What are Tube Socks?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tube socks are socks that are knitted in a single long tube, so that they have no clearly delineated heel and ankle region. As a result, they are a one-size-fits-all design, with people purchasing different lengths depending on how large their feet are and how far up the leg they want their socks to reach. Numerous clothing stores sell these socks, especially athletic stores, and they can also be ordered from various manufacturers. In addition, they are relatively easy to knit, and they can be a fun beginning knitter pattern.

Many tube socks were produced during World War I, as knitting was contributed to the war effort.
Many tube socks were produced during World War I, as knitting was contributed to the war effort.

Many people associate tube socks with athletics, especially 1960s athletics, when striped ones became very popular. Athletes tend to wear them with a low percentage of cotton, since cotton does little to wick moisture and can easily cause blisters. The socks can be found in many types of fibers, including synthetic materials. Many manufacturers make them available in different weights as well, with heavy socks for winter wear in cold climates, and more lightweight versions for use as dress socks or for summer wear.

Many people associate tube socks with athletics.
Many people associate tube socks with athletics.

Although true tube socks are knitted in the shape of a tube, some manufacturers make versions with a knitted heel and a more heavily padded sole, for comfort. These socks share the ribbed cuff of traditional tube sock, which prevents the sock from sliding down the leg. As the socks and cuff gradually lose elasticity, however, they will start to slip when worn, as the ribs become stretched out.

Some people wear these socks simply because they are comfortable, and because they provide a layer of insulation in cold weather. Others view theem as a sort of fashion statement, and one may see tube socks on certain groups in various communities, who wear them as part of an overall style or look. In the late 1990s, for example, many skaters began adopting them as “old school socks,” sporting them along with other skate clothes.

Because tube socks are so simple to knit, the basic pattern has probably been made for centuries. Certainly during the First World War, an astounding number were produced as many countries contributed knitting to the war effort. The Red Cross, for example, encouraged both men and women at home to knit socks for soldiers in the trenches, since a solid pair of socks could insulate feet from extreme cold and painful blisters. Many knitters started making them because they were a fast knit and because a poorly turned heel can cause pain in the wearer, so these socks would have been more comfortable.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I loved wearing tube socks as a teenager growing up in the late 70's early 80's. They looked cool and were comfortable to wear. No problem with arranging them on your feet and when you pulled them up they stayed up! They came in a wide range of colours to match your nylon trimmed shorts. They were OK for sports wear and casual. Fashion trends usually go full circle so we might see that 'American' fashion style once again soon.


I can't say I've ever been that big of a fan of crew tube socks.

I thought they looked silly the first time around when all the jocks were wearing them in the 60s, and they just looked even more ridiculous when it came back as an "ironic" trend.

So just remember, the next time you're looking at those "deck" tube socks with stripes, there is a fine, fine line between "ironic" and intensely annoying to those around you, and tube socks might just push you over that line.


Did you know that many people wear tube socks for medical reasons too?

One of the most common instances is that of diabetic tube socks. Diabetics are very prone to foot ulcers, so it's important that they have a good, supportive sock that can wick away moisture and keep the foot clean and dry. Unlike regular Hanes tube socks, diabetic tube socks are also made with a non-binding top, which is important, since diabetics often have compromised blood flow to their extremities.

Whereas a regular, top bound sock could cut off circulation and lead to foot problems, a diabetic sock is specifically designed to avoid this problem.

Some people also use tighter tube socks, like nylon tube socks, as support for varicose veins. Oftentimes, varicose veins become less painful if the leg is tightly supported, so this can be a good "band-aid" until further treatment can be taken.

Finally, tube socks are great for flying. There's always a risk of blood clots in the extremities, especially the feet and legs, when flying, and tube socks can compress the leg to help prevent that.

Who knew there were so many uses for the humble tube sock?


I stumbled into wearing wool tube socks during the winter when I got stuck one day without tights. I had no idea how warm those things can keep your legs!

Of course, the cotton crew tube socks are good too, but if you want warmth, then wool is the way to go.

Just make sure you get the knee tube socks and not the ankle tube socks, to get the maximum warmth.

I now own several pairs of wool tube socks and wear them under my jeans whenever I got out in the winter. More convenient than long underwear or tights, but with excellent heat storing ability.

Try it out -- you'll be amazed too.

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