We ask so much of our socks these days.
It's no longer enough that they match. Or that they blend in, unnoticed, with our clothes.
Now socks, like personal license plates and custom-designed T-shirts, have become another way for us to express ourselves, to define our personalities. No more the passive foot warmers, today's socks scream for attention.
"Socks, aside from being a basic necessity, have become a fashion accessory, like a scarf or the right pin," says Joyce Auslander, owner of the Sock Shop at the Marketplace in Irvine.
"People will build an entire outfit around socks."
They couldn't pull that off with an ordinary argyle.
No, for that they need socks that make a statement, or better yet, play a tune.
One pair of attention-getting socks boasts an applique of the Golden Gate Bridge on both ankles and plays "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Another pair of sing-along socks features the New York City skyline and plays "New York, New York." Both pairs sell at the Sock Shop for $17.50.
"People got bored with plain socks. This is just for fun," says Cynthia McKinney, a New York-based designer who created the musical socks. McKinney designs whimsical socks in bold colors with hand-appliqued pictures, including a yellow school bus filled with smiling children, a birthday cake complete with candles, and a ballerina with a yellow yarn ponytail and a tiny tutu. Socks like these get noticed.
"I wear them under blue jeans with shorter hems so they show. People stop and ask me where I get them, and I have to say, 'Well, I kind of make them.' "
Socks can be playful, funny, sexy, sporty or serious.
There are animal-print socks to cover your hoofs in leopard spots or zebra stripes, sexy socks in black lace or sheer silver metallic knit, and '60s-style socks tie-dyed or dotted in neon colors and adorned with peace signs.
Whatever your shtick, there's a sock to go with it.
For the materially minded, Socks du Jour at Fashion Island in Newport Beach carries the American Express card--reproduced in miniature and sewn on a $15 pair of white anklets. For anglers, there's a pair with a plastic fish trapped in a net, and gamblers can choose a pair with an embroidered applique of a one-armed bandit and king of hearts. Hungry? Try a pair with a plastic cheeseburger and fries.
Shops devoted entirely to socks have sprung up all over Orange County.
"People don't buy socks anymore because they need a pair of socks. Now they buy them because they like them," says Connie Gyaliano, manager of the Sock Market, which opened a month ago at MainPlace in Santa Ana.
"Socks used to be utilitarian. Now they're a fashion statement," she says. "They come in every color imaginable. They're silly and fun."
There's a sock for every season, every occasion. At Christmastime, shoppers are snapping up stockings with Santas and reindeer. Some socks came with miniature wreaths and jingle bells. A few played Christmas carols.
Every hobby or fad imaginable gets woven into socks.
They come festooned with '50s memorabilia, crossword puzzles, bingo cards, poodles, Scottie dogs, Mickey Mouse, surfers, tennis-playing alligators, dancing bears, and cows that graze around the ankles.
Such wild designs mark a change of pace for people such as Bob Gilliam, 55, who grew up in a time when every kid wore only white socks with penny loafers.
"If you did wear socks with funny designs, you were kind of weird," the La Puente resident says.
While Gilliam still prefers his socks plain, he came away from the Sock Market with Batman and Ghostbusters socks for his grandson.
"He likes all that stuff," Gilliam says.
Children's socks have never been so playful. They now come in bright, primary colors adorned with hearts, gum-ball machines, clowns, smile faces and balloons.
For boys, there's a colorful line of foot coverings with planes, trains and automobiles. For girls, there's an array of anklets trimmed with gold lame bows, lace, pearls, rhinestones and frilly organza ruffles. Discriminating infants can wear Christian Dior's white anklets with pink and white polka dot ruffles, also available in black or red for $8 at the Sock Market.
Teri Sorey of Irvine, 35, buys silly socks for her 4 1/2-year-old son Michael to liven up his wardrobe.
"It's hard to find cute boys' clothes," she says, studying the wall of socks at the Sock Shop. "Most of their clothes just look like what adults wear. This way I can spice up his outfits."
Michael's sock drawer is filled with dinosaurs and assorted crime busters.
"He runs around showing them to everyone. He calls them his fancy socks."
Fancy stockings are for grown-up feet as well.
"The ladies buy more flamboyant socks than the kids do," Gyaliano says. "They buy them in patterns and colors to wear with slacks or under a long skirt. I've had women stand right there at the counter and change socks to match their outfit."
Thanks to smooth cotton-nylon blends, socks have lost much of their bulk and can take on more intricate patterns. Teen-age girls wear two or three pairs at a time, layering anklets on top of knee-highs.
"Can you wash these socks?" asks one elderly woman at the Sock Market, eyeing the selections with the intricate appliques and trims.
The answer is yes--but that doesn't mean they still won't get lost in the dryer.