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Socks—Fashion from the Ground Up

Japanese Trend Gives Rise to Global Boom

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Extremely popular pairing of lace socks with sandals for summer

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No sign that the craze for lace is fading even in the fall ...

Say, "fashion starts with the feet," and most people will probably think of shoes. But in the context of Japan’s new fashion, this now refers to socks. Socks may have played a backseat role so far, but they have been promoted to the starring role in coordinated fashion.

Until recently, summers meant bare feet in sandals—this was the coolest style. But wearing shoes with bare feet during Japan's hot, humid summers is not very comfortable.

A New Fashion Trend for Socks in JapanPerhaps in response to such comfort issues, this year many fashion magazines in particular featured outfits pairing sandals with socks. This combination of socks and sandals used to be seen as dowdy and unrefined, but now followers of this trend are on the leading edge of fashion. This summer white lace ankle socks worn with sandals, a very feminine and nostalgic look, was in style, but now that the season has turned to fall, more people are pairing socks with heels and boots.

For example, women are coordinating socks that go above the knee with mini-skirts and high heels—a grown-up look. Others are playing around with incongruous pairings like cute, frilly black socks together with tough-looking lace-up boots. People who like a more natural style look relaxed wearing soft, organic cotton socks that cover the ankles loosely, paired with comfortable shoes that are good for the feet. Japanese women are incorporating socks into all of their favorite fashions and playing around with different combinations.


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Somewhat grown-up look achieved by combining socks extending above the knee with high heels

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Playful mismatch of tough-looking lace-up boots with lace socks has a sweet appeal all of its own


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Loose socks that swept the world in the 1990s (Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun)

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High School Girls Created Boom in Socks in the 1990sThere was a tendency to think that wearing socks makes legs unattractive, but young girls on the cutting edge of fashion took a surprising tactic. Many asserted that wearing socks actually draws attention away from the shape of their legs, so they can use them to hide their leg complexes.

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Left: Cotton socks with comfortable shoes have a natural feel
Right: Polka dot socks can play a central role in coordinating various outfits

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Japanese socks create their own success in balancing elaborate designs with comfort

Indeed, their ability to conceal legs was one reason behind the dramatic popularity of the loose socks similar to leg warmers among high school girls in the 1990s. In this unique style, baggy socks made of thick cotton were paired with short school uniform skirts. This boom has ended, but it is not surprising that the girls who went through this unprecedented craze for pairing school uniforms with socks would feel an affinity for socks and continue to see the fashion potential for socks.


Manufacturing Techniques That Support the BoomLace with lamé, patterns like polka dot, border stripe and argyle, ribbed or jacquard textile, mesh or thin, see-through fabric … the specialty sock stores that are springing up now offer a surprisingly wide array of socks. Not only are the designs rich and varied, but they are also very comfortable. Japan's uncompromising technical strengths are evident throughout, from the selection of the yarns to the crafting technique. There are stores directly run by factories with specialized sock-sewing equipment, enabling them to immediately incorporate customers' requests in their designs and quickly adapt to changing trends.

A growing number of stores run by Japanese specialty sock sellers have now started operations in foreign countries. Japanese women's insatiable enthusiasm for fashion and the strong technical skills evidenced in Japan's manufacturing: the combination of these two trends means Japan's sock fashions will undoubtedly give rise to a global boom in the near future. (October 2011)

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