How could something so sweet cause such a big stir? Little girls had been wearing white ankle socks for years with their patent leather Mary Janes, so why did the adolescent adoption of the white sock shake up the establishment?
Two words: Frankie Sinatra. The blue-eyed crooner captivated the hearts, eyes and ears of young girls and created a national hysteria in the U.S.A. So desperate were they for the sounds of America’s dreamboat, groups of girls would rush home from school and nestle beside the radio without even changing from their school uniforms, white socks and saddle shoes included. But these white-socked fanatics were only part of the story.
During the war years, rationing of silk and nylon prohibited women from wearing their stockings, so the Brits made a short ankle sock to be worn instead. American women preferred to go barelegged or to paint their legs with a ‘suntan’ color of stockings (complete with back seam painted on), so young girls were left to adopt the short sock for themselves. They called it the ‘bobby’ sock, after the British slang for police officers, and any girl wearing white ankle socks and going nuts over the new music became dubbed a ‘bobby soxer.’
Bobby socks started as a rebellious fad, but soon became the quintessential teen fashion of the 50’s. Girls who couldn’t get the original anklet made their own bobby socks by folding down a white calf sock into a thick cuff. The socks were worn with saddle shoes or penny loafers, poodle skirts or straight tweed skirts. When denim jeans came into fashion, the short socks were made visible by cuffing up the denim pant leg to mid-calf height, and the trend spread to high school girls across the country.
The socks received even more attention when they starred in ‘sock hops,’ dance gatherings wherein the kids would take off their shoes and dance in their socks. While dancing in socks might have seemed rebellious, it was actually to prevent the polished gymnasium floor from being scuffed by the black soles of saddle shoes commonly worn. But the legend of poodle skirts and bobby socks was created.
As simple as they were, these little white socks were the seeds of teen rebellion, at least in the minds of many parents. Teenage individuality had arrived, and the sock became a part of the teenage uniform. Whether worn with penny loafers or saddle shoes, cuffed jeans or poodle skirts, the white bobby sock was to a girl’s rebellion what the white t-shirt was to boys: While neither was responsible for teenage angst and rebellion, both were strong expressions of it.