Once upon a time, perhaps 30 years ago, people wore glasses designed to improve vision and nothing more. No thought was put into what those glasses might look like, as evidenced by the photos in my parents’ high school yearbooks. And when I say glasses were “designed,” I am being very liberal with the use of that verb since fashion and eyeglasses used to be quite distinct categories.
The same goes for watches. When I was a kid, they all had either some variation of a steel wristband or a leather one. All the watchmaking effort was channeled into the watch itself with little fashion sense. I picture the kindly, gray-haired Geppetto from the Disney movie Pinocchio, a watchmaker.
How could someone like Geppetto be expected to pay any attention to design?
But watches got in on the game and now, finally, socks have, too. Just take a look at your neighbor’s feet next time you’re on the train. Most of the people sitting there will be sporting hilarious hosiery, often even the ones wearing suits. Any and every color, geography, political leaning, hobby, food fetish, and proclivity can now be found on socks.
I am just as prone as the next person to indulging in the latest fad. So it happened that on a recent trip to the U.S., we pay a visit to a shop dedicated exclusively to socks. The silly cartoons and lampoons that used to be the exclusive domain of greeting cards have now conquered the market for knitted textile foot coverings (my arsenal of sock synonyms never runs dry).
My sister and I are having a hard time narrowing down which ones to buy. Snarky feminist socks, cartoonish watermelons, waving palm trees, or how about those cute koala bears?
So many choices. And only two feet.
We are the only ones in the store, which is probably what inspires my sister to do what she does next.
Socks in hand, she goes to pay. After a brief exchange with the cashier, it is evident from his accent that he is not native to the U.S. One of the pairs of socks she is buying features cornhole. The cashier has never heard of this game, which my sister quickly picks up on.
On a normal day, my sister is chatty and is perhaps the only person on earth who can outstrip my gift for gab, particularly when it involves cashiers in empty stores. And here is an occasion to enlighten this nice fellow with a bit of American lore.
She launches into an explanation. The more she expounds, the wider the cashier’s smile.
“This is the board with holes, see?” she says, pointing to the design on the sock.
“You throw beanbags to try to get them in the hole. Each one is worth a different number of points.”
The cashier keeps grinning.
By now I am standing at her side, listening to this impromptu lesson in American traditions.
“I just love goofy socks,” my sister continues. “See, I’m wearing some now.”
With that, she lifts up her foot, pulling back her pant leg to show cat-patterned socks.
I look around to make sure we are still alone in the store. We are.
I, too, am inspired.
“Do you wear socks from here, too?” I inquire of the cashier.
“Yes!” he says. And just as I had hoped, he lifts up his foot to prove it. His socks were covered with what I believe were horses, but I’m not entirely sure because I was laughing too hard.
I show my socks.
My husband shows his.
Mine are decorated with sloths, an animal which has somehow become fashionable lately (and who knew that animals could go in and out of fashion, for that matter), and my husband’s have trees on them.
We all stand around, balancing on one leg and laughing.
And that’s the story of how a few pairs of silly socks can bring the world together in a small boutique in a mall in Northern Virginia just outside Dulles airport.
Never underestimate the power of something as mundane as a sock.