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Today's Compression Socks: Greater Style, Wider Appeal

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Back in 1988, there was a commercial for Oldsmobile, a popular car maker. The commercial featured the now-famous line, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,” in an attempt to emphasize the car’s modern advancements and stylish improvements over the previous versions.

That line works very well today with compression socks. Just like Oldsmobile, the compression sock industry has made numerous modern advancements and stylish improvements. Consequently, it’s very accurate to state that, “These are not your father’s compression socks.”

The fact is, modern compression socks - specially made, snug-fitting, stretchy socks that gently squeeze your leg and improve circulation - have undergone a significant metamorphosis over the last two decades. While they have changed (for the better), there are two specific areas in which the most noteworthy modifications have taken place:

  • Their style
  • Who wears them

We’ll start with style, by far the most obvious transformation. Let’s face it: compression socks used to be, for lack of a better word, ugly. Really ugly. At some point, virtually every one of us has seen the older man wearing Bermuda shorts, with the knee-high compression socks. There’s no mistaking the fact that they were compression socks. They were very tight, a single color (usually black or white), and they had a weird sheen from the synthetic fibers used to create them. Or you might have seen an older woman wearing compression hosiery – an opaque and lifeless clothing item, sporting all the style of a fitted bed sheet.

That’s all changed. In recent years, a number of companies began producing compression socks sporting vibrant colors and attractive patterns. And they also began to blend in some natural, breathable fibers for added comfort without sacrificing function (ITA-MED’s MAXAR brand, for example, offers compression socks that incorporate 34% natural cotton).

The other major change has to do with who wears them. For the longest time, compression socks have been used to treat people with a wide range of circulation issues, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), varicose veins, and diabetes. They are also used by folks who have had surgery or simply have a hard time moving their legs.

Medical use of compression socks is certainly understandable, given that they are so effective. In fact, their medical benefits date back as early as the Neolithic period (5000-2500 BCE), when images of soldiers with bandaged lower extremities were found in the drawings of the caves of Tassili in Sahara. Hippocrates (450–350 BCE) treated his patients' leg ulcers with tight bandages, while Galen (130-200 CE) used wool and linen compression bandages to prevent blood from pooling in the legs.

While the curative use of compression socks continues, they are now also used proactively to prevent conditions before they can occur. Because they improve blood flow, there are myriad situations where compression socks can offer significant benefit. Many people who spend long stretches of time on airplanes wear them to prevent the creation of blood clots. People who stand all day at work can reduce swelling in their feet and legs. Pregnant women, whose legs and feet often swell up as a result of their pregnancy (some from water retention, some from the increased weight), are prime candidates.

Some athletes, including runners, basketball players, and triathletes,wear compression socks and sleeves on their legs and arms. The theory is that, during activity, better blood flow will help get oxygen to their muscles, and the support will help prevent tissue damage.

Even people who don’t stand at work, don’t have any circulation issues, and are not pregnant will appreciate the comfort and support that compression socks provide. Most people – even the most physically fit - do not achieve optimal circulation in their legs which can cause leg fatigue. For these people, compression socks will improve circulation and ward off potential circulation problems before they can occur.

The unattractive compression sock developed solely for people with circulation and other medical issues now has company: a lively, stylish sock that can offer considerable benefit to even the healthiest among us. Dare we say, it’s a sock that even your father would be proud to wear. 

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