It is unclear just how many $1,200 hoodies or $2,000+ jeans Vetements actually sells each season but the Swiss-based brand undeniably sells a lot of socks. Prior to leaving her post as Net-a-Porter’s Vice President of Global Buying early this year, Sarah Rutson confirmed that Vetements’ logoed athletic tube socks were remarkably popular. In fact, Net-a-Porter sold 500 pairs of these $95 over a period of five days last year. Other retailers have confirmed similar performance on their sites, as well. 

And Vetements is not alone. Off-White’s $75 stripe-covered socks likely also sell well based on the hype surrounding Virgil Abloh’s brand, and the same can probably be said about Balenciaga’s branded socks and Thom Browne’s red-white-and-blue tabbed version.

At the higher-end of the spectrum, Gucci is also taking on the trend with at least some success. A sequined pair bearing the house’s blue-red-blue striped logo is going for $520, while a green-red-green pair complete with a bejeweled bow applique will set you back $455. And wildly enough, people are, in fact, buying into these.

As noted by Vogue’s Mary Holgate early this year, “I happened to pass by a colleague’s desk only the other day to hear her wail that she could never find the Gucci version, with the house’s classic red/green bands, because they were always snapped up before she could get her hands, and then I guess her feet, on them.”

She may have been referring to Gucci’s more affordable $95 striped pair. Nonetheless, why exactly are people shelling out a hundred or … in some cases, hundreds of dollars for socks, you ask? The reasoning is actually quite straightforward.

I suspect it is not all that different from the long-standing and well-documented practice of licensing – at least in theory, and of more accessible products. Licensing – for those unfamiliar – is the practice of contracting with another party to obtain and use rights, intellectual property rights in our case, in exchange for an agreed payment (a fee or royalty). 

A common example comes by way of cosmetics giant Coty, which holds the licenses for Calvin Klein, Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs, and Miu Miu’s beauty, among many other brands, and as a result, has the exclusive right tomanufacture, market and distribute cosmetics and fragrances for these brands. Another big one: Luxottica, which purchased the licenses to make, market, and sell eyewear for brands, including Chanel, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, and Versace.

These licensed products uniformly retail for significantly more affordable prices than these brands’ ready-to-wear and accessories offerings, thereby, enabling a larger pool of consumers to purchase them. By partaking in such licensing deals, fashion companies are able to handsomely supplement their ready-to-wear revenues (more about that here). They also enable consumers to buy into/experience their brands and benefit from the social codes their trademarks project – at a fraction of the price of their main collection products.

This is what the socks are doing. While they are not licensed – because they are, at least in most cases, produced in-house, they are conferring the benefits of the accessible products for which brands typically rely on licenses.

Note: Not all accessible products are produced via license arrangements. Givenchy, for instance, quite notably began producing some of its most affordable products to date – t-shirts and small leather goods – under the watch of Riccardo Tisci. While these goods are produced in-house (aka not by a licensee), they serve the same purpose as licensed goods and as the socks.

While Rutson says she was surprised by how well the Vetements socks, in particular, sold for Net-a-Porter, it is really not all that shocking. Socks are the new status symbol.