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Inventions to Match Up Matching Socks

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

(Image credit: Flickr user Jeremy Richardson)

Tiptoeing towards a solution to an annoying, minor problem
by Csikszentmihalyi Aeiou, Improbable Research staff

Humanity, beset by countless worries, devotes time and thought to preventing or solving the problem of how to match a pair of socks. Here are a few of the notable efforts.

Anderson’s Sock-Matching Innovation
“I.D. Socks (Identification Socks),” U.S. patent 4734938, issued Apr 5, 1988, to Bruce R. Anderson. The patent document explains:

A sock (hosiery) with identification markings includes the sock, a written word description of the color of the sock, and a symbol or symbols. The word description and the symbol are permanently integrated into the sock. The user uses the markings to pair the socks after laundry, to identify the color of the socks in poor light conditions, and to keep original pairs of socks together.

This invention relates in general to socks and in particular to men’s dress socks, but not limited to this category only.

Socks, for example, men’s dress socks, are composed of various materials and are usually of dark, solid colors. Being of this nature, when a week’s laundry is done there are many single dark socks which are difficult and tedious to pair back together. A further disadvantage is that in poor lighting conditions, as the early morning hours, it is very difficult for the businessman to tell what color socks he is putting on. A still further disadvantage is when a person has more than one pair of identical socks, bought at different times, it is difficult to pair them up based on the age of the pairs.

It is desirable to have socks which are marked in a manner such that their color may be determined under most lighting conditions.... It is also desirable to mark socks so as to indicate pairs thereof. Presently, it is impossible to tell whether two socks of the same color were originally of the same pair where more than two socks of the same color are present. In particular, this problem is encountered following laundering of the socks. Sorting of socks after laundering would be facilitated by the use of pair-indicating indicia....


A dress sock having indicia to indicate or markings to connote color and pairs thereof is generally indicated at 10 of FIG. 1.... A color indicating indicium or designating mark 12 is knitted into the sock at a location not visible during wear. The color indicating indicium mark 12 comprises the name of the color of the sock. For example, as shown at 12 in FIG. 1, the word “blue” has been knitted into the sock.... In addition, the color indicating indicium mark 12 is knitted in a color different from the body of the sock 10 such that there is a sufficient contrast between the two colors. This contrast will facilitate reading of the color indicating indicium mark 12 by persons unable to distinguish colors or shades.

The pair indicating indicium or designating mark 14 comprises a pair of symbols which are knitted into the sock 10 on either side of the color indicating indicium 12. The pair indicating indicium mark 14 may be one of a plurality of geometric symbols, such as triangles, stars, diamonds, squares, circles, etc. The pair indicating indicium 14 may be used to facilitate sorting of the socks after laundering.... By using a wide variety of symbols, a person can own several pairs of the same color of dress socks without having the same symbol on more than one pair.

Shofner’s Sock-Matching Innovation
“Socks With Color Indicators to Facilitate Matching of Components,” U.S. patent 5708984, issued Jan 20, 1998, to Michael Monroe Shofner. The patent document explains:

An improved pair of socks is disclosed for human feet. The improvement comprises providing a distinctive color indicator on each sock of the pair, in a location that will be covered by the shoe of the wearer, to facilitate pairing of the socks which comprise the pair, wherein the color of the indicator is selected so as to be capable of distinguishing the socks of the pair from other socks of similar or like color and of the same size....

When socks are not properly matched with their mates, embarrassment can result. In addition, the components of a pair that have not been matched and kept together may be worn a different number of times, and consequently laundered a different number of times. This may make subsequent attempts at matching more difficult, because the components of the pair may not  appear to be identical.

It would be desirable therefore, if a sock could be provided that can readily be matched with its mate without requiring the use of rings or other devices for holding the socks together....

[As shown in FIG. 3, the] sock 10 includes as its distinctive color indicator, according to the invention, the thread that is utilized to form toe-seam 17, which thread is provided in a distinctive color, which may be black, white, or of any color that can be distinguished from the surrounding portion of the sock. Preferably, the thread which serves as the distinctive color indicator... exhibits a color or hue that is different from the color or hue of the dominant color of the sock.


The article above is from the September-October 2015 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues in pdf form for only $25 a year! Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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