People consider shopping to be an easy task. However, it is not child’s play. You need to conduct a proper and thorough before buying anything- be it as significant as a closet or as minute as socks.
The importance of a good and qualitative sock is often overlooked. But in reality, socks play a crucial role in determining the overall comfort level of the shoes as well as the hygiene factor of your feet.
Several types of sock materials are available in the market that serves varying purposes. Three of the most prominent sock materials are acrylic, wool, and synthetic. These materials are considered to be supreme in terms of comfort and texture. However, if you have to choose one, you must get detailed information about all three to make an informed decision.
History of Socks
Before we get to the three types of socks, let us look at the history of socks.
The word “sock” is derived from the Old English word “socc” which means light slipper. Furthermore, it comes from the Latin word “soccus” meaning “light and low-heeled shoe.” Typically, it was worn by Roman actors. In actuality, the word goes back to the Ancient Greek word “skychos.”
Socks have seen a significant change and evolution over the years. In the early times, they were made from animal skins and tied around the ankles. As sock construction and manufacturing were cumbersome and time-consuming, it was exclusive to the rich and wealthy. The poor people used footwraps or simple clothing material around their feet.
In Ancient Greek, the people wore socks named “piloi” in the 8th century B.C. Typically, they were made from matted animal hair.
The Romans wore leather fabrics around their feet named “udones.” The Europeans wore “puttees” in the 5th century A.D. It was used to symbolize purity.
With the advent of time, especially in the Middle Ages, the trousers were lengthy, and the socks were a bright-coloured cloth covering the lower leg. They did not have an elastic band to hold the socks in place. Thus, they were tucked in under a stocking for a secured fit.
Soon, they were considered to be a sign of wealth and nobility. In 1589, knitting machines were invented. This pushed the sock industry as it could knit the socks six times faster than hand. This went on till 1800.
In 1983, nylon was discovered and people started making nylon socks along with cotton, silk, wool, synthetic, acrylic socks, etc.
Choosing Between Acrylic, Wool, and Synthetic Socks
As wool, synthetic, and acrylic are three different types of material, their texture, breathability, durability, and other such factors are modified.
Let us have a brief introduction before delving into a deeper discussion.
Acrylic fiber is made up of acrylonitrile and comonomer. The comonomer is inculcated to enhance the dyeability of the fabric as well as the textile processability. Generally, it is produced through two different techniques: wet spinning and dry spinning.
Wool fiber is obtained from animals like sheep. It also includes other materials like cashmere and mohair from goats, fur and hides from bison, quivit from muskoxen, angora from rabbits, etc. Basically, it consists of protein with a minute percentage of lipids.
Synthetic fiber has a raw material construction, consisting of petroleum or other petrochemicals. These materials are polymerized into a long chemical with varying chemical compounds. Furthermore, this is used to produce different types of fibers.
As mentioned earlier, acrylic socks are made of acrylic fiber consisting of acrylonitrile and comonomer. It was developed by DuPont company in the early 1940s and started producing on a large scale post-1950s. Such a fabric is found in a sweater, furniture fabrics, jackets, socks, etc.
Acrylic socks have high breathability and carry the ability to wick away moisture and sweat. In comparison to cotton, it does not stretch out much over time, thereby promising durability.
With acrylic socks, you get a snug fit to avoid chaffing or any markings on the skin. As it has specific fiber technology construction, you can wear such socks for a long period without any discomfort.
Such fibers are light in weight and easy to clean and wash. Moreover, acrylic is three times more absorbent than cotton. Such a feature allows the socks to absorb any excess moisture and sweat and keeps your feet healthy and dry.
Where to wear Acrylic Socks?
As acrylic socks have high breathability and moisture-wicking technology, they can be worn in humid areas. People prefer wearing it while they exercise or workout. It is a highly absorbing material, making it easy to keep the feet dry and hygienic.
Moreover, they can be used in winters too as they will keep your feet warm.
So, if you are going to be on your feet all day or have an active schedule, it is better to opt for acrylic socks. You can wear them while playing a variety of sports like golf, tennis, basketball, etc.
What we love (Benefits):
- Absorbent and Breathable
- Features moisture-wicking capabilities
- They are inexpensive and easy to find.
- Easy to wash and does not lose its shape or quality.
- The color remains intact and fails to fall dull.
- They are wrinkle-resistant.
- It can be used in all seasons.
Keep in mind (Drawbacks):
- They might not be entirely comfortable.
- They are not eco-friendly.
- It loses insulation on absorbing water.
Wool fiber is obtained from animals like sheep. It has been around for centuries, dating back to 9000 B.C.
