The Joy of Socks

If anyone had told me that turning into an avid cyclist would also make me fall in love with socks I would have snorted, yeah right! But that is exactly what has happened. I now spend far too much time looking at cycling socks and coveting them. Why this is such a big deal will take some explaining.

I am allergic to my own sweat. If I sweat and it is not soaked up with a towel or wiped away or dried by the air the sweaty area will break out into an itchy red rash. Sometimes at night I will sleep curled up and awaken with a rash in the bend of my elbow or behind my ear. But most of the time it is not a problem except with my feet. I have been blessed with sweaty feet that, when crammed into shoes all day, sweat more than average.

As an adult it is something I have learned to put up with and manage. As a kid, it felt like the end of the world because it was combined with another foot problem—high arches and wide feet. These days finding wide shoes off the shelf is sometimes a challenge but certainly not impossible. I am limited in shoe styles, especially summer sandals, but I can generally find something that meets my standards of cute and comfortable. But when I was a kid, finding shoes wide enough for my feet often meant going to the special shoe store.

To be a shy seven-year-old walking into a shoe store with displays of big clunky orthopedic footwear that looked like something really old people wear is a blow to the self-esteem. Even worse is when you were just at another store and found a pair of cute shoes you really liked but turned out to not be wide enough for your feet and your sister gets the shoes you could not have. At this special shoe store, the goal is to find not cute shoes, but the least ugly.

Then there is the sweat problem. It took a while to figure out what was going on. At last my mom bought me some 100% cotton Buster Brown socks and the rashes disappeared. Except along with with my ugly shoes I now could only wear 100% cotton socks that seemed to only come in white. I hated my feet and by extension, shoes and socks.

Not that anyone else knew why I wore ugly shoes and white cotton socks. It was too embarrassing. I could admit to the wide feet, but the sweat? No way. So I told people I was allergic to nylon and all the other synthetic fibers that the cute socks the other girls got to wear were made out of. No one questioned why it was only my feet that were allergic and not the rest of me. Maybe they figured it out, or maybe they just didn’t care. But I did. As for wool socks, I lived in southern California and wool is a fiber I really am allergic to.

Summer was the best time of year because I could go barefoot or wear flip-flops all the time. I could almost forget about hating my feet when they weren’t being pinched by shoes or encased in damp cotton. It would never last though. When back-to-school time came around my feet returned to prison and I hated them even more.

The years passed and I kept my embarrassing secret. And while it got easier to find shoes, it became more difficult to find socks. But at least when I did find them I could get them in black and even tan as well as white. These days the only place I can buy them is on the internet and they don’t come cheap.

Now and then I would do a test. I’d go to one of those glorious all-socks stores at a mall. The sales people probably all thought I was not quite all there given how much time I would spend deciding on a single pair of socks. Crazy stripes? Ones with toes? Animal print? Oaky, I’ll get these. I’d head for the register, get halfway there, change my mind and turn around to retrieve a different pair.

The test was always performed on a Friday because if my feet broke out I’d have the weekend to be shoeless. I’d put those socks on with such hope in the morning only to be itching by the end of the day, desperate to get home and take them off.

There was a mad, brief time when I first learned how to knit socks that I thought perhaps my problems were solved. I could easily find cotton sock yarn and it even came in a variety of colors and patterns. But there was a fly in that ointment. It took me about two or three months to knit a pair of socks. And, even though sock yarn is thin, it is not thin enough and the socks made my shoes fit tighter and were too warm, making my feet sweat more than usual. Not to mention the knit made it feel like there was always something in my shoe.

However, all was not lost. I moved to a colder climate and the socks that did not work in my shoes kept my feet warm in bed at night. Bed socks! Oh what lovely things you are. While the world might not get to see my socks covered in cat paws prints, I could see them and not hate my feet so much. I might even pretend that I had a secret identity, boring Buster Brown sock girl by day, wild stripes by night.

Unfortunately, one does not need a drawer full of crazy socks for bed. A few will suffice. They also don’t wear out very fast. But at least I had some cute socks even if I could look forward to seeing the same ones for years.

Then one day in the middle of winter I reached for a pair of tan socks to discover they were all dirty. The only tan socks were the bed socks with the paw prints. Do I dare? It wasn’t even a Friday and if my feet broke out I could look forward to the rest of the week being miserable. I dared.

It turned out to be an especially cold day. My feet did not sweat much at all. No rash. And I got to wear cute socks. To make sure it was not an accident, I wore those socks again the following week. Success! The only downside to the success, however, is that it has to be the middle of winter and outdoor temperatures have to be well below freezing. As much as I wanted to rush out and buy some crazy socks, because when you have only ever been able to wear plain black, white, and tan socks your whole life you want crazy, I refrained. No sense filling my drawer with socks I could only wear two months of the a year. Besides, I didn’t want to tempt fate.

Nonetheless, it finally felt like my feet and I had made a truce. The terms were strict but I was not doomed to buying large quantities of Buster Brown socks every few years and hoarding them against the day I could no longer find them on the internet. I still have to hoard those cotton socks, but there is less desperation, embarrassment and anger locked up in it.

