The Art Exhibition That May Knock Your Socks Off The yearlong exhibit "Socks: Between You and Your Shoes" opened this month at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack says as far as she knows, it's the world's first sock exhibition. Highlights include stockings worn by Queen Victoria and socks made out of human hair.
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The Art Exhibition That May Knock Your Socks Off

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The Art Exhibition That May Knock Your Socks Off

The Art Exhibition That May Knock Your Socks Off

The Art Exhibition That May Knock Your Socks Off

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There's a saying: Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes. But the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto hopes to go a level deeper.

The museum's yearlong exhibit "Socks: Between You and Your Shoes" opened this month.

"Socks are this seemingly humble part of our everyday wardrobe," curator Elizabeth Semmelhack tells NPR's Michele Norris. "And so I thought it was sort of high time to investigate them."

A Sock Anthropology

The exhibit is a walk through history. It begins with a replica of a shoe worn by the 5,300-year-old Neolithic man discovered in the Alps in 1991. The "socks" were bunches of grass stuffed into the shoes.

"It turns out that many people around the world — before the invention of knitting or even weaving and sewing — they would stuff grass into their shoes or boots as a means of wicking away moisture and adding a bit of comfort to their everyday going about," Semmelhack says.

The exhibit also includes socks worn by nobility: One pair belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, another was worn by Queen Victoria.

The queen's stockings "are very, very pale pink, so they probably date to early in her reign," Semmelhack says. "After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, she began to wear only black."

The exhibit also features more modern sock trends, like toe socks of the '70s, and bobby socks from the late '40s and '50s. And there's a sock puppet theater.

Definition Of A Sock

But which came first: the shoe or the sock?

"Well, I actually spent quite a bit of time trying to define for myself what a sock was," Semmelhack says. "And I decided that a sock was something that came between you and your shoe."

So, she argues, it's a simple answer: the shoe came first.