I actually believe it’s eclipsed a trend. Well-designed, colored socks have become that basic necessity that no longer needs a supporting cast. It’s not about wearing cool socks; it’s about subscribing to a particular lifestyle where the details are important.