Socks were the top clothing item Americans bought during the pandemic

Scrambling for socks.
Scrambling for socks.
Image: Reuters
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Is there such a thing as too many socks? Many Americans don’t seem to think so.

Over the last two years of the pandemic, socks have become shoppers’ top clothing purchase, replacing tee shirts, according to data from the NPD Group. One out of every five items of clothing bought in the US in 2020 and 2021 was a pair of socks.

The trend dovetails with people staying at home for longer periods, as nearly 70% of American adults wear socks around the house. This figure is even higher for men, older folks, and people living in the Northeast, NPD said.

While socks worn primarily for sleeping represent only 3% of the socks market, it’s a subset that has mushroomed 21% in the last four years. Sales for sleep socks, which tend to be extra plush and not as constrictive, have grown four times as fast as those for socks overall, a reflection also of how people are spending more time in bed.

Socks are a great impulse buy

The fast growth in socks may also owe something to the explosion in ecommerce too. Largely affordable, socks are easy to throw into a shopping cart when a customer is a few dollars shy of free shipping, NPD said.

But even offline, socks are a popular if random buy. With people returning to physical shopping, “more foot traffic created opportunity for impulse purchases,” said Maria Rugolo, apparel industry analyst at NPD. Unplanned sock purchases accounted for nearly one-third of in-store sock purchases in 2021—a 19% increase, versus 2020.