Thursday 29 June 2023

Socks and Ankle Socks


Socks are not something that often appear in works on seventeenth century clothing, but they do appear quite often in the accounts and inventories of the middling sort and the gentry. Likewise there are few illustrations of socks, except for Marcellus Laroon’s Holland Sock Seller in his 1680s Hawkers and Criers of London. (Figure 1)

What were socks?

Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary defines a sock as simply “Something put between the foot and shoe.” (1) The OED has “A short stocking covering the foot and usually reaching to the calf of the leg”, but it also gives the option of “A covering for the foot, of the nature of a light shoe, slipper, or pump.” A lot depends on context, if something is described as of linen or thread, or knitted, then they are not shoes. The term ankle sock first appears in James Master’s accounts in 1647 when he purchases “3 pa of threed ancle socks” (2 p. 168)

Marcellus Laroon. 4 paire for a shilling Holland socks



How were they worn?

The Cunningtons considered that “Socks were worn in addition to stockings, possible with stirrup hose and probably as a protection to the stockings.” (3 p. 63) This seems perfectly logical. James Master frequently buys socks and stirrup hose together, for example in 1663 he pays “for a pa of wool stirrop hose & ancle socks 3s” (4 p. 115), and a few years earlier in 1652 he paid “for knitting 2 pa of stirrup hose and 2 pa of socks 7s 6d” (2 p. 204) Stirrup hose were stockings without feet having simply a stirrup to go under the foot. Pepys indicates that socks were worn at the same time as stockings when he writes that he spent, “too long bare-legged yesterday morning when I rose while I looked out fresh socks and thread stockings, yesterday’s having in the night, lying near the window, been covered with snow within the window, which made me I durst not put them on.” (5 p. March 1667) They were also worn when playing sports. Charles I bought socks in bulk, “27 pairs of socks for tennis and balloowne £4 1s 0d” (6 p. 89) Charles II had one Robert Long who “attended your Matie at which tyme, your Matie did also confirme on him the keepeing of your Tennis Shoos and Anckle Socks.” (7)


What were they made from?

They could be of fabric, usually linen or a mixed fabric such as fustian. In 1625 the Howard Accounts have “2 yards of fustian to make my Lady socks 2s.” (8 p. 225) In 1641 the Seymour family purchased several ells of holland for making shirts, smocks and for “sockes for my ladie Francis and my lady Mary.” (9 p. 18) They were also frequently knitted. In 1645 the Tawstock Accounts have “paid Eliz: Umbles for knitting my Lord's socks 2s” (10 p. 63), and in 1620 the Howard Accounts have “2 pair of knitt socks for my lady 16d” (8 p. 124) These knit stockings are usually described as worsted or thread. As Rutt has noted smooth, tightly spun worsted wool became used a general term for any sheep based knitting yarn. (11 p. 233) It appears in accounts for example in 1650 as “6 pairs of worsted socks for his Lordship 12s” where the fact that they are knit is assumed. (10 p. 156) Thread yarn, was linen, or later, cotton yarn. James Master buys many pairs of linen socks, which are fabric, but if they are knit they are thread  socks, for example, “for 3 pa of threed ancle socks 4s 6d” (2 p. 168)


How much did they cost?

In 1605 Sir William Fitzwilliam paid sixpence for a dozen pair, so a halfpenny each. (12 p. 388) By 1646 James Master was paying sixpence each for linen socks (2 p. 163) In 1661 Giles Moore, rector of Horsted Keynes paid “For 6 paire of course socks bought at London 2s” fourpence a pair, but he also bought two finer pair for sixpence each. (13 p. 27) Marcellus Laroon’s Holland sock seller is selling then at four pair for a shilling, which works out at three pence a pair. (14 p. 162)


Where could you obtain them?


As well as Laroon’s street seller, mercers and haberdashers also stocked them. In 1665 the Lincoln mercer Benjamin Marshall had nine pair in stock at four pence half penny each, and in the same city in 1679 haberdasher Henry Mitchell had seventeen pairs in stock at four pence each. (15 p. 18 & 59) You could also have them made for you. In 1665 Giles Moore records “Giv'n Elizabeth Pocock 6s For to buy & make Mee 12 paire of socks which shee accordingly made & sent.” These were probably linen socks as Elizabeth Pocock is also recorded making Moore’s bands and cuffs. As previously mentioned, you could also have them knitted for you.


Who wore them?

They do not appear in the probate inventories of lower-class people. They start to appear in the records of the middling sort, people like the rector Giles Moore, Samuel Pepys, and John Willoughby of Leyhill, who was the son of a prosperous clothier. (16 p. 261) Socially above these they appear in the accounts on many esquires and gentlemen, like James Master, and Sir William Fitzwilliam. At these levels of society, and above, silk stockings would often be worn. These silk stockings could cost over a pound, and the cheap socks could be worn over them to prevent the foot of the silk stocking wearing out as it rubbed against the leather of the shoe. By the time you get to level of royalty they seem to be restricted to use as tennis socks, one assumes kings did not worry about their silk stockings wearing out.



1. Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language. [Online] 1755. [Cited: Jun 28, 2023.]

2. Robertson, S. The expense Book of James Master 1646-1676 [Part 1, 1646-1655], transcribed by Mrs Dallison. Archaeologia Cantiana. 1883, Vol. 15, 152-216, pp. 152-216.

3. Cunnington, C. Willett and Cunnington, Phillis. Handbook of English costume in the 17th century. 3rd ed. London : Faber, 1972.

4. Robertson, S. The expense Book of James Master 1646-1676 [Part 4, 1663-1676], transcribed by Mrs Dallison. Archaeologia Cantiana. 1889, pp. 114-168.

5. Pepys, Samuel. Diary. [Online] [Cited: June 28, 2023.]

6. Strong, Roy. Charles I's clothes for the years 1633-1635. Costume. 1980, Vol. 14, pp. 73-89.

7. State Papers Domestic . Charles II, SP 29/2, f. 22. 1660.

8. Ornsby, G. ed. Selections from the Household Books of the Lord William Howard of Naworth Castle. Publications of the Surtees Society. 1878, Vol. 68.

9. Morgan, F. C. Private Purse Accounts of the Marquis of Hertford, Michaelmas 1641-2. Antiquaries Journal. 1945, Vols. 25, 12-42, pp. 12-42.

10. Gray, Todd. Devon Household Accounts 1627-59. Part 2 . Exeter : Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol. 39, 1996.

11. Rutt, Richard. A history of hand knitting. London : Batsford, 1987.

12. Harland, John (ed.). The House and Farm Accounts of the Shuttleworths ...1582-1621, Part 1. Lancaster : Chetham Society, 1856.

13. Bird, Ruth, ed. The Journal of Giles Moore of Horsted Keynes, 1655-1679. Lewes : Sussex Record Society, 1971.

14. Shesgreen, Sean. The Criers and Hawkers of London, engravings and drawings by Marcellus Laroon. Aldershot : Scholar Press, 1990.

15. Johnston, J. A. Probate inventories of Lincoln citizens 1661-1714. Woodbridge : Boydell, for the Lincoln Record Society, 1991.

16. Gray, Todd. Devon Household Accounts 1627-59. Part 1. Exeter : Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol. 38, 1995.



Sunday 18 June 2023