Socks: Between You and Your Shoes - Now Closed

What could be cosier than slipping into a pair of hand-knit socks? What about pair of warm woven grass socks or shimmery silk ones? For thousands of years, people around the world have sought to separate themselves from their shoes with all manner of socks.  Some are humble, some are splendid but all were created to make us more comfortable as we walk through life.

Socks: Between You and Your Shoes will take visitors on a fascinating journey exploring the history of hosiery from around the world.

Replica of Ötzi man’s shoe, 2002
When the 5,300 year old Ötzi man’s body was found in the Alps in 1991, not only had his body been preserved but so had his clothing, including his shoes and “socks”. The socks were really bunches of grass that Ötzi had stuffed into his shoes. Dr. Petr Hlavacek, the Czech researcher who worked on the Ötzi man’s shoes, made this replica for himself to see how well the shoe and grass functioned. After hiking in his replica shoes, Hlavacek said that the grass worked very well as an insulator and wicked moisture away from his feet. Grass has been used by many different peoples around the world either simply stuffed into their shoes or intricately woven into socks.
Photo credit: © 2010 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Possibly Spanish, 17th century
Knitting was introduced into Europe by the Moors who ruled Spain from the 8th to the 15th centuries. Finely knit silk stockings became a highly desirable Spanish specialty. Queen Elizabeth is said to have declared that she would never again wear linen hose after trying on a pair of Spanish silk stockings. This pair of hand-knit silk stockings is probably Spanish and was made to be worn by a very wealthy child. The stockings were made using silk threads that had been dyed red, which was the most expensive dye in the 17th century. The use of silver and gold gilt thread also suggests that the wearer was well off.
Photo credit: © 2010 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Croatia, 19th century
In many Balkan countries, sock knitting was historically a highly valued female skill and beautifully made socks were an important element of regional dress. This pair of Croatian men’s socks from Grlici is a perfect example of just how splendid socks could be. The part of the sock that covers the foot is hand-knit, the shaft is made of heavy wool fabric that has been covered with intricate embroidery and embellished with both metal and fabric sequins. These socks would have been worn with knee length pants that allowed the decorative shafts to be seen.
Photo credit: © 2010 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada.

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