Why Do We Wear Socks? (And What Happens If We Don’t?)

First knitted around 1500 BC, socks have been the unsung hero of the wardrobe ever since.

While sure, socks can add a bit of style to your outfit; they also serve a very important purpose.

A well-made sock keeps your feet warm and dry and prevents the formation of blisters. Depending on the fabric within the sock, they may also help to reduce odor, regulate temperature, provide support, and help prevent serious fungal infections.

How socks can protect your health

podiatrist examining patients foot

The way that the socks protect your feet is by keeping your feet dry and warm while also providing a barrier between your skin and the shoe. This is important because when you walk with shoes on, heat and moisture build up, eventually causing your feet to sweat, creating the perfect environment for blisters to form and bacteria to thrive. Prolonged exposure to this repeated motion of walking would likely lead to painful blisters and, eventually, fungal infections like athlete’s foot.

Since socks are intended to be changed daily, you ensure that the environment within your shoe remains relatively clean.

If you stopped wearing socks, wouldn’t the skin on your feet toughen up?

When you stop wearing socks, the skin will adapt, but not for the better. Extended non-sock use would likely lead to dry and thicker skin, particularly on the heel. Furthermore, touch points in your shoe, such as the top of the shoe’s cuff or the tip of your toes, would gradually wear away at your skin, causing cuts or blisters. Calluses would also likely form throughout the foot as well.

Aside from the condition of your feet, your shoes will deteriorate much faster. Exposure to moisture will rot the shoe from the inside out. Additionally, the smell within the shoe will never go away and will likely become unbearable. Every time you take off your shoes, you will be greeted by a foul odor.

Does the material of the sock matter?

spools of yarn in a factory

How any given sock is made has a direct impact on comfort and health of your feet. When researching socks, you’ll find that they run the gamut on how they are crafted.

Companies may rely on anything from 100% synthetic fiber, such as nylon, to luxurious merino wool. Broadly speaking, natural fibers, including cotton, merino wool, linen, and silk, are more breathable and absorbent than synthetic fibers.

Conversely, synthetic fibers are more durable and are often moisture-wicking. Unfortunately, given the artificial nature of these fibers, they cannot absorb sweat like a natural fiber.

Most socks contain a blend of fabrics. But the quality of the blend may vary from one brand to another, with some skewing more natural to others more synthetic. We recommend, in most cases, going towards natural fibers as the comfort, health, and sustainability reasons outweigh the synthetic alternatives.

Do socks help with foot odor?

Foot odor is caused by bacterial growth. When wearing a sock with natural fibers and changing them daily, foot odor is mitigated. Even with synthetic socks, the moisture-wicking nature of this fiber will still reduce foot odor.

How long should you wear socks before changing them?

In general, socks are intended for daily use only. If you are wearing socks part of the day for casual wear and part-day athletic activities like jogging, biking, etc., you should change them after the athletic activity.

Some folks may wear socks for two or three days. While this is not recommended by podiatrists, it is still significantly better than not wearing socks at all. Should you fall into this category, take note of how your feet feel and smell to judge whether or not you should be changing your socks more frequently.

What about no-wash socks?

Over the past few years, brands have introduced ‘no-wash’ socks. While the claims are convincing, the research is subjective at best, as it only tests the socks in a lab setting.

We recommend washing your socks properly and regularly to ensure that they and your feet remain clean and fresh.

How about socks around the home?

According to the NPD Group, 64% of Americans wear socks in their home (source). When worn inside, socks do a good job of keeping feet warm, especially during the winter months. Of course, if you are wearing socks inside, it’s a good idea to get a pair of house socks with additional cushioning and grip to prevent slipping and falling.

What about to bed?

While not an official survey by a company, this poll we found at Reddit/r/samplesize asked people whether or not they sleep with their socks on. Interestingly, 63% of folks do not wear socks while asleep, while 25% sometimes do, and 11% always do. Furthermore, women were more likely to sleep with socks on than men.

But which is better to do?

Well, this 2006 study found that adults with socks on will go to sleep faster and sleep longer than those without socks on. So, if you are serious about your sleep, you may want to consider wearing socks to bed.

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.

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