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The oldest example of knitted socks comes from ancient Egypt.

Around 300 CE, in the Roman Egyptian city of Antinoöpolis, a child stuffed their feet into a pair of striped wool socks. The child’s name has long been lost to history, but one of the socks is now likely the oldest piece of knitted footwear ever discovered. Pulled from a 1,700-year-old refuse heap during a British excavation in Egypt in 1913–14, the socks now live at the British Museum in London. In 2018, they underwent multispectral imaging that revealed they were once as colorful as some of the cotton creations that adorn our feet today. Scientists found tiny traces of three plant-based dyes (red, blue, and yellow) that ancient Egyptians used on the wool to create seven beautiful shades of stripes. The Egyptians also used a single-needle looping technique, now called “nålbinding,” to create the socks. The technique predates both modern knitting and crocheting, and is named for the many ancient examples that have been found in modern Norway.

Today, some consider pairing socks with sandals a fashion faux pas, but ancient cultures around the Mediterranean felt differently. These particular Egyptian socks had two compartments for toes, and were specifically designed to fit sandals by separating the big toe from its companions. Centuries earlier, ancient Greeks wore socks made from animal pelts along with their sandals. Turns out, pairing socks and Birkenstocks may be one of humanity’s oldest footwear traditions. 

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