Recently, tabi socks have undergone a renaissance of sorts; that is, they’ve grown rapidly in popularity around the world. It comes as no surprise, considering the split toed sock offers remarkable comfort, and plentiful amounts of creative designs. Of course, like all things Japanese, tabi socks, have an interesting history of their own.
Tabi socks first appeared on Japanese toes in the 15th century. Japan, being a cotton deprived country, meant only the wealthy could wear these socks. It wasn’t until trading opened up with China that Japan was able to import large sums of cotton. With the plethora of cotton at their hands, socks were being easily manufactured, and soon enough toes all over Japan were kept warm. As for the split toe design, it was simply made to fit the thonged footwear commonly worn at the time.
Often tabi socks are referred as – samurai or ninja socks – when in fact they were worn by all classes. It’s an easy misconception to have, especially when they’re typically associated with samurai clothing and kimonos. Both men and women also wore tabi socks, however, in typical Japanese fashion, restrictions based on individual status’ were in place.
The average commoner could only wear the color blue. Samurai, on the other hand, were permitted to wear any color besides gold and purple. Entertainers were allowed to wear (and often would) any type of pattern. And of course, the elite society (such as nobles and lords), could wear any color/design they so pleased; commonly they would don the upper class colors – purple and gold.
The decline of thonged footwear, as an everyday piece of clothing, saw tabi socks being removed from the public eye. However, because of their impeccable comfort, they remain as the indoor slipper of choice in Japanese households.
Colors aren’t limited to classes anymore. In fact, the true artisans of today will generally create patterned designs. One of our tabi sock manufacturers, Musashino Uniform, actually specialize in combining traditional Japanese themes into modern designs.
A testament to these socks, is the ability to withstand the test of time. Because of their reinvention, they’ve become trendy but convenient pieces of apparel. The market itself has even increased, where companies across the world are manufacturing these socks. However, without a doubt, true quality comes from Japanese artisans – who have strived in perfecting this product.