Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 10/02/2014

American men appear to be accessorizing from the bottom up.

This story first appeared in the October 2, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

New figures from The NPD Group show robust growth in the men’s socks business, with sales for the 12 months ended in August up 7.7 percent, to $2.85 billion, and accounting for more than half the total market, which rose 1.7 percent, to $5.64 billion, during that stretch.

Women’s socks sales rose a far-more modest 0.8 percent, to $1.82 billion. Girls’, boys’ and infants’ socks account for the remainder of volume.

The 1.7 percent growth rate eclipsed the one for women’s, men’s and children’s apparel, up 1 percent, to $206.7 billion, but fell short of the 8 percent increase registered by socks in 2013 and the 5 percent growth recorded in 2012.

Nearly three-quarters of men — 73 percent — wear socks almost every day, a figure that drops to 41 percent for women, who have a far wider range of legwear options, such as leggings, tights and pantyhose that aren’t included in the NPD numbers.

NPD likened the role of socks in men’s wardrobes to that of neckwear, increasingly providing a colorful accent to complement more basic items such as suits and casual or dress shoes.

“Transforming a traditional item into a trendy fashion piece is the movement that has penetrated men’s wear overall, from clothing to footwear and everything in between, including socks,” said Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst. “Men are driving the growth in this category because, over the past few years, socks have become yet another outlet for expressing the extra splash of pattern and color they seek.

“It only seems appropriate for them to pair their colorful oxfords and outfits with matching socks,” he added.

Perhaps because of the other options available to them, women tend to make their sock purchases based on value, spending less per pair than their male counterparts, while men see them as a chance to make a fashion statement, even if a subtle one not visible to all.

Men have embraced higher price points as they pursue broader options for their feet, which hasn’t occurred on the women’s side of the aisle despite the general willingness of women to spend more than in the past on a wide range of accessories, such as handbags.

“Retailers and manufacturers should find ways to reinvigorate this category for women by setting a new fashion statement, one that treats socks as an accessory, something special, and not a basic commodity,” Cohen said. “If women will wear shorts with tights in colder weather and boots during warmer seasons, they will find more room for socks in their wardrobes.”

Growth in athletic socks led the small increase in women’s socks sales, while the larger gains for the men’s category were more evenly divided between casual, athletic and even dress socks.