My feet and I kept the peace pretty well until I began bicycling regularly.

I managed to find some white cotton athletic socks that fell just below my ankle. Thicker than I would like but comfortable and utilitarian. It was spring, and I would return from a long ride with uncomfortably damp socks but no rashes. That was just how it was going to be.

A local bike shop hosted women-only group rides. I went. One of the women wore socks with Godzilla on them. I was instantly jealous. I wanted her socks so badly. Briefly I imagined pushing her over and while she struggled to get out and up from under her bike, I would rip her shoes off, take her socks and pedal away from everyone as fast as I could. They would all be too stunned to come after me. Granted, I would never be able to go on another group ride with them again, but I was willing to make that sacrifice. I did not carry out my wild plan because the socks were not cotton.

As the spring and summer progressed, I rode more often and for longer distances. I’d return home to find my cotton socks had gone from damp to wet. The last straw was after a sixty-mile ride on a particularly hot and humid day. I had to peel my socks off my feet. They were so wet from sweat I squeezed them and they dripped. This was not working. While I hadn’t gotten any rashes, I didn’t trust that at some point I wouldn’t.

I went to my favorite online cycling apparel store and looked at every single one of their socks. I examined fiber content, and read reviews. Except for some winter wool socks, everything was synthetic. I narrowed my choices down to a few that touted the “moisture wicking technology” used to create the sock fibers. I bought the least expensive pair. They still cost me seven dollars plus another few dollars for shipping. If they worked it would be worth it. I wasn’t sure they would work, but I had to try.

The socks arrived. The day of the test I slipped them on. Oh, they are so thin. And soft. They felt nice. When I put my bike shoes on, my feet had room; a relief since as the weather had grown hotter, my feet would swell and my shoes became perilously tight. Part of me hoped. The other part of me said knock it off, you’re going to be disappointed. Away I rode.

Back at home hot and sweaty several hours later, I pulled off my shoes. They were surprisingly easier to get off because my feet had not swollen into every nook and cranny. And the socks? Damp, but not soaking wet. I pulled them off. My feet were not prune-y, they actually looked happy. No rash. Still, I couldn’t trust one would not develop in a few hours.

Showered and walking around barefoot the rest of the day, I kept an eye on my feet. No rash. When I woke the next morning one of the first things I did was examine my feet. No rash. I wanted to cry, I was so happy.

Just in case it was a fluke I wore the socks again on my next long ride. I remained rash free. Me and my feet were clearly pleased about this new development.

A couple weeks later I was at a local bike shop and bought another pair of cycling socks. Experience says these new socks could be a disaster since they were not the same as the ones I had. I wore them and was rash-free. Emboldened, when the online cycling store sent an email advertising all their socks on sale, I bought a pair of green argyle-like socks and a three-pack of plain black ones. I’ve worn them all several times, had sweaty feet, and no rash. Oh socks, how I do love you!

Still life with cycling socks

Still life with cycling socks

Now I am obsessed with cycling socks. There is a pair of polka dot socks I want. Some with flames on them. Stripes! Biker chick socks. Sharks, unicorns, bicycles, flowers, pirate skulls, bright orange, bright yellow, blinding blue. Yes please. But like most other things in cycling, socks can be pricey. Though compared to shorts or a jersey they are a bargain. Nonetheless, a sock buying binge would set me back a few dollars. So I look and I covet and I will treat myself every so often.

I’ve got six pairs of socks now, just enough for me to be able to ride six days a week. A girl should have at least seven pairs of socks in case she wants to ride every day of the week. And some spares. Working on it.

It dawned on me recently that if I can wear cycling socks for six hours and get hot and sweaty without a rash, I just might be able to wear them to work now and then too. I need the socks more for cycling than I do for work so I won’t be able to try this until I have more socks. I am optimistic at last and don’t feel like I am setting myself up for disappointment.

The happy side effect of my new sock love is the end of my foot hatred. What seemed akin to betrayal is developing into a sort of friendship. Instead of hating my feet for being wide and sweaty, I can now appreciate them and all they do for me. I ask them to work hard and they do. They get me where I want to go and are instrumental in cycling adventures. We can work as a team instead of opponents. There’s no telling what we might do or where we might go.

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18 thoughts on “The Joy of Socks

  1. Wonderful essay! I loved how you took a pair of socks and turned into a funny-serious write up! I have a wide feet, to got with a wide body, so I know your pain! However I am glad you have these amazing new cycling socks …I especially love the Pirate Skull variety!
    p.s. Gorilla Socks!!! You should have thrown her over and gotten them off!

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    • cirtnecce, thanks! Bodies aren’t one-size-fits-all and it can be so frustrating to live a world of mass-produced items in which part or all of your body falls outside the factory “standard.” I am so happy about finding cycling socks. And yeah, pirate skulls! It is going to be so hard to choose my next pair!

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  2. Ever since Dumbledore declared socks to be a mighty fine Christmas present, everyone I know has come out for or against them. I myself am against socks. I hate them and wear them only if there is no other choice (e.g. if there is snow on the ground).
    So glad that you have finally been able to get some you like, though.

