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 Sock Fiber Content - Which is Right for You?

 

Natural Fibers for Every Occasion
- - - by Alexander Kabbaz
Sore Feet should not be your Status Quo!

     
Cotton ... Merino ... Cashmere ... Linen ... Cashmere & Silk ... Silk
     
~ Do you stand for long periods?
~ Environment: Where do you live?
~ Heels, flats, tie-shoes or loafers?
 
~ Do your feet perspire heavily?
~ Is foot shock an issue?
~ What size shoes do you wear?
     
Scroll to the bottom for the author's advice on these six most important sock selection criteria.
     
Considerations are many and the choices seem endlessly confusing. "What sock fiber should I buy?" is one of the most frequent questions we are asked and answering usually involves a long discussion. If you want to skip the rest of the article, 70% of the time the final answer is "Merino Wool Over-the-Calf/Knee-High".   Interested to know more? Let's sort through the options. Below I'll discuss each fiber, its characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. The most common two fibers are Cotton and ExtraFine Merino Wool. In no particular order, other readily available fibers include Cashmere, Cashmere & Silk Blend, Silk, and Linen.
     
But Wait One Minute. Don't know your sock term definitions? You may want to read this article first.
     
ExtraFine Merino Wool    
     

Let's start with the basics. Merino Wool is not "scratchy" which is the feeling most people associate with wool. Merino wool is softer than generic or "virgin" wool as it comes from the specially bred Merino sheep. It is also softer than cotton. The finer merino fibers are Australian & New Zealand in origin and range from 16 to 20 microns in diameter and 2.4 - 4 cm. in length. Without going into great detail, suffice it to say that ExtraFine Merino and a World War II wool Army blanket have absolutely nothing in common except that they both began as sheep.


 

Merino's greatest advantages are many.

 


1] It wicks moisture away (as the word is used in common parlance). Wicking moisture away from the skin is important because fiber which keeps the moisture touching the foot will make one's feel cold in Winter and clammy in hot weather.


 

 Kabbaz-Kelly 100% Merino Over-tht-Calf Socks

Men's and Women's Merino Socks

     

2] It is soft and provides a cushion. For those who spend time on their feet, the cushioning effect of merino can mean the difference between end-of-day tender tootsies and a comfortable evening jog. Even when wet, merino has the ability to contain moisture without losing its shock-absorbing qualities.


3] It regulates temperature and can keep the wearer warmer than cotton. Merino wool can absorb 30% or more of its weight in perspiration without feeling wet. Additionally, wet merino, unlike wet cotton, does not lose the ability to keep the wearer warm and comfortable.


If merino wool does have a disadvantage it is this: Wearing most merino socks on very hot days will make the foot perspire and feel hot. Some merino socks are made of extremely fine, thin yarns which eliminates this problem. However, by using the thin yarns most of the cushion and wicking properties decrease to almost nothing and durability takes a slight hit.


Merino is available in a variety of blends as well as 100% pure. Our 100% Merino and the 80% Merino/20% Nylon blend are the most popular. The 80/20 retains some of the 100% Merino characteristics while providing the slightly greater longevity offered by the nylon. 100% Merino, offers the greatest "cushion", the nicest "feel", and strongest wicking ability.

 

 ExtraFine Merino Wool Luxury Socks

Men's Merino PinStripe and Women's Merino Thigh-Highs

     
     
Cotton and Sea Island Cotton    
     

Cotton comes in a variety of grades. The types of cotton most commonly used for top-quality socks are Egyptian "Mako" and American Pima, both of which are excellent extra-long-staple (E.L.S.) cottons. The best quality cotton socks - by far ... very far - are made from the extremely expensive Sea Island cotton. Did I say very, very far? Frankly, if you're going to wear cotton, pure certified Sea Island is unlike any other. It is the softest and most comfortable cotton fiber in existence. Expensive? Yes. Worth the additional cost? Yes ... without qualification!

Cotton's main advantages are that it breathes well, does not hold in warmth, and thus is cooler to wear on warm Summer days. 

Common cotton questions: "Lisle" - a generally used term indicating fine Egyptian extra-long-staple (E.L.S.) cotton. "Pima" - a softer extra-long-staple cotton, the best of which comes from Arizona in the U.S. "Mercerized" - a chemical process used to enhance the sheen of fine cottons. All of the cotton socks we offer are mercerized. "Singed" - a process where the yarns are quickly passed through a flame to remove the "fuzz" which creates pilling.

