Everything You Need to Know About Tube Socks

Since their introduction by the Nelson Knitting Company in 1967, tube socks have been worn by athletes, celebrities, and individuals around the world.

Characterized by their long, cylindrical shape and ribbed texture, tube socks are usually made from cotton, spandex, or a combination of both. They come in various colors, sizes, and styles and are designed to be pulled up to the knee or calf.

Today, we’ll share what makes this sock so unique.

What was the original use of the tube sock?

basketball player with tube socks

The tube sock was designed to cover the hairy legs of the athletes who wore shorts, making them part of the standard uniform for basketball and soccer.

While their origins were for sports where shorts are worn, other sports adopted the tube sock. In the 1973 Super Bowl between the Miami Dolphins and the Washington Redskins, the Redskins wore tube socks as part of their uniform. The Dolphins, instead, opted for crew socks.

For better or worse, when Nelson Knitting Company made the tube sock, they didn’t patent the design at all. This allowed other companies to produce their own take on the sock without legal repercussions.

After seeing the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain wear them on the court, and Pelé on the soccer field, celebrities took notice.

Their popularity hit a stratospheric rise when cultural icons like Farrah Fawcett wore them. While not as prevalent as they once were, current-day celebrities like Justin Bieber, Bella and Gigi Hadid, Jasmine Sanders, and Kanye West have been spotted wearing tube socks.

Lastly, in 2016 Vogue magazine claimed that “tube socks were back.” This claim was further supported in 2018, when their sister publication, Teen Vogue, had a feature on tube socks showcasing both Kendall Jenner and Selena Gomez wearing them.

Their persistent popularity, particularly in America, can be attributed to their timelessness, comfort, and versatility.

How does the tube sock get its name?

When originally produced by the Nelson Knitting Company, the tube sock was designed to have a tube-like design. Without a heel or instep, the sock went straight down from calf to toe, making a tubular shape – hence the name “tube sock.”

The original tube sock design was loved by children as there was no need to line up the heel and toe of the sock. Additionally, the production of the tube sock was much faster than other means of sock production, making it a cheap and quick option for manufacturers.

How has the tube sock changed over the years?

athletic tube socks cut just below calf

Despite their simple origins, the design of tube socks has changed over the decades, with nearly all modern offerings having a heel and distinct toe pocket. This helps to prevent slippage and bunching, making them more comfortable to wear.

However, the white body and distinct color bands at the top cuff of the sock have remained. While the color bands were originally used to help athletes identify their teammates, they are now used as a way to express one’s personality.

What about the length?

colorful tube socks above the calf

Traditionally, a tube sock should extend above the calf and rest just below the knee. Today, companies make tube socks in various lengths, typically between the length of a quarter sock all the way to a traditional over-the-calf cut.

When most companies refer to a pair of socks as “tube socks” they are referring to the distinct color band at the top of the sock and not necessarily that they are a certain length.

Tube socks vs. other socks

The tube sock is most commonly compared to the crew socks. Here’s how these two socks differ:

FeatureTube SockCrew Sock
StructureTube and reinforced toeTapered leg, heel, instep, sole, and toe pocket.
LengthAbove the calfMid-calf
ColorWhite with color bandsVarious colors
PriceLess than $5 eachLess than $5 each
IntentAthletic to fashionCasual to athletic

Thigh highs and over-the-calf dress socks are close alternatives to the tube sock. However, the former is often paired with skirts and the latter with suits, two outfits words apart from the athletic origins of the tube sock.

Lastly, compression socks extend the same length as a tube sock but are provided more for medicinal purposes rather than athletic or fashion.

How to wear tube socks

Looking for some inspiration on how to wear tube socks with your next outfit? Here’s how the tube sock has been worn since the 1970s.

People wearing tube socks in the 1970s

When looking at pictures of people from the 1970s, you’ll notice that many are worn as part of an athletic or super casual everyday outfit. Men, women, and children commonly wore them with casual sneakers such as Converse or Adidas, jean shorts, and a t-shirt.

Sports, including soccer, basketball, and roller derby, were also commonplace, where you’d find folks wearing tube socks.


Fast forward a decade to the era of big hair and neon colors. Tube socks still found their way into everyday life.

Let’s not forget when the Red Hot Chili Peppers shot to fame in 1987, in part by wearing tube socks around their genitals:

red hot chili peppers poster

Current Day

From influencers to celebrities, tube socks remain a persistent fixture in American culture. Folks today continue to wear tube socks to complement an athletic look to their wardrobe. However, they are also worn as a fashion statement. Here are a few examples:

If you are uncertain about how to wear a pair of tube socks, you can never go wrong wearing them with shorts and a t-shirt.

Are tube socks still on trend?

According to Google trends, the tube sock has remained relatively steady over the past five years. Here’s a chart:

tube socks on google trends

For context, when you compare this to crew socks, they are significantly less popular:

tube vs crew socks google trends

Consider this before buying tube socks

When shopping for tube socks, you’ll want to consider the following:

  • Size: Getting the right fit is important. Too big, and it will slide down your leg. Too tight, and it’ll feel uncomfortable. Double-check the size chart to ensure you get the right fit.
  • Fabric type: You’ll find that most tube socks are made from a blend of natural and synthetic fibers, including cotton, nylon, polyester, and elastane. Athletic tube socks will have an increased amount of synthetic materials to provide anti-odor or moisture-wicking properties.
  • Design: To ensure a proper fit, look for a tube sock with a heel, instep, and toe pocket.
  • Color: If you are wearing a tube sock for fashion purposes, consider the color of the top band and see how it will complement the other colors of your outfit.

How much should I expect to spend on tube socks?

The cost to manufacture tube socks remains inexpensive. You should expect to pay no more than $5 for a single pair.

What kind of care do tube socks require?

No additional or extra care is needed. However, given the color band, you’ll want to avoid using bleach when cleaning.

Where can you buy tube socks?

If you want a add a pair of tube socks to your sock drawer, there are plenty of places they are available to purchase. For larger retailers with favorable return policies, consider shopping from the following:

  • Amazon
  • Walmart
  • Target
  • Urban Outfitters
  • Nordstrom

However, if you are looking for a specific look or color, or want to go with a smaller brand, then check out these stores:

  • Bombas
  • American Trench

Theo Lawson

With a five-year background in men's fashion, Theo Lawson has shifted his focus to the world of socks. To him, socks are more than just a piece of clothing - they're a way to express yourself and make a statement.

To improve his knowledge, Theo consults with manufacturers and interviews industry leaders to stay up-to-date on the latest sock trends. His dedication to the field has earned him the trust of companies, celebrities, and sock enthusiasts, making him a true testament to the impact that one person can have when passionately pursuing their expertise.

Leave a Comment