Aside from the brave vanguard of trendsetters who swear that it's okay to wear socks and sandals at the same time, many continue to shield their eyes from the fashion taboo in hopes that someday it'll finally be stomped out. However, it looks like this trend is not only here to stay, but – as uncovered by an archeological dig that took place in 2010 – it also has historical roots that threaten to give it added legitimacy.
The Romans – yes, the power-hungry, innovative conquerors of yore – are the ones to blame for the shoobie aesthetic, or at least for making it popular. Not only was the sock-sandal combo discovered during the time that aqueducts and bound books were first being developed, but it also was extremely popular. That's right – the Romans rocked socks and sandals.
Now, the real question is why.
Discovered at a well-preserved burial site in Oxyrhynchus near the Nile River, this particular pair of knit wool socks date back to between 250 CE and 420 CE. Historians believe that due to their obscure shape and use of a split-toe, they must have been worn as functional socks paired with sandals, as opposed to socks worn in the home without shoes. Their construction, too, is unique: the socks were made using the nålbindning method, which employs only a single wooden or bone needle and a continuous length of yarn. The needle likely used is described as being a “flat, blunt and between 6 -10 cm long, relatively large-eyed at one end or the eye is near the middle.”
And, like their Birkenstock-wearing contemporary counterparts, the Egyptians knew the best material for a good sock-sandal walkabout: wool.
Though the first piece of evidence was discovered in Egypt at the end of the 19th century, thanks to a rusty nail found embedded in a Roman sandal, historians finally have the evidence they needed to confirm that the Romans were the likely inventors of the socks-with-sandals combination that has haunted (or perhaps inspired) the dreams of fashionistas for millennia.
The discovery was made during a 2010 archeological dig at a newly uncovered site in North Yorkshire, England. The suspect nail "appear[ed] to contain fibers which could suggest that a sock-type garment was being worn" with the ever-popular gladiator sandals. The area surrounding the site also houses 14 different graves that contained further evidence of the use of socks by the Romans, which only goes to confirm their popularity.
However, much like it is today, the shoobie look wasn't just about being on-trend – more likely, it was simply a practical way of keeping one's toes warm while still being able to sport a pair of roomy sandals.
"I have sent you... pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants" reads a note scrawled on the Roman wall at Vindolanda, near the modern village of Bardon Mill, England. Far away from their wives, mothers, girlfriends, and the warm and sunny Italian climate, Roman legionnaires looked forward to care packages filled with goodies from home, which just so happened to include pairs of wool socks. In addition to the written and textile evidence of the socks-and-sandals situation, archeologists have also uncovered a bronze statue's foot from the period, which appears to be donning a sock.