 

 Sea Island Cotton Luxury Socks

100% Pure Sea Island Cotton Over-the-Calf Socks

     

Cotton's main disadvantage is that when made wet by perspiration, it will remain wet and begin to feel clammy as the day progresses. When cotton dries, it can become hard and lose elasticity unless washed (cold) within a short time. This doesn't apply to the Sea Island variety which doesn't get hard. Moreover, Bresciani's 100% pure Sea Island cotton dries very quickly due to its extraordinarily thin construction. If thin socks are your "thing" this is the sock for you!

Top-quality cotton socks are available as 75% Cotton Lisle/35% Nylon and the slightly softer 80% Pima Cotton/20% Nylon. Sea Island cotton is available in the 80/20 blend as well as 100% Pure Sea Island which I consider the best cotton sock ever made ... by far. By very far! :-) The pure Sea Island is a very thin sock offering extreme coolness and extremely soft hand. The blends are a bit thicker.

Cotton terry used for athletic socks is an exception to the "clammy" caveat. Athletic socks are generally worn for a shorter period of time and the terry helps keep the foot dry. Additionally, the terry does a wonderful job of absorbing a considerable amount of foot shock. Cotton terry athletic socks are vastly superior to the widely touted acrylic and other synthetic "modern" crew socks. Reasons for this include the fact that the synthetic socks are not only extremely odor-retentive but also nowhere near as soft and comfortable as natural cotton.

 

 Luxury Cotton Socks for Men and Women

Women's Cotton Trouser Socks and Men's Paisley Cotton Socks

     
     
Cashmere    
     

There is nothing like a cashmere sock for softness, warmth, and color beauty. Possessing the best qualities of merino - wicking, warmth, and cushion - but much softer, cashmere is regarded as the most noble of fibers. Its main advantage is extreme warmth, for no other sock will keep the wearer as comfortable on very cold days.

Cashmere's downside is that it lacks strength. To be more specific, know this: Most cashmere is from the Himalayas. While this "China White" is renowned for its softness, it is also the weakest cashmere. Other cashmeres originating in Afghanistan and New Zealand offer ever-so-slightly less in softness but are much superior in strength. The 75-90% Cashmere/10-25% Nylon cashmere socks we carry blend these different cashmeres and can comfortably offer 35-50 proper launderings. Contrast this with 100% cashmere socks which will begin to wear around the 20-25 launderings range. In this arena you need to make your decision based on softness vs. economics although, frankly, when ordering cashmere, economics is not near the top of anyone's list except for this caveat:

The vast majority of "cashmere" socks available on today's market are blends containing from 8% to 30% cashmere. Any cashmere sock containing less than 75% cashmere has lost most of the advantages of this luxury fiber and should be disregarded.

 

 Super Luxury Cashmere Socks

Bresciani Pure Cashmere Socks and Women's Cashmere Harlequin Socks

     
     
Cashmere & Silk Blend    
     

Silk is one of the strongest natural fibers. Properly blending silk with cashmere counteracts the inherent weakness of the cashmere fiber and yields one of the most durable luxury socks available while sacrificing only a small amount of cashmere's warmth.

Silk takes dye colors better than any other natural fiber and its lustre is unlike any other. The cashmere/silk blend yarns are usually slightly thinner than the plain cashmere yarns. This makes possible patterns with much greater definition and clarity than in solely cashmere renditions. The result is a vibrant, lustrous, highly defined sock of great longevity and a high degree of warmth.

 

 Luxury Cashmer & Silk Men's & Women's Socks

Men's and Women's Cashmere/Silk Argyle Socks

     
     
Silk    
     
Silk holds dye colors more willingly than any other fiber, yielding the most vibrant, strongest colors. Silk has a luster unlike any other natural fiber. To repeat from above, silk is a very strong fiber in terms of tensile strength. However, it is also subject to abrasion with poorly fitting shoes. For this reason, most "one-size" silk socks are heavily infused with nylon to retain durability. Blends of 50% Silk/50% Nylon are common. Additionally, be aware that the thinness of the silk yarns makes them susceptible to snags.

Though pure silk socks are extremely rare, you may have noticed that we have quite a large selection of 100% Silk socks. This is because we are "sock nuts" and have commissioned an inordinate number of these in lengths ranging from men's over-the-calf to women's luscious thigh-highs. They are all sized socks. This enables the wearer to achieve proper fit thereby reducing the occurrence of abrasion by shoe slippage and sock stress.

Silk's main advantages include unparalleled beauty, brilliant luster, buttery soft feel, and its performance as a great temperature regulator keeping the wearer cooler on warm days and warmer on colder days.
 

 UltraFine Luxury Pure Silk Socks

100% Pure Silk Socks for Men and Women

     
     
Linen    
     

Flax is the strongest of natural fibers offering unequaled longevity. That said, durability is not one of the oft-touted reasons for wearing linen socks. Their appearance simply exudes "essence of Summer". They are extraordinarily breathable and cool to wear. Finally, when worn with linen trousers, they offer a cohesive appearance unattainable with any other sock fiber.