In the present times, most wool socks are made from merino wool. It is manufactured by dipping the wool fibers in polymers. This reduces the possibility of garment shrinkage.
Merino wool socks have successfully replaced traditional wool socks that were extraordinarily scratchy and uncomfortable. Merino wool is obtained from Merino sheep that are seen in Spain, Australia, and New Zealand.
Such wool socks are thermostatic in nature. In other words, your feet will stay comfortable in all weather conditions, regardless of the changing temperatures.
Wool has the tendency of absorbing its weight in water to a certain extent. This allows you to keep your feet dry and fresh. They have antibacterial properties, thereby keeping your feet clean and hygienic. It eliminates odor-causing bacteria so that you do not have to deal with foot odor.
Where to wear Wool Socks?
As wool can hold 30% of its weight in moisture, you can wear them in cold regions. People prefer wearing them in winters to keep their feet dry even while they are stepped in snow.
If you are on your feet all day or you suffer from sweaty feet, wool can absorb the moisture and keep your feet dry.
Even though they are associated with cold weather, wool socks can provide insulation throughout the year.
What we love (Benefits):
- They are more comfortable than acrylic socks.
- These socks can keep your feet dry in the snow.
- They provide excellent insulation in all weather conditions.
- As they are highly absorbent, your feet are kept dry and fresh.
- Their anti-bacterial properties keep the odor away.
Keep in mind (Drawbacks):
- Wool socks can be an expensive option.
- They could be itchy for some people.
- They have a slow drying process.
Lastly, synthetic socks are made from artificial synthetic fibers created through chemical synthesis. Fibers like nylon, rayon, and polyester are used in the said synthesis.
It was first created in the 1880s by an English chemist who went by the name Joseph Swan. It is believed that he extracted from a cellulose liquid. Furthermore, it chemically formed the fiber found in the tree bark and modified it.
Nylon was the first fully synthetic fiber produced by DuPont company in the 1930s. Before that, synthetic fibers were obtained from wood.
Once nylon was produced, synthetic was manufactured soon after.
Even though acrylic is a synthetic fiber, several types of synthetic socks are available in the market.
Where to wear Synthetic Socks?
Synthetic socks have extensive durability and resistibility. They retain their shape regardless of the agile and constant movements. Thus, they are used by sportspersons.
Moreover, they do not retain the moisture, making them useful in wet regions like snow.
Synthetic socks can work well while undergoing physical activities like cycling.
They are also valuable for colder temperatures. Lastly, they work as therapeutic socks like diabetes or compression socks.
What we love (Benefits):
- Synthetic socks have high durability.
- They provide better ankle and arch support.
- They are not expensive.
- You get a snug fit.
- Your feet remain dry and fresh.
Keep in mind (Drawbacks):
- They aren’t versatile enough to be used in all kinds of weather conditions.
- They might lose insulation on getting wet.
- As they are artificially made, they are not eco-friendly.
Are Arcylic socks Warmer than Wool?
More often than not, questions are raised between the insulation provided by wool and synthetic socks. People consider acrylic socks to offer more warmth than wool. But is that the correct scenario? Let us find out.
As mentioned earlier, wool is a natural fabric obtained from animals like sheep. On the other hand, synthetic fibers are man-made with chemicals synthesis.
Both the materials carry the ability to provide warmth in colder regions. This is the reason why woolen clothes are extensively used in winters while synthetic fibers are utilized to make jackets and sweaters.
However, it must be noted that woolen socks stay insulated throughout usage in all weather conditions. Synthetic socks might lose their insulation if the socks get wet. This can compromise the warmth provided to your feet.
So, it can be concluded that even though synthetic socks can be used to protect your feet from cold, they are not warmer than wool socks.
If you live in a cold region where it snows frequently, you must get woolen socks. If not, synthetic socks can undoubtedly do the trick.
What is the Best Sock Material For Sweaty Feet?
As feet stay covered with socks for a long period, they might perspire after a point. Such a situation can get aggravated in a humid climate or with rigorous foot movements.
So, if your work requires you to stay on your feet all day, or you work in a hot region, or you tend to sweat more, you must wear acrylic or cotton socks.
Acrylic socks have moisture-wicking capabilities that can keep your feet dry and fresh. Cotton socks are a good alternative as they are light in weight. Such a material prevents any sweat accumulation and keeps your feet dry and hygienic. Moreover, it has anti-microbial properties that prevent any bacteria build-up. This allows you to keep the feet’ odor at bay.
Even though socks might seem like a minute and insignificant part of your overall outfit, they hold great importance. Not only do they protect your feet from blisters from wearing the shoes all day, but they also keep your feet clean and dry.
