I was chatting with my friend the other day, and she said, “Socks are underwear because they cover your feet just like underwear covers your bottom half.” But in my opinion, her line of reasoning was incorrect.
We both wanted to reach the finish line of the argument. So, we consulted Google, and found out that thousands of people had asked the same question. Are socks underwear?
Socks aren’t underwear. Underwear is worn beneath your outer garments and covers your torso, waist, and leg regions, but socks don’t even come close!
You still don’t believe me? Well, how about we take a closer look at the controversy surrounding underwear and its distant cousin?
The main function of underwear is to protect your skin from the elements and provide a cushioning effect. If underwear is anything next to your skin, then yes, a bra, panties, and socks are all considered underwear. But here’s the thing: underwear acts as a barrier between your skin and outerwear.
The last definition above underscores that outerwear must be made of material similar to regular clothing and therefore would not include things like gloves, hats, or shoes. Socks are primarily worn for comfort and protection against abrasion, but they also act as a wall between your skin and whatever you happen to be walking on (or more likely, standing on). In this vein, they can’t be considered underwear because shoes are not outerwear.
Socks vs. Underwear
A sock, according to Wikipedia, is a piece of clothing worn on your foot. Socks are typically worn with shoes, boots, sandals, or other footwear.
Socks go way back in history. In fact, Romans made socks from fabrics woven together as early as the 8th century BC. By around the 2nd century BC, the Romans were sewing fabrics together to make fitted socks. Socks of this era were often decorated with patterns and sometimes included embroidered details.
During the 5th century AD, socks were used as a symbol of purity and piety by holy people in Europe. Medieval paintings from the era depict monks and bishops with their feet covered by long, white socks. To the ancient Europeans, wearing socks was a sign that one was free from sin and righteous.
Because socks were handmade, there was a limit to how many could be made per day, and the demand for socks soon exceeded their supply. When the knitting machine was invented in the mid 1600’s, sock production accelerated.
Conversely, underwear, or undergarments, are items of clothing that are worn underneath other clothes. They are often used to protect outer garments from body sweat and body oils.
The first underwear in human history was the loincloth. In most cases, the loincloth is made from a single piece of rectangular cloth material, which is sometimes folded to form a triangle that fits around the waist like a belt. In colder parts of the world, people used to wear loincloths as undergarments. However, our ancestors in tropical climates wore loincloths as their only piece of clothing, and this was for both convenience and comfort.
In colder climates, especially in northern Europe and Asia, the loincloth became the foundation of a person’s outfit. In order to stay warm, our forefathers would layer additional garments over their loincloths.
Undergarments are an essential part of our wardrobe, and we wear them so that our outer garments remain untainted by our bodily secretions.
As you can now see, socks and underwear are quite dissimilar. They have evolved in different ways over the course of history and perform different functions.
Can Socks and Undergarments be Washed Together?
We’ve always been told to wash similar items of clothing together. If we take a moment to think about it, we’ll realize that socks and underwear are similar in a lot of ways. They both protect the most sensitive parts of our bodies from the outside world, must be replaced frequently, and are highly underrated. But should you wash your socks with your underwear?
If you want to keep your underwear and socks in good shape, it’s best not to wash them together.
Your socks and underwear are typically worn against your skin for prolonged periods of time, making them a breeding ground for odor-causing bacteria. Therefore, washing them together could result in bacterial cross-contamination.
For example, you might have athlete’s foot or foot fungus. If you dump your dirty socks and underwear in the same washing machine load or wash them together by hand in the same bowl of water, you could potentially encourage those germs to breed in your underwear. The result? Your underwear could become host to athlete’s foot and foot fungus. And that would not be great!
When I was much younger, my mother told me to wash all my clothes in warm or cold water—except for my underwear and socks, which were washed in hot water.
True, hot water kills most of the bacteria found in underwear and socks. Unfortunately, modern socks and underwear are made of different materials that may not be compatible with hot water.
