Let’s talk about socks, baby. They’ve been around since the caveman days when hunters fastened animal pelts to their feet to keep their toes nice and toasty. During the Medieval times, making socks was no easy feat (pun intended). Each pair was hand-sewn, and it was considered a sign of nobility if you had the privilege of wearing them. It wasn’t until the 16th century invention of the knitting machine that socks ceased being a luxury item and were mass-produced for the general population. Socks originated as humble multi-taskers: To keep our feet from freezing, chafing, and sweating. And yet, despite their far-from-glam, utilitarian beginnings, they’ve evolved into a statement accessory for both women and men who want to rock out with their socks out. From tech nerds to top models, everyone’s having wild and crazy socks.

Photo: Strathcona Socks

So when did socks make the shift from bland cotton basic to “it” fashion item? Unlike most flashy accessories such as scarves and hats, a stylish pair of socks is a bit of an inside joke, a secret unbeknownst to everyone but the wearer. But sometimes these cozy accessories have the chance to steal the spotlight – a pot leaf, polka dot, or pink frosted donut peaking out from underneath the cuff of your jeans or layered underneath wedge sandals (yes, sandals and socks are the odd couple du jour). It’s on these occasions that one must be prepared with the right kind of ankle flair. Like a risqué pair of lacy undies, it’s empowering to have a secret weapon underneath. “Lingerie for men,” one writer explains.

Photo: Richer Poorer

In 2012 The New York Times first reported on the flamboyant sock trend sweeping Silicon Valley, writing, “In a land where the uniform — jeans, hoodies and flip-flops— is purposefully nonchalant, and where no one would be caught dead in a tie, wearing flashy socks is more than an expression of your personality. It signals that you are part of the in crowd. It’s like a secret handshake for those who have arrived, and for those who want to.” According to The Wall Street Journal, sock sales increased 5.6 % to 4.22 billion for the 12-month period ending April 2013, and are up 2% from August of 2013 to August of 2014. Even celebrities are getting a piece. Rob Kardashian launched luxury sock label Arthur George in 2012, and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z became a stakeholder in Stance Socks, a mega-popular performance-meets-personality brand designed in San Clemente, CA and aspiring to “unravel the spool of convention.”

And the wacky sock trend is not exclusive to the men of tech, rap, and reality TV. 2014 saw the ubiquity of fashion’s unlikeliest pairing – socks and sandals worn in unison, and yes, in public. Though first spotted in 2010 on the Burberry Prorsum runway, it’s taken a few years for the trend to take off. The Olsen Twins, Elle Fanning and Sarah Jessica Parker have been seen repping the once-scorned combo, and just last March, Kate Brien of Instagram’s uber-popular View From The Topp photographed a collection of Matisse and Mona Lisa emblazoned “art socks” for Vogue, kicking off New York’s Frieze Art Fair.

Photo: View From The Topp For Vogue

From nubby knits to aztec prints to blinding neons, novelty socks are definitely covering serious ground, from knee-high to low-brow. Clashist Founder and Creative Director Heather Lipner, whose outlandish and entertaining LA-based brand is a favorite of Lena Dunham and makes T-shirts, leggings, and now hosiery imprinted with Bill Murray’s face, says that novelty socks are “the gateway drug to bold fashion which is currently a trend.” She believes that the zany sock look is unisex, depending on print. I mean, who doesn’t want to add some pep to their step in the form of Wes Andersen movie patches, or indulge in some stoner debauchery with Seth Rogen?

Photo: “Best Buds” Socks By Clashist

Allie Greenberg, Marketing Manager for SoCal based Richer Poorer, a brand on a mission “To make everyday products better than themselves,” compares the pervasiveness of pop socks to the Dadaist theories of artist Marcel Duchamp. “He had this way of taking things that were already in existence and re-envisioning how you looked at them, and I think socks are the same way,” she says. Fashion, right now, is all about the basics with a twist. “One of the most popular ways we are seeing this is with our Low Show sock. These come in stripes, prints, and patterns, and are perfect for peeping out of ankle boots or under a pair of Birkenstocks. We believe that great design is what sets us apart. Our designers are classically trained in graphics, so they approach everything with specific detail to color and balance.”

Photo: Richer Poorer

Whether you’re sassing up those suit pants or loafing around the house, the novelty sock trend brings out the best in fashion, promoting fun and self-expression. Noah, a 33-year-old married lawyer in Los Angeles loves getting new socks for birthdays and as stocking stuffers. He explains, “I’m not a particularly creative dresser and tend to stick to a uniform of jeans and a button down shirt (or a suit), so socks are a place to add a little personality to an outfit. And cheaper than having dozens of pairs of shoes.” On the other end of the spectrum, there’s platinum-punk White Lung frontwoman Mish Way, who occasionally switches up her all-black uniform to rock “girly” artist-designed printed hosiery by Canadian-made Strathcona. “My friend Ryley’s stocking and sock brand is really beautiful. She creates all the patterns, really pretty and elegant which make my gnarly feet feel feminine for a day. Otherwise, just black socks. I’m a goth by foot.”

Photo: Strathcona Stockings