The love-hate relationship with socks

Courtesy photo My brother Jim and his newlywed wife Ann, July 1977. Note the striking socks on Jim’s legs that could have spelled disaster for the young couple.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column was written by Lori Rose, former Daily Press staff writer and sister of Friday columnist Karen Wils.

ESCANABA — When it comes to my family, we seem to have a love-hate relationship with socks.

When my nephew Simon (now a college man) was a little one, he just couldn’t be bothered with wearing stockings. He either found them too hot or too limiting, and his mom and dad did all they could to keep the young Yooper warm from the ankles down.

“Honey, come in here and put those socks back on!” was a familiar refrain.

My uncle Richard had some medical issues and often went sockless, much to the chagrin of others who worried about his foot care and diabetes.

Karen’s kids, especially Robert, seemed to have socks go missing all the time. They also had a big assist from the house cat, who would swipe socks from the hamper area and tote them around the house like beloved kittens.

Now that fall is upon us, I’d like to raise a glass to the glorious sock. When you wake up in the morning with icy tootsies, nothing is as comforting and reassuring as a fashionable, well-made pair of stockings.

After a few months of running around in huaraches, sandals or flip-flops, there is something innately pleasing about pulling on a set of cushy-comfy cotton — or smooth and supple acrylic — socks.

I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boom, back when knee socks were still a big thing. As a parochial school girl, I often wore earth tone dress socks to match my uniform. They covered the entire shin and then some, and I often had to roll my tops over because of my short stature.

In sports, the tall “jock sock,” often with three bands of color, was all the rage. Think Wilt the Stilt or Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

Socks were made of decent material back then, and a quality sock would stay up for hours and not annoyingly slide down under your heel in winter boots or swampers.

In the garish fashions of my youth, there were cable-knit and Argyle socks, rainbow stripes and checkerboards. For a while, there was a toe sock craze.

My sister and I assumed that socks made with 10 individual toes, like gloves for the feet, would keep a person warmer than the usual. That didn’t seem to occur, though, with each little piggy off on its own. Also, if you got two toes wedged together down one chute, it was downright painful.

Trips to camp in the winter meant layers of socks. A perfect combination would wick away moisture while also providing good support inside of Sorel or snowmobile boots.

I still have a pair of indestructible Icelandic-style socks my mom got me that I wear only in the winter. Paired with a nice underlayment of fabric and some leg warmers or long johns above, even icy snowdrifts are no match.

Socks have been a traditional go-to gift or stocking stuffer for the Roses. When you have five other siblings and a sometimes limited budget, stockings are a quick solution. Does Mark need new extra heavy duty work socks? Would Ellen like specialty kitty or sci-fi socks?

As the 1980s turned into the 90s and beyond, socks began to recede in size and popularity. I recall laughing at NMU college guys who emulated the “Miami Vice” look so much they’d go without socks in Marquette in the middle of January.

Over the years, my knee-highs morphed into shin and then ankle-length stockings. My mom was once an early morning walker and often sported those shorty Peds inside her sneakers.

Not too many years ago, I believe, they developed the sock that only covers the sole and instep, so the outside world cannot see if you have socks on or not. A company called Invisasox calls itself the “world’s most over-engineered no show sock” and claims to conquer a number of traditional sock and foot issues.

Besides the venerable sock, Karen assures me that the day of panty hose or “nylons” has also passed. I personally hated wearing hosiery back in my office days, but my Conan O’Brien paleness would have traumatized many if I went without.

One of our favorite family anecdotes involves the clever use of crazy socks.

My brother Jim was getting married and had an outfit chosen that was all white, from head to toe, for his midsummer nuptials.

Being the nonconformist that he is, he decided to sneak in a pair of colorful socks to see who might notice. Going down the aisle, all looked well, but when the beloved couple knelt up in front the entire congregation, all could see he was wearing very bold striped socks he’d received as a gift from his fiancee Ann’s grandmother.

The backstory behind that is Jim was a schoolteacher who liked to wear flashy socks to mark Fridays. Ann said she’d never marry him if he pulled off such a caper, but he did it anyway. They are still married today, by the way, marking 43 years in July.

My mother was mortified, of course, but eventually eased up on her first-born son.

So, as we head from pie-making season to “gotta get a new ice scraper” season, do a little sock inventory. Organize your sock drawer on a cool or gloomy day. And, if there’s time, share family sock sagas with your loved ones as well.


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.


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