Fabrics for socks – the pros and cons

It’s easy to find men’s, women’s and children’s socks in all kinds of fabrics.  From the more exotic and expensive pure cashmere through soft natural wool to hard-wearing cotton or man-made fabrics, there’s no one right answer when it comes to producing this most ubiquitous of everyday garment.

But it’s nevertheless a matter of horses for courses, and it’s a good idea to be aware of the different properties which make a particular fabric, or blend of fabrics, the most appropriate for the intended use.  The best sock manufacturers know how important it is to choose the right fabric and that’s why companies like Corgi Hosiery offer socks in a wide range of fabrics to suit every occasion.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of the more common fabrics used in sock manufacturing.

Wool

Mammals evolved with woollen coats as a means of regulating body temperature.  It’s not surprising, then, that woollen socks will help to keep your feet warm in winter and cool in summer.  Part of the explanation for this is that wool acts as a wick, drawing moisture away from the skin to allow it to evaporate on the surface, keeping feet dry and snug.  Woollen socks are also comfortable to wear and unlikely to irritate your skin.  However, 100% pure wool needs careful handling if it’s not to stretch or shrink and wool socks are also likely to be more expensive that some other fabrics.

Cashmere

Like wool, cashmere is a natural animal fibre but taken from goats rather than sheep – specifically from the undercoat of a particular type of Chinese or Mongolian goat.  It’s famous for being luxuriously soft and warm.  Pure cashmere socks are perhaps the epitome of luxury footwear.  It’s expensive, though and needs very careful handling to keep its shape and looks.  A great choice for special occasions and a wonderful gift idea but probably not for heavy or everyday use.

Cashmere goat

Cashmere Goat

Cotton

A natural fabric, cotton is a great choice for anyone with sensitive skin.  It’s breathable, soft, holds its shape well and is very easy to care for, being typically machine washable.  It’s also relatively inexpensive for a natural product.

Pure cotton is, however, less good at insulating than wool and also tends to absorb and hold moisture which can make it less comfortable when worn in extreme conditions – one reason why hiking socks tend to be woollen rather than cotton.

Man-made fabrics

Acrylics, polyester, nylon and other man-made fabrics are widely used as alternatives to natural yarns in sock manufacture.  They’re light and have a high degree of elasticity, so hold their shape very well and are very easy to care for.  They also tend to be very colour fast and so are useful for bright coloured patterns.  They’re highly water resistant, but the downside of this is they don’t “breathe” like natural fabric.

Blends

In order to get the best out of the natural properties of different fibres, particularly for everyday use, most sock manufacturers will offer products in a blend of two or more types of yarn.  Cotton socks with a blend of, say 75% pure cotton and 25% nylon offer a greater resilience and a snugger fit compared with pure cotton.  A wool rich blend typically uses a slightly higher nylon content, say 63% wool and 37% Nylon, to achieve the same effect, while a wool/cotton mix can achieve the best properties of both these natural fabrics.

There’s no absolute right answer when it comes to fabric for socks.  However, choosing an experienced and high quality manufacturer will ensure a high standard garment for any occasion.

Author Details

Barbara Craven started work as a shop assistant after leaving school at 16.  She recently left her position as a senior clothing buyer for a well-known national chain to realize her ambition of stepping back from the high-pressure world of high street retail to establish her own high quality knitwear outlet in a small Yorkshire Dales village.