For example, wool, the most preferred fabric for sock production, isn’t friends with hot water. So I wash my Merino wool socks in cold water and hang them on a clothesline outside to dry. Sadly, cold water isn’t as effective as hot water in killing bacteria. In my case, I must use a powerful anti-bacterial detergent to wash my Merino wool socks if I want them to be germ-free.
Okay, enough said about socks. Let’s consider our underwear. Even if you’re squeaky clean, you’ll still pick up some fecal leftovers and bodily fluids in your panties or briefs.
What about those towels in your bathroom? Studies have shown that both bathroom and kitchen towels are breeding grounds for bacteria and potential infection. (Sources: Time Magazine, University of Arizona, New England Journal of Medicine and more)
A researcher once hypothesized that by drying your face with a bath towel, you could be transferring more fecal matter to your face than if you dunked your head in the toilet bowl and flushed. Yuck!
This hypothesis reveals that socks and underwear aren’t the only articles of clothing that should be washed separately. Bath towels deserve a solo wash too!
Reasons to Wash Socks & Underwear Separately
Bacterial Cross Contamination
Socks and underwear tend to get dirty in different ways and have different bacteria on them. You don’t want to cross-contaminate bacteria from your feet to your genital area, or vice versa.
If you’ve ever had, or seen someone with, a case of athletes’ foot, then you know that the last place you want it to spread is into your groin area. It’s not just uncomfortable; it can be downright embarrassing if you’re at the beach or pool and your genitals start itching. A quick foot bath with some tea tree oil soap can alleviate this condition.
Different Material and Colors
Although your socks and underwear may be the same color, they might be made of different materials. For example, your socks might be made of wool and your underwear made of cotton. Sometimes, your socks and underwear may be manufactured from the same material, but their colors will differ.
Even if your socks and underwear are made of the same material and color, you must wash them separately.
The Rule of Thumb
You might also want to wash your socks and undergarments with an antibacterial laundry detergent, such as Lysol Laundry Additive. It keeps these items fresh and odor-free, which is especially important if you have a hectic schedule to keep up with.
When to Buy New Socks and Underwear
There are many people around us who do not care about their underwear.During my undergraduate years, I had a roommate whose underwear was always ripped.
He wore the same boxer briefs for weeks, as if waiting for an alarm to ring before buying into a fresh pair. And his socks? Oh, man. They never took a break until the semester ended. If you’re in the shoes of my ex-roommate, pay rapt attention to what I’ll say next.
Your feet and your nether regions deserve respect. When you find holes in the toes of your socks or underwear, you should replace them right away. You wouldn’t wear a shirt with holes in it, would you? Of course not!
When you wash your underwear or socks, you’re cleansing them from all the odor-triggering bacteria that they have accumulated. However, if you’ve washed your underwear or socks one too many times and they still smell bad, you need to replace them as soon as possible.
Growing Bigger or Smaller
As you age, your body changes.
But for some reason, it’s hard to admit that you’ve outgrown your undies. The elastic on the waistband starts to pinch and the seams cut into your hips, but you keep them anyway because they still fit under jeans. One day you’ll realize that they can barely contain your thighs, and you must throw them in the trash.
Socks are no exception to this rule. When you put on your old favorite pair of socks, and they’re so stretched out that you can’t roll them down past your heel anymore, you have to come to terms with the fact that it’s time for them to go.
On the other hand, your socks and underwear might sag and start rolling down your calves or waist unassisted. Then you should purchase some new ones that fit you better.
Chafing is a medical condition that causes the skin to become inflamed and sometimes bleed. This happens when there is friction between skin and clothing, or when layers of skin rub against each other. The most common areas for chafing are under your breasts, in the groin area, and on your inner thighs. To prevent future episodes of chafing, go up a size in your undergarments or find a less tight pair of socks.
The question of whether socks are underwear is simply a matter of opinion. However, I believe that socks aren’t underwear because they cover a different region of the body and should be washed separately from underwear.
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