A couple of blog readers have asked me about some of my pants-pulling photos which I sometimes upload onto Instagram – photos which I have managed to, uh, keep off the blog so far. Specifically, it’s the colourful and radically patterned socks they were curious about…these Japanese hand-made socks, should I buy a pair?
Today I wanted to explore the practical issues with regard to these craftsman-made, Japanese socks, and hopefully help you decide whether purchasing one might be a good idea.
Japan is not new at making socks, and well-known brands such as CHUP and Anonymous Ism all had their start in the 1990s, building off the back of an already established sock industry in Japan. The idea with these craftsman socks is similar to the reproduction denim revival in Japan which had occurred around the same time – clothes made slowly, the old fashioned way, with careful attention to craftsmanship and detailing. These manufacturers use variations of vintage stocking frame machines, which produce only a couple of dozen socks per machine per day. Hand-linking at the toes is also a major selling point here.
Many of the newer, more innovative denim and work-wear brands in Japan also produce similar vintage-style socks nowadays. However, the two major brands over the past decade have been Anonymous Ism and CHUP, with socks from these guys becoming increasingly available through Western retailers and webshops over the past few years. Let’s take a look.
Anonymous Ism socks are a great match with denim and work-wear garments, as they take inspiration from the same military and work-wear roots. True to their name, Anonymous Ism socks had, at one stage, been difficult to research and to find, but thanks to the Internet it is actually one of the most accessible Japanese sock brands at the moment, with a number of Western retailers selling their socks online.
Anonymous Ism releases many interesting socks patterns every year, from Fair Isles to Boro-style patch work. There are also consistent releases of heather/melange and cable-knit socks, although I do not find them as interesting, given similar socks are made by a variety of Western manufacturers.
Their indigo socks are some of my favourites, working well with denim jeans.
Anonymous Ism also tends to have larger, less variegated patterns on their socks compared with CHUP, being less folksy and more traditional.
Many of their socks also tend to have a fluffier finish compared with CHUP. The materials used are also more varied, with various cotton & wool blends on offer.
In addition to good accessibility and a wide selection of sock styles & patterns, Anonymous Ism can sometimes be found on sale. Expect to pay somewhere around USD $20 to $35 per pair at RRP, with indigo socks being a bit more expensive.
Keep in mind that Anonymous Ism socks are usually one size – if your feet are larger than US size 10, many of their socks won’t fit you. It’s not just the length either, but also the fact that many of their socks are tubular in construction, and can prove very tight for people with thicker ankles or feet.
CHUP is perhaps my favourite sock brand – they have magnificent patterns, with interesting and funky designs popping up all the time! CHUP is, however, slightly less accessible compared with Anonymous Ism, though still easily acquired over the Internet.
In addition to incredible patterns, CHUP offers their socks in different sizes; L sized CHUP socks will fit up to US size 11 feet. I am caught between the M and L sizes, at US size 9, as you can see in the photo below where I am wearing a size M.
Although CHUP doesn’t really do indigo socks, their fantastic pattern work makes up for any lack of indigo. They take various ethnic and traditional patterns from across the world, and turn the dial up to turbo. Everything from Fair Isles to Aztec, there’s never a boring sock.
I do feel that CHUP’s construct across their sock range is perhaps more consistent than Anonymous Ism, both in terms of sizing and quality. I also prefer CHUP’s lower gauge, denser weave and more natural finish.
Again, expect to pay between USD $20 to $35 RRP. CHUP also has some new lines of thicker socks, such as the “Defender” & “Crasftman” socks, but I have yet to try these personally.
Many other Japanese brands!
Many other Japanese brands are also offering vintage style and even indigo socks. White’s Mountaineering, in particular, has put out some very well made socks in the past few years, though their range is irregular & small, and their socks can be very hard to find (and expensive when you do find them).
Brands such as Koromo and Kapital have been notable for their Japanese folk style, indigo dyed socks. Although indigo anything tends to increase the price quite dramatically, and sometimes you’ll end up with socks that are approaching 3-digit pricing.
Beams+ has released some very nice socks too, which are a little more utilitarian, taking a more mid-century outdoors and sports approach. These are more affordable than the other brands mentioned here, though many Western sock manufacturers make fairly similar socks.
Denim brands such as Samurai, Studio D’Artisan, Stevenson Overall, McCoy, The Flat Head, etc all produce vintage-style tube & sports socks too. These repro socks tend to be a bit more muted and understated compared with Anonymous Ism or CHUP. I’m a big fan of Stevenson’s tube socks.
I do want to make a special mention of Tender Co.: whilst not Japanese, Tender is producing some traditionally constructed socks with natural materials and dyes. Tender’s socks pair very well with denim and work-wear garments, and rival the Japanese socks in terms of quality and finish. These English socks are a better option in cold or inclement weather too!
Practical Aspects & Thoughts
Having now owned more than 20 pairs of Japanese socks, I’d like to point out a few of my own thoughts for people new to the sock game.
- Japanese craftman-made socks are not necessarily going to last longer or be more durable than a well-constructed pair of ‘modern’ socks. These Japanese socks tend to be made with cotton or cotton-blend, and are usually not as thick as work or hiking socks; don’t expect a pair of CHUP socks to outlast your wool/nylon/mil. spec hiking socks.
- These Japanese socks are comparatively expensive and are not “investments”. In Western society, people usually don’t get to see your socks (there’s no cultural expectation to remove shoes when indoors), and socks are not like a denim jacket or a leather belt which will last for decades. I honestly can’t say that craftsman socks are “good value” – they are play things for people with money to spare.
- Where performance matters – hiking, camping, sporting activities etc – a well made pair of wool socks from Australia or America will serve much better. These Japanese socks are best used for polite outings, as they don’t necessarily wick sweat or keep your feet warm any better than whatever you can buy from your local sock brands.
- I tend to restrict my purchasing of Japanese socks to cotton socks with intricate patterns or natural dyes. It doesn’t make much sense for Westerners to buy plain socks, wool socks or hiking/sporting socks from Japan – you’ll be paying a premium for no good reason.
- In my own opinion, socks are probably the last thing to acquire as part of a denim or work-wear wardrobe. It makes no sense to be wearing indigo-dyed Anonymous Ism socks if you’re at the stage in this hobby where you are wearing Unbranded jeans and Converse shoes. I’d start by investing money in nicer jeans and better leathers before throwing money at socks.
Ultimately, Japanese craftsman socks are just another aspect of our hobby to nerd out about. For the man who already owns a few pairs of Japanese denim jeans and custom boots, purchasing a few pairs of CHUP or Anonymous Ism might be a great way to keep this hobby fresh. For devoted military and work-wear reproduction enthusiasts, the sock offerings by the Japanese denim brands are worth a look too. However, for folks who are at an early stage in this hobby, I’d recommend saving that money for other garment purchases and revisiting Japanese socks at a later time when your denim & leather collections merit similarly high-quality socks.