Basketball Socks: An Evolution

This is the first installment of a new series of blogs from PSB that will focus on the many clothing fashions and styles within basketball, starting with socks.

We only tackle truly profound topics here on the Pro Skills Basketball blog! With our world famous blog on NBA hairstyles setting the way, this blog series is destined to go viral! Ok, not really, but hopefully some youngsters will get a sense of what it was like “back in the day”, as us old timers say!

For those of us that have played basketball since we were young if you were anything like my friends and I (please hope that you weren’t!), socks were arguably the most important part of your style on the court.

If your sock game was messed up, you might as well commit social suicide. But I will not be starting with my era. Instead, I will choose some of my favorite styles of basketball socks and work my way to present day. Let’s take a closer, more scientific look at these styles and see if we can’t figure out what in the world was going on!

The 1950’s Baggy Socks

As the name indicates, something back in the 1950’s lead basketball players to believe that loose-fitting, baggy socks were the way to go. If you’ve ever seen the movie Hoosiers (and if you haven’t, please close this blog and force yourself to sit silently in1950 baggy basketball socks a corner for 10 minutes. That’s your punishment!

You may have wondered what was going on with this sock choice.

Did the loose, flapping cloth feel good around their ankles?

Did players enjoy the feeling of their socks sliding around in their shoes?

Were players laughed at that didn’t go along with this style?

“Hey guys, look at Ernest! Look how tight his socks are! What a fream!”. If I were a real sports or fashion journalist, I would dedicate some time to interviewing an older hooper. But I’m not, so I won’t. I will resign myself to always wondering what these primitive basketball players were thinking.

Interesting fact: As we will see in the next couple of segments, the baggy socks-tight shorts trend completely reverses itself in the coming decades. Fascinating!

The 1970’s Tube Socks

Sometime between the 1970’s and 1950’s players decided to use that extra surface area of baggy basketball socks to cover their hairy shin bones. Maybe it helped keep their calf muscles warm?

1970 basketball tube socks

Maybe, it’s where they kept their cigarettes?

Maybe, it was just groovy?

One thing is for sure, the tube socks were the precursor to the trend of covering bare skin. Bare skin is soooo out right now! Well, maybe it isn’t…I don’t know. But fast forwarding to the 2010’s and the rise of the Taliban-inspired full-leg tights, I can’t help but wonder if it all started with tube socks in the 1970’s. 

Personally, I’m a big fan of the tube socks. Striped or solid white, for me the higher the better! This trend seems to have lasted to some extent through the mid-80’s, until we see a complete reversal of sock direction. More below.

Interesting Fact: The high sock trend loses steam in the late 80’s early 90’s, until being resuscitated by players like Glenn Robinson in the late 90’s. Fortunately the same can not be said about the 1950’s baggy socks!

The 1990’s Ankle Socks

This was my heyday. By the time I was in middle school, the high socks of the 70’s and 80’s were long gone. Our goal was to fool people into thinking that we were playing sockless basketball. Showing your socks was totally uncool!

We would even go to the extreme of rolling down our socks over our heels and forcing the abundance of cloth into our shoes.

Would the socks eventually bundle up inside our shoes?

For sure!

Was it extremely uncomfortable and distracting in a game?

You bet!

Did we get blisters?

Occasionally. But, we looked good. Look good, play good. That was our motto.

There was an added bonus to the low sock fashion…it showed off our non-existent, twig-like calf muscles. If I were so inclined, I could make the argument that our ankle sock trend directly led to the male obsession with our calf muscles, thus leading guys to get calf implants, thus the downfall of humanity. But that might be a little extreme.

1990 basketball ankle socksInteresting fact: I often, correctly or not, give credit to the great Shawn Kemp for starting the low sock/ankle sock trend.

If you haven’t seen them, please do yourself a favor and watch some of Shawn’s best dunks. Not hard to imagine why every kid wanted to be like him!

The 2010’s No Rules Socks

It’s hard to imagine what took us so long, but after some 50 or 60 years basketball players finally had enough of the white socks. Baggy or tight, low or high, white socks finally became played out over the last few years….is the term “played out” played out? I fully admit that I am no longer cool.

With the introduction of the Nike Elite basketball socks the entire game changed! No colors were off limits. No design was out of bounds. Sock length was no longer important. It has been total mayhem ever since!

Young kids can not get enough of the bright pink or neon green socks. Socks now come with full-blown pictures.

Pictures of what, you ask?

It doesn’t matter!

Dollar bills. Galaxies. Animals. Superheroes. There is no limit!! There are no rules! That’s the beauty of it. Everything is cool! evolution of basketball socksIt’s fun to think about what Norman Dale (seriously, watch Hoosiers!) would think about the calf-high emoji socks today’s kids wear.

I tend to think he would not be a fan. In the meantime, check out Stance for more sock options!

Please leave us a comment on your favorite sock style or era. We would also be interested to hear where you think the future of basketball socks is going.

Maybe we’ll be playing in sweatpants in 10 years. Who knows!

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