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No Sweat : New Ways of Making Dress Socks Help Keep the Feet Cool, Dry and Itch-Free

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Making a good match is about as much thought as most guys give to their socks. But as the day wears on, as toes begin to sweat and ankles to itch, they may think twice about what’s on their feet.

It seems that soggy, itchy feet have become a rallying point of late for the $2.4-billion-a-year sock business. Not since odor-eating Biogard was developed in the 1960s have manufacturers made so many claims about their products.

Recent attention has focused on high-performance sport socks that incorporate multiple layers of yarn on high-stress areas, and wicking, in which fibers such as Lycra, acrylic and/or nylon help draw moisture away from skin so it evaporates more easily.

“If your socks don’t keep your feet dry, you develop more friction, which causes itching and blisters,” explains Jeff Gilleland, marketing director for Greensboro, N.C.-based Kayser-Roth.

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Now, these innovations are being applied to dress socks. What took so long? The development of super-thin stretchy fibers that resist moisture without adding bulk.

“What we’ve done is develop this dyed cotton yarn (that) wraps around a strand of Lycra,” says Mike Speyer, president of Mountain High Knitting, a San Diego-based maker of dress socks sold in major department stores. He says the Lycra replaces greater amounts of the nylon or acrylic that supply “stay-up ability,” and the cotton sops up moisture.

“Think of it like a pencil. The cotton is the wood and the Lycra is the lead going down the middle. So the Lycra never touches the skin,” he says.

We put a handful of the new dress socks through a week’s worth of wear and washings. Here is how the major brands performed.

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Brand: Perfect Fit by Great American Knitting (sold under the Gold Toe, Perry Ellis and Arrow labels in department and specialty stores); in solid colors and fancy patterns; $6.50 (anklets) to $7.50 (over the calf).

Technology: A core of thin Lycra is braided with a cotton, wool or rayon yarn for stretch and added comfort.

Performance: Although the socks have a snug elastic band designed to keep them from slouching, they slipped down around the ankles after an hour’s wear. They retained their color through 10 washings, remaining comfortable and virtually sweat-proof.

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Brand:Burlington DuraMax by Kayser-Roth, sold in department stores; in solid colors; $5 to $7.

Technology: A patented, high-tech method of weaving cotton, nylon, acrylic or wool yarns is used to strengthen the material and expand the socks’ life span.

Performance: Socks stayed soft, comfortable and stretchy through the first four washings. After the sixth wash, their color faded and elasticity decreased, making them difficult to pull over the ankle. Moderately moist toes after eight hours’ wear.

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Brand: Ultimate Fit all-natural socks by Mountain High Knitting, sold in department stores; in solids and patterns; $6.50 to $9.50.

Technology: Ultra-thin Lycra is substituted for large amounts of stretch nylon in a largely cotton dress sock.

Performance: The socks remained soft and comfortable on the first wearing but tended to slip down around the ankles. They retained most of their color and elasticity through eight washings. Slight moisture on toes after five hours’ wear.


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