It is often perceived that socks have a simplistic design, and there are no variations except for the material and colors. However, there are several types of sock styles that can change your overall look.
Thigh High socks
As the name suggests, thigh-high socks extend up to the thigh. They have an elastic at the top to secure them in place.
These tall socks are considered to be a fashion statement and widely worn by women. These stylish socks are worn can be worn in all seasons, but women prefer wearing them in autumn. They are often paired with a skirt.
Over the Knees socks
Over-the-knees socks are another alternative for tall socks that are paired with boots. They keep you warm in winters, but you can also wear them around the year.
They are heavier than regular socks. Typically, they use spandex to prevent the socks from falling down. Both men and women wear them. You can see lacrosse players wearing these socks.
Also known as trouser socks, mid-calf socks are used by men as well as women. They keep the feet warm and can be worn inside shoes, sneakers, loaders, etc.
These types of socks are considered to be the best socks for formal occasions. They are thin and light in weight to avoid any accumulation of sweat or bruises on the skin.
Crew socks up till the middle of the calf. They are ideal for formal meetings or interviews. You can also use such socks for outdoor activities like hiking as they are thick and have moisture-wicking properties.
Toe socks are the socks that cover each toe individually. They are knitted in such a way that the toes are encased separately. Due to such a construction, they are also known as glove socks, finger socks, 5-toe socks, digital socks, etc.
They are used in yoga and are worn by men and women.
Lastly, no-show socks allow you to keep your shoes in highlight by subtly hiding the socks in your shoes. In this way, you can get the comfort of socks while also keeping your boots in the limelight.
They are worn on all kinds of occasions- casual, party, business, etc.
Other Sock Material
Besides acrylic, wool, and synthetic, several other sock materials are prominent and appreciated by a significant amount of people. The following are such sock materials that can help you get your desired material:
Bamboo socks are made from bamboo fibers extracted from the plant. As bamboo is hypoallergenic, the socks are anti-microbial and a hygienic alternative.
Such socks are softer and more breathable than cotton. The texture is similar to silk or cashmere.
Bamboo socks are the best alternative for people with sweaty feet. The hollow structure allows more breathability than cotton socks. It has moisture-wicking technology and absorbing properties that keep your feet dry and fresh.
Due to such properties, they might be more expensive than other sock materials.
Cashmere is obtained from the hair of cashmere goat. It is a lightweight material that provides natural insulation.
It is considered to be a luxurious fiber due to its texture. Due to such properties, it is an expensive sock material.
Cotton is one of the most common types of sock material. They are lightweight and durable in nature. Due to their breezy fabric, they are breathable and have moisture-absorbing capabilities. In other words, your feet are kept dry and fresh.
Some cotton socks have a nylon blend for more durability.
Fleece or Polar fleece is a soft-napped fabric made from polyester. It is highly insulated. As such material is partially made from plastic bottles, it is easy to wash. The socks made with fleece fabric are more stretchable.
Ingeo fabric is the first artificial fiber created from a renewable resource. It combines the durability of synthetic fiber and the texture of natural material. The socks made with such a fiber are durable, comfortable, and provide a snug fit.
Polyester is a warm and soft fabric that is used to manufacture comfortable socks. They have moisture-wicky properties along with fast-drying technology. As polyester is not an expensive fabric, such socks are widely accepted and used.
CoolMax fabric keeps moisture away from the socks, allowing you to keep your feet dry and fresh. These socks are helpful on cold days or in winters as it keeps the feet warm and comfortable.
Silk is obtained from the cocoon material of unique caterpillars. It is soft and textured. This moisture-absorbing fiber has high durability. It does not conduct heat.
Socks aren’t an insignificant purchase, and the materials and types play an important in fulfilling their desired purpose. When it comes to the comparison between acrylic, wool, and synthetic socks, as these three fabrics have varying properties, you can use them all as per the situation.
Consider the weather conditions and comfort while looking for socks and choose the one that suits you the best.
Brandon R. Katz is a registered professional nurse who has been instrumental in providing us with an informed opinion on the medical aspects of footwear. He graduated from NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and currently provides his services at a non-federal long-term care hospital in Brooklyn, NY.
Brandon proves to be the champion in the group of expert writers with his in-depth knowledge in foot health, how to take care of it adequately, and what shoes, socks, or insoles will be supreme for you. He has previously worked with hospitals where he has foreseen both inpatient and outpatient departments and has been a practicing nurse since 2009.
Brandon hails from Jersey City, NY, and has a loving family of four with a small popper called Rozo. His decision to become a nurse arises from the desire to be in the position of helping and rehabilitating people.