Linen dyes strongly and yields bright colors well although it is equally favored for beautiful heathered shades.

If linen has a disadvantage it would be less of an ability to stay in place than other socks. This is due primarily to the slickness of the fiber's surface. But if you're a fan of linen, the somewhat "rumpled" appearance of anything made from the fiber is something you're used to ... and a characteristic prized by linin afficionados.

 

 Luxury Linen Socks

100% Linen Socks

     
     
Personally Speaking    
     

My personal picks, season by season ... and why:


For general wear in Spring and Fall I am a devotee of over-the-calf extrafine merino for dress wear. I like the warmth, the cushion, the wicking ability, and the wide variety of beautiful designs available in this wonderful fiber. In solids I'll always pick our own 100% merino. After all, I designed them to my personal specifications. :-) Weekends or more casual dress may cause a switch to mid-calf merinos in brighter bolder designs and colors.

When not wearing a suit, colder Winter days merit cashmere. Mid-calf length with jeans and polos, over-the-calf with cords or khakis and in the evening with woolen trousers and collared shirts. For Winter dress wear I have two: Bresciani's pure cashmere dress sock is my number one choice. Absolutely no sock compares to this. Soft beyond belief. Beautiful colors. Perfectly sized and stays up like a charm. Expensive? Duh! After that I'll go for the cashmere & silk blend - a slightly thinner and more elegant sock.

Summer heat brings the switch to cool cottons. Given a choice I'll wear the 100% Sea Island cotton. For business, over-the-calf is essential and a variety of patterns abound. Casual wear shorts and jeans mandate the switch to mid-calf length. Summer whites demand over-the-calf. Linens wear best with mid-calf length in heathers for paler dress and bolder solids for more colorful attire. Note that Bermuda shorts style dictates that these should be worn only with over-the-calf socks.

   Luxury Socks for Men and Women
     
     
Special Occasions    
     
Formal wear demands Over-the-Calf Silk or specially designed Silk and Cotton blends. Nothing else is proper. Accepted colors are Red, Burgundy, Midnight, soft White and, of course, Black.
For athletics in all but the coldest weather, cotton terry is my personal favorite. Skiing or similar and I'll bring out our heavyweight merino boot socks.
   World's Finest Athletic Socks and Formal Socks
     
     
     
Thoughts on the Six Important Sock Selection Criteria
     
~ Do you stand for long periods?   You're best with a sock that has some cushion. A Bresciani Unica cotton or the Kabbaz-Kelly 100% Merino have sole properties which reduce the feel of contact with hard surfaces. An athletic sock is also a consideration.
     
~ Environment: Where do you live?   This part isn't rocket science. Warm climates need cooler socks; Cool climates need warmer socks. Pay close attention to the cooling and wicking properties of cotton, merino, and linen. Try one or two of each ... and remember: Seasonal change can mean sock fiber change.
     
 ~ Heels, flats, tie-shoes or loafers?   BIG question here. Heels force most of your weight onto the balls of your feet. A sock with cushioning properties will help. Flats (non-tie styles) and loafers share a similar problem: the heel of your foot can slip up and down as you walk. This will irritate your heel and cause premature wear on the sock heel. If these shoes don't  fit snugly, consider asking your shoe repair store or cobbler to put rubber grippers in the heel of the shoe. This will reduce slippage and provide a cushion for your heel. Tie shoes? Properly fitted, these will be ideal with a certain thickness of socks. Experiment a bit until you find the ideal and then stay with it.
     
~ Do your feet perspire heavily?   The first thought which comes to mind is the wicking property of merino socks. See above for more information. In the hottest days of Summer - or if you live in an always hot climate - consider the non-wicking but extremely cool 100% Sea Islands by Bresciani.
     
~ Is foot shock an issue?   Similarly to standing for long periods, you need a sock with cushioning properties. The ultimate here would always be an athletic sock. Considering  those who have foot shock as an overarching concern, we always stock our athletic socks in blue and black. They are thick. You may need to consider increasing your dress shoe size if you go this route.
     
~ What size shoes do you wear?   If you're a man wearing shoe sizes roughly from 8 to 11.5 or a woman from 7 to 10, most "one-size" socks will fit you rather well. Outside those ranges you should do your utmost to find sized socks. The problems of ill-fitting socks are multi-fold. Too large and they will bunch up under your feet. That can be painful. Too small and they will severely constrict your toes. Also painful. Too-small socks are also being stretched beyond their ability. This will significantly shorten the life of the socks.
     
   

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