I was first made aware of the Burlington Sock brand in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Growing up in the leafy suburbs of South West London (well, leafy to some extent, the small parts that weren’t concrete, grey and covered in rubbish anyway). The look of the day for guys was a move on from the previous British style tribe of the Casuals. Gone were the Lois Cords, Farah trousers, the Tacchini, Ellesse and Fila Tracksuits, Gabicci sweats, Kappa T-Shirts, Benetton Rugby Shirts and Cecil Gees Gee 2 line of clothing. Gone also were neon socks (my brother favoured one orange one and one lime one) and gone were the Nike white tube socks, the ones with the two horizontal lines at the top running either side of the swoosh.
Replacing these were the new brands on the block, and worn with even more of a swagger; some coined this look as Rudeboy but for me this name existed far before this period in time. In my small corner of the world that was South London; it didn’t matter what the name was, it was our uniform. This wasn’t streetwear, as that word hadn’t yet been invented. This was when us Brits embraced a new breed of foreign brands for our clothing. We wore Chevignon leather bomber jackets (amazing leather and quality) or Togs Unlimited Puffas (Also by Chevignon, I sold my Togs Puffa Gilet so that I could afford to buy a Stone Island duffle coat. Stone Island, that’s a whole separate story right there). We wore Chipie chinos, loose and oversized and kept in place by our El Charro leather belts. On our feet we were split between the USA and Germany, we wore Air Max 1’s, 90’s and 180’s from Nike, and the Torsion range of Adidas trainers, with the ZX8000 OG colour being the standout one in mind that completed the look. There were obviously other options, Vikings and Clarks for a smarter look, and other sportswear brands such as Troop, stocked in niche London independent stores like Four Star General alongside Adidas clothing and trainers that you would only find in that one store in London or the holy grail of a visit (or more likely a relatives visit) to the US.
It was also at this time that I was first made aware of the pin roll. We’d progressed from a simple turn up, to tucking our trousers into our socks to finally end in a state of trouser height altering nirvana on a turn fold and roll that if done correctly would hold in place all day (dependent upon thickness of the fabric and the skill of the ‘pin-roller’ in question). One elevated guy in our group introduced the technique and from that point on we all fully embraced it. It was a much smarter and cleaner looking option than tucking trousers into socks. Why the need to pin roll, well because we wanted to show off our choice of trainers and also our choice of socks. And that choice for many others, and myself was the Burlington Argyle patterned sock.
For probably around two full years I didn’t wear any other brand or style of sock. Not so shocking if you are from that era and location, as choice was not the greatest. In the most part the only other options were white terry toweling sport socks or a wide choice of plain black, plain grey or plain navy three pack socks from that bastion of British brands that is St. Michael; the house brand of Marks & Spencer.
I had Burlington Argyle socks across the whole colour spectrum. It was the first time that I considered the sock as an essential and considered part of the overall look and the need to match and blend the colour options of the whole outfit to complete the look. The beauty with the Argyle pattern and its multi colour options was that you only had to get one colour match to blend with your footwear or outfit selection and you could use the other colours to pop the look. Whether cotton or wool, we weren’t so fussy on material choice, colour options being the only decisions to be made.
I, like my compatriots at the time, believed that Burlington Socks was a British brand. We didn’t ask, we just assumed. And we didn’t have the Internet to rely on to inform us otherwise. To my own shame and admission it was only until fairly recently that I found out that the origin of Burlington was further afield.
The origins of the Burlington Sock brand started back in the 1920’s, in Burlington, North Carolina in the USA. At this time the town was suffering due to closures of its textile plants. This was until a gentleman by the name of Spencer Love agreed to take up the offer from the Towns Fathers to revitalize the plants. On November 6th, 1923 a new company ‘Burlington Mills was chartered.
In 1935 the headquarters were moved to Greesnboro, North Carolina, so that they could be closer to the railway and have easier transport links to its operations in New York. The main business was the production of textile fabric. Cotton and Rayon.
According to unsubstantiated reports, hosiery was added to the offer in 1938.
Further unsubstantiated reports (there’s only so much you can find on the internet) inform us that Argyle socks were introduced in the 1970’s. However, this advert above is allegedly from 1958.
The origin of the Argyle pattern is British. Stemming from the Tartan of Scotland. The diamond pattern is actually a Tartan by cut on the bias. Its first origins are from the Tartan of the Campbell Clan, led by the Duke of Argyll. It is made knitted flat using the intarsia technique. The diagonal stitches are either knitted in or embroidered on afterwards. The pattern was popular in Britain in the 1920’s, worn on the golf courses of Scotland. It was introduced to America by the then president of Brooks Brothers, John Clark Wood, who discovered this fabric while on a golf course on holiday in Scotland in the 1940’s.
As we can see from the 1979 advert above, sexism, alcohol and tobacco were all great props used in the selling of gentlemens socks in the 70’s.
In 1985 the Burlington Clip, the name for the metal stud only seen on one sock, was introduced. Believed to be introduced to differentiate the Burlington brand from other inferior Argyle Sock producers. Argument still rages whether the Burlington Clip should be worn on the wearers inside or outside. Sock Club London doesn’t rule on this (same applies with the Stance sock embroidery, inspired or imitation?) and is left up to the wearers’ point of view. To carry on the controversy we took the lifestyle shots with both options. Knowing that we’d upset probably everyone in equal measure on this controversial point; no apologies, no regrets.
In 2003 Burlington Industries (a name changed occurred in 1955) was unfortunately in a less favourable position and went into bankruptcy; the assets were acquired by International Textile Group (who also, for you denim aficionados out there, acquired the Cone Mills Corporation in 2004).
In 2008 the German company Falke, they of the very impressive and premium hosiery brand of the same name, acquired the trademark rights to the Burlington Brand. They have successfully managed to uphold the original traditions of the Brand, and continue to deliver products of a premium quality that are innovative in design.
I’m less Rudeboy and more older man these days, the swagger is more internal than external, but some 25 years later, Burlingtons Argyle socks remain a part of my regular sock rotation and as such part of my sock game. From origins on the golf courses of Scotland, via the USA, back to Britain and South London in the 1980’s, now made in Germany and recognised globally, they are a true wardrobe staple and a timeless classic.