The Three Tiers of Socks: Entry, Mid, and End Level
Today, we’re continuing our Three Tiers series by looking at the three tiers of socks. For many of us, socks are just a means to an end that keep our feet warm, dry, and comfortable. But just like leather jackets, raw denim jeans, and t-shirts, there are different levels of socks out there, each commanding their own price point.
If your mind has ever boggled at some of the pairs of $35+ socks we have featured at Heddels, this guide is for you. We’re not trying to criticize your sock drawer here; we’re simply honing in on the small, yet important differences that set each pair of socks apart. And note that many of these sock makers straddle several tiers as they produce socks of different qualities. So, keep in mind that the makers we list aren’t necessarily confined to just one tier.
Entry Level (Sub $10 per pair)
This is where you’ll find 99% of socks on the market. Basic socks can be found at everyday stores like Walmart, Costco, and Amazon. Because of their mass appeal and low price point, these socks will likely come in multipacks reaching ten pairs or more. Due to the extremely high demand, basic socks will be mass produced in countries like China, Vietnam, and India. Socks in this category will typically be made from a blended fabric of cotton and polyester or nylon, with a measure of elastane for stretch.
This category covers all manner of basic socks including crew, athletic, and heftier boot liners. Though we focus on premium products here at Heddels, we won’t act like socks of this ilk won’t get the job done. They’re cheap, accessible, and a true basic. But the main issues with mass-produced socks lie in mass-production itself and the lack of real longevity. You’d be lucky if a pair of $2 socks lasted you longer than a year, meaning you’ll be constantly buying replacements.
Notable makers of basic socks include:
Mid-Level ($10-$25 per pair)
At the mid-level, socks begin to creep away from the world of mass-produced, budget-friendly options. Socks at this level make a pretty big jump in terms of price-per-pair, but this is usually justified through the use of better fabrics and construction techniques. You will see long-staple cottons like Supima, as well as more luxurious fabric blends that may include linen or wool. Mid-level socks are also more likely to be knitted in a first world country. You can expect mid-level socks to last longer than the aforementioned basics and be more resistant to bobbling/pilling over time.
As well as improved build-quality, mid-level socks will offer a wider variety of colors, textures, and designs. This can come in the form of exclusive patterns, embroidery, and custom fabrics made exclusively for the brand.
An example of a mid-level sock is the American Trench Luxury Dress Socks pictured below. They’re knit in North Carolina from a blend of Egyptian cotton, linen, nylon, and spandex. This rich blend results in a breathable sock that is both handsome and durable. Coming in both ribbed crew and dress styles, the heathered texture of these socks allows them to sit well with formal and casual wear respectively.
American Trench Luxury Dress Socks, available from American Trench from $24.50
Notable makers of mid-level socks include:
End Level ($25+ per pair)
Tender Hand-Linked Cotton/Linen Socks, available for $34 from Lost & Found
At the end-level, socks are meticulously crafted to exacting standards that make for top-drawer socks that truly stand out. Brands at this level only use high-quality wools and the finest cottons that are often uniquely woven with a slub yarn to create a substantial sock with great texture. End-level socks will be knitted by dedicated makers in small batches in countries like the U.S., England, Italy, and Japan, often using hand-operated machinery to achieve a precise aesthetic.
A distinguishing factor of some end-level socks is hand-linked toes. Hand-linking is a heritage construction technique that achieves a completely flat, seamless toe. Linking requires the maker to loop every corresponding stitch of the top and bottom of the sock, by hand, onto a dedicated vintage knitting machine. Inefficient and niche, hand-linked toes can be seen as the loopwheeling of the sock world.
Notable makers of End-level socks include: