The Renais-socks: the great comeback of the humble sock

Scarlett Conlon
·5-min read
Photo credit: Claudio Lavenia
Photo credit: Claudio Lavenia

Many a portmanteau has been coined on planet fashion over the last 12 months of lockdown – see sadwear, gorpcore and a particular favourite, the pant-demic. Yet one has been sorely overlooked: The Renais-socks – that is until now.

It refers to, of course, the great comeback of the humble sock which, if you have been paying close attention to peoples’ ankles of late, you will have noticed is humble no more.

What may have started as comfy slipper substitutes over the course of early lockdowns (that made padding from our kitchen tables to the toilet and back again feel a bit more Nancy Meyers rom-com than Groundhog Day), has since swung into a trend to be reckoned with and suddenly everyone is wearing them as statement rather than sole necessity.

Instagram made a lot of people do it. You don’t have to scroll for long before you come across a pair as the main event on the feet of someone influential. See creative director Alex Eagle in an orange pair of her own design worn with a pair of Nikes and the caption “sock addict”; Susie Lau pre-Chanel Metiers d’Art show in in a pink pair to complement her pop-pom bedazzled sandals; not to mention the holy grail of sock combos right now – worn with an Arizona Birkenstock (did you even work from home if you didn’t, at some point, post an aerial view of your ‘Stocks and socks? (See the #Birkenstocksandsocks hashtag on Instagram for visuals.)

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Photographer and model Laura Bailey is a big advocate of the footwear duo, “[especially] over this time of blurred boundaries, it has felt like such a natural lazy-cool half-way house,” she says, although happily admits she’ll be wearing her 'Stocks and socks' long after lockdown.

A long-term fan of a socks/sandal/sneaker situation, Bailey’s sock game has been on point for the best part of forever. Dispelling the outdated and stereotypical view of socks being boring, she teams hers with Chanel sandals; white suits and sneakers; and Molly Goddard party dresses and Dr Martens making them the main event. “I think my love of socks began with my sport obsession,” she recalls. “For me, a sock can kind of deconstruct a look, make it feel more student and bohemian cool; a little undone or a little bit provocative.”

She namechecks mesh ankle pairs by Wolford; lacy, sparkly lurex styles by & Other Stories; and intarsia designs by Bella Freud as sock-drawer favourites.

Our collective obsession was proven this week, as MatchesFashion.com revealed that its sock sales are up 70 per cent since last year, pointing to Gucci, The Elder Statesman and Socksss, the ingenue of the sock scene which has captivated fans with its dip-dye, striped and picnic-ready red gingham designs.

“This season we’ve seen our customer look to bring joy into their every day by experimenting with bold colours and uplifting patterns,” says Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear buying at the e-commerce brand. “Adding a pop of colour with a bright sock is a great way to inject a sense of playfulness and fun into any outfit.”

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Over at Net-a-Porter, its senior fashion market editor, Libby Page concurs. Styles by Johnstons of Elgin, Reebok x Victoria Beckham and The Attico have enjoyed “great success” while its inventory of ribbed black and white socks by HommeGirls (the brainchild of Thakoon Panichgul) sold out in less than two weeks. It’s a trend that, she says, “captures the off-duty lounge look perfectly as it provides a familiar comfort while ensuring customers can buy into new-season sandals”.

Other recent must-haves come by way of collaborations. Toogood x Birkenstock has quirky knee-high options; part two of Bailey’s collaboration with the stylist Cathy Kasterine, Bailey x Budd, will feature a sporty pair; and Penelope Chilvers x Collagerie ticks the quirky-cool box.

“I believe a boot is nothing without a good sock poking out over the top,” says Chilvers, whose collaboration was “all about mixing colours into vertical stripes” to complement her patchwork loafer. “Everyone is loving wearing the loafers with the socks!”

Chilvers says the best kind of sock “has just the right amount of elastane so they stay up all day” and exalts the virtues making and mending when it comes to our socks. “I think we should get back into darning our socks,” she enthuses. “It’s the kind of sewing I love to do by the fire.”

Photo credit: Edward Berthelot
Photo credit: Edward Berthelot

Step forward Catherine Hayward, fashion director at Esquire and herself, something of a sock-darning convert over the last year. As baking and Zoom cocktails got underway, Hayward “went a bit left-field and started learning the ukulele and darning socks”.

“Both were very therapeutic with the added piquancy of a ‘save the planet’ sensibility around the darning,” she says. “Hilariously, when I posted a film of me actually mending my socks on Instagram, I was corrected by Patrick Grant who said that darning should be done with a matching woollen yarn - not thread - so what I was technically doing was ‘sewing up the hole’! Potato, potarto!”

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If you’re already on board with the Renais-socks, brava, go on and treat yourself to another pair for posterity. But if you’re new to statement socks and want to give them a try, the experts have some advice on how to dip your toes.

“Start with a neutral shade in cashmere to ease into this trend,” says Page. A block colour is also a good start as it’s “easier to style with a multitude of outfits,” advises Wiggins. “Play with proportion,” suggests Bailey, but most of all have fun.

“I guess for many, they are a basic essential, but for me they are a sign of character, an accessory to clash and to play with,” she says.

We don’t need to be told twice. The Renais-socks is a sartorial playground for all the ages.

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