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  3. I love socks! I am often tempted to buy new socks just because I want some new pretty socks – they can be colourful, or plain and textured, subtle or bright. BUT they must be cotton (or mostly cotton) or, as I’ve now discovered, that gorgeous bamboo. How I love bamboo.

    Because, you see, dear Stefanie, I too am allergic to moisture, though I’ve never actually described it that way. What I say is I cannot tolerate humidity. I will avoid humid places like the plague. Fortunately, I’m not a very sweaty person, but I can be in a humid place for only half an hour or so and as soon as my skin gets damp it starts to itch, get red, and itch some more. Drives you batty eh? I am therefore quite pathological about the idea of humidity. No Japanese hot baths or Swedish saunas for me. Might do some people’s skins good, but not mine.

    And, when I sleep, I sleep with the pillow jammed right into my neck so one part of the neck doesn’t touch another. I too get red and itchy in the elbows, and behind the knees. Fortunately, we have a dry climate so I am usually alright here but it doesn’t take much to shift the balance – and then it’s sleeping with arms and legs straight, or sheets tucked in the bends.

    In other words, I loved your essay.

    (PS I had so-called weak ankles when I was young. I had to wear orthopedic style style shoes through most of my childhood. I know your pain.)

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    • whisperinggums, where do you find all your socks at? The US is a cotton sock desert and I have never seen bamboo socks. I do have bamboo sock yarn though so one of these days I’ll get around to knitting a pair.

      It sounds like your allergy is worse than mine. I can tolerate humidity as long as it doesn’t get trapped in nooks and crannies. But it doesn’t take much trapped moisture to make a problem. It was -18C the other day and my hands sweated a little in my mittens and now I have a little rash on my thumbs! We are such delicate flowers, you and I! Good thing you live in a relatively dry climate. You would not be happy in Minnesota summers when it gets humid.

      And you poor ankles when you were a kid! I hope you are now able to have a beautiful collection of shoes 🙂

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      • Yes, no, you are right, I couldn’t live in Minnesota in summer. My skin is not very happy with dry cold either – my hands start to crack. Canberra winters are barely tolerable. This is all partly why I loved SoCal as the best climate for my skin seems to be Mediterranean. Hot dry summers, mild wet (well, not cold, dry) winters. Your reaction to moisture sounds bad enough, however – and I feel your pain. As for shoes, to continue the whinge, no, I don’t have a beautiful collection of shoes. The problem hasn’t gone away, it’s just that the cause was wrong – not eat ankles but badly aligned legs resulting is bad pronation, resulting in ankles that rolled easily and feet that get sore very quickly. So, now it’s still flat sensible shoes but with orthotics. I can get away with Mary Janes so I have a nice collection of them!! But enough … of that …

        My Mum would say don’t knit bamboo socks, or at least, she’s tried and it wasn’t successful. (They were very slippery and stretchy). I’ve bought bamboo in natural clothing stores. Here is one site that sells them: https://bamboovillage.com.au/products/bamboo-business-socks-everyday-wear.html We can get cotton socks pretty easily here. They are often blends but I can usually find 85-95% cotton socks in Department stores here, and I do have some 100% ones too.

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        • You’d be happy in Minnesota in spring and fall, doomed in summer and winter. I wouldn’t advocate moving to SoCal on a permanent basis because of the drought and earthquakes. Maybe Italy? 🙂 Those bamboo socks are lovely, and so many colors! I’ve got the bamboo yarn already so I’ll them up sometime. I think it have a bit of spandex or something in it, I don’t recall it being especially slippery, but then I bought about five years ago so who knows?

          Mary Janes! I love them! They are a style that work well with wide feet 🙂 Those and loafers which are not in style at the moment making them impossible to find so I am in the process of wearing my current pair until they fall apart. 🙂

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  4. This essay is a thing of beauty. I was hanging on every word, wondering where this was going and following you around all those stores in search of the perfect sock. Only one thing missing – the photos!!! I want to see you wearing those cats paws

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  5. I now feel so lucky to have no sock/feet problems! I thought that when you mentioned previously that your next essay was going to be about socks – it meant you had the same problem I have – a sock eating washing machine! Well where else are they disappearing to?

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    • piningforthewest, if you are without feet problems you are indeed lucky! My dryer will sometimes eat a sock but it is a rare thing and it is usually my husband’s socks! Washer or dryer, it is a mystery where they could possibly disappear to!

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  6. Oh, I love this essay, Stefanie. I love this more because my feet are wide, and my sister gets the best footwear all the time. 🙂 And, I am a cyclist too; I find inspiration in your posts. All the time again. 🙂 Thank you for writing this. I am glad you found the right pair of socks.

    “What seemed akin to betrayal is developing into a sort of friendship.” — What a beautiful sentence! 🙂

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  7. I’m not the only one! I also have wide feet and LOVE crazy socks. Just last week I was on a mission to find neon yellow socks – I don’t know how that idea got in my head and I didn’t stop looking until I found them. I’m glad you found yours!

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