Historically white socks have been heralded as a stylish accessory (at Comme des Garçons) and mocked, in equal measure, as the ultimate in uncool dressing. They garnered great popularity on the feet of dance legend Michael Jackson, and perform holier duties as the Catholic Pope’s assigned foot-warmers (white being the "purest" of colours). This month, artist Dan Rees is celebrating white socks in a section of his exhibition In the Ghetto it Gets Cold But We’ve Got Something To Warm Our Soles in collaboration with photographer and AnOther Magazine contributor Michael Hemy.
Worn (knee-high) as a standard part of British schoolgirls’ uniform from the late 19th century onwards, white socks didn’t make their sartorial mark until the 1940s and 50s, when white ankle socks (worn with anything from heels to sandals) reigned supreme. The fad began in America, home of the famous "Sock Hops": the high school dances whereby students would abandon their shoes and dance in their socks. Many of the Jazz musicians of the time also sported the look – memorably Louis Armstrong – teaming polished black loafers and slouchy white socks.
"It was Michael Jackson who proved the most influential of all white sock trendsetters when he emerged, newly styled, in the iconic black tux, black loafer, white sock combo"
In the 1960s, England's (motorbike riding) Rockers uniformly donned white socks rolled over the top of their black boots and paired with jeans and leather jackets a la James Dean. But it was Michael Jackson who proved the most influential of all white sock trendsetters when he emerged, newly styled, in the iconic black tux, black loafer, white sock combo for the 1979 release of Off the Wall. Jackson once mused, “ I admit I love starting trends, but I never thought wearing white socks would catch on. Not too long ago it was considered extremely square to wear them...but I never stopped. My brothers would call me a dip, but I didn’t care…and now it’s cool again!”.
Dan Rees' and Michael Hemy's recent white sock-inspired work, shown here, is inspired by the well-documented mass purchasing of white socks from Asda in the small Welsh industrial town Merthyr Tydfil in 2003 (73,000 pairs within one year to a population of 55,000).
In the Ghetto it Gets Cold But We’ve Got Something To Warm Our Soles is currently showing at Baronian Francey, Brussels and runs until May 19.
Text by Daisy Woodward