Have you ever given socks a thought? Socks are actually an important part of the Korean wardrobe. Much in the same way the tuque is an important and meaningful article of clothing in Canada, one could say the same about socks in Korea.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve heard about Korean socks. They come in an infinite number of designs and patterns, and are essentially found everywhere from the corner store to street markets and even vending machines. People often buy new socks and will keep their supply fresh and abundant. As a testament to the significance of socks, last year South Korean peace activists launched about 1,000 pairs of socks into the air in large helium-filled balloons to North Korea to keep feet warm or to trade for food.
As much as I have heard about the popularity of Korean socks, no one has even quite been able to explain this to me. So I will attempt here to give my own personal insight as to the importance of socks in Korean society.
Removal of shoes
Upon entering a home or other indoor place, one is generally required to remove one’s shoes. It would be in poor form to have a worn-out dirty or smelly sock, or even worse, to have toe sticking out of a hole. Since you are often removing your shoes in Korea, you want to be sure that your socks are in good shape, clean and hole-free, thus making it a good idea to buy socks regularly. Following this, since you are showing your socked feet so often, why not have a fun collection of patterns to show off to your friends?
A sense of propriety
The Korean people have a strong sense of propriety. Wearing the right clothing for the right occasion is very important. It’s a pretty rare sight to see anyone wearing clothes that are worn, old looking, or super-casual – even for physical activities such as hiking or going to the gym. This, of course, also applies to the feet –fresh clean socks are highly regarded.
Clean floors and ondol heating
Floors are kept extremely clean. Traditionally, people live much closer to the floor and a pair of shoes on the floor is considered unseemly. This is understandable in a culture where traditionally people slept on floor mats, sit on the floor for meals and warm their homes with floor heating called ondol. It is generally a more Western / northern tradition to keep furniture higher up off the floor because floors in our climate are cold. Since heat rises, it is more desirable to be closer to the ceiling while eating and sleeping. Korean ondol keeps the floor cozy and warm, a place you want to be close to. This being said, logically you wouldn’t
want dirty socks, feet or shoes touching the place close to where you conduct daily activities such as sleep, sit or eat.
So let this be a lesson to the Canadians going overseas to Korea: If you want to make a good impression, keep your feet in clean, fresh socks.
Did you know…?
Socks are considered a respectable gift for many Korean occasions. A Canadian who gives socks to a Korean might receive a little chuckle, but you might also be complimented on your cultural acumen!