Tube Socks

Figure 1.--American boys in the late-1960s began wearing knee-length athletic socks called tube socks. They were especially popular in the 1970s. They continued to be popular in the erly-80s. They were worn with short pant and helped to increase the populrity of short. This was a casual style for play shorts.

Athletic knee socks with brightly colored bands became popular in America during the late 1960s and 1970s. This was the time that both soccer and basketball became popular and, partly as a result, increasing numbers of American boys began wearing play shorts. Both sports at the time had uniforms with short cut short pants. Boys who wanted to wear the fashionable tube socks like the basketball stars had to wear shorts, otherwise they couldn't be seen. The knee socks worn with basketball and soccer shorts at the time, helped to make the socks popular with many boys.


Tube socks were very popular in the 1970s. I'm not sure about the precise chronology, but we began noticing tube socks in the late-60s. We think that sports were a major factor here. The increasing popularity of basketball and soccer at the time helped to make tube socks popular. They were commonly worn in both basketbll and soccer uniforms. Tube socks began to become less popular in the the 1980s. They disappeared in the 1990s, probably because boys began wearing longer shorts.


They usually came with color bands in a variety of colors at the top. Some were all white, but the ones with colored bands were more popular. Less common were dark blue socks with colored bands. Nearly all the socks had ribbed elastic stay-up bands, which varied in width of about 2 inches to the enite leg portion of the socks, and this elastic portion had one or more colored rings (stripes), usually not more than 2 colors, but the numbers and widths and patterns of rings varied greatly. One HBC contributor reports that his neighborhood recreation center would hold various games and contests, one of which was to find the boy who had the most rings in his socks, and the winner would frequently have 15 or more rings. They counted the intervening white rings between the colored rings.


Tube socks were primarily an American style, in part because of their origins. Basketball in the 1970s was still primariy an American sport. Tube socks do not appear to have been commonly worn in Europe. They were worn in Latin Americin to some extent, especially in Mexico and other countries where the American influence is strongest. Perhaps the major other country in which tube socks became popular was Japan. A Japanese contributor, in fact, notes that they were very popular in Japan. Indeed, you still see them in the early 2000s, albeit with long short pants. Some Japnese readers believe they look rather silly. Tube socks were the first major American fashion to catch on among Japanese boys (excepting jeans which, of course, were worn first by young men). Tube socks came in at the same time that American boys began wearing the short jogging/soccer type short-shorts which also caught on in Japan. But Japanese boys wore tube socks with traditional Japanese short-shorts as well as the American style sport shorts. (There is a picture of a boy in tube socks and short shorts standing beside his bicycle in the HBC Japanese pages.) Tube socks lasted longer in Japan (as noted, you still see them occasionally), went through several style changes (the rings got very elaborate in the late 80s) and were worn with all kinds of shorts--including dress shorts and shortpants suits.


A HBC reader tells that, "As I understand it, the distinguishing feature of "tube socks" is that they are formed in a straight tube from toe to top with no bend for the heel. Therefore, I wonder whether it is accurate to call all knee-length athletic socks from the 1980's "tube socks", since many were traditional socks with heels, and since the actual tube-shaped socks came in crew length as well as knee length. This kind of "tube socks" are still available in many US stores -- most often the discount stores like K-Mart or Wal-Mart -- and I often see them on my son's 15 year old best friend -- except his are crew-length and not knee length. The main advantage of the actual tubular "tube socks" is that because they don't have a heel bend, the same socks fit everyone. A second advantage is that the wearer does't have to worry whether he is getting the heel of the sock toward the bottom when he puts them on, since there is no heel. The disadvantage is that they tend to bunch up opposite the wearer's heel. I wonder how my son's friend can stand to wear them as that aspect would drive me crazy.


Boys who wore tube socks always kept them pulled up to their knees. They were called "high risers", never kneesocks by the boys, as they were generally worn up-to-knee length. Some kids would wear them as high as they would go, which was sometimes completely over the knee and even an inch or two above. This was mostly younger boys. I'm not sure if they didthis with a tyle in mind or that the just pulled them up as far as they could go.


We notice both boys and gurls wearing tube socks, but they seemed most popular with boys, perhasps because of the association with sports. They were worn by girls, especially those athletically oriented.


Tube socks were worn by boys of all ages wearing shorts. They were most poular with pre-teen and early teen age boys, but older teenagers and men also wore them. Tube socks appeared at a time when more American boys were wearing shorts, even older teenagers. They werre wearing some of the casual, athletically styled shorts that younger boys were also wearing. While tune socks were most common with school-age boys, we see them being widely worn by teenagers, especially boys intetested in sports.


We note American boys wearing tube socks with several different types of short pants. The boy here wears tube socks with atheltic shorts. There were several different styles of athletic/sport shorts. Other popular shorts worn with tube socks included camp shorts, cut-offs, and OP cord shorts.

Theatrical Depictions

Tube socks were an very popular style in America during the 1970s and 80s. Virtuall all American boys wore them. Stragely they were not very commonly depicted in movies and television, certainly not as commonly as they were actually worn. We note Barrett Oliver, a popular child star from the 80s, wearing tube socks in some kind of promotion, but we virtually never see tube socks in movies and television programs. We are unure as to the reason for this discrepancy.

Personal Accounts

HBC reader recall wearing tube socks as a boy.

One reader writes, "I really liked tube socks as a boy in the 1980s. I still wear them! The striped ones were the most popular, though I really prefered the all-white ones. And most important--they gotta reach the knees."

Another reader writes, "I wore camp shorts and tube socks as a boy in the late 1970s. I had tube socks with several different color combinations. I liked one of the colors to match thecolor of the shorts I was wearing. For some reason, it wsn't as important to me the color of shirt I was wearing. I have no idea why this was."


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Created: March 17, 1999
Last updated: 19:10 PM 2/1/2017