I love socks. I have two drawers full of them. My biggest stash is probably of dress socks and of that faction, the Gold Toes make up the lion’s share. But unfortunately, they’re an obscure example of a much larger problem facing brand loyalists and consumers as a whole.
Gold Toe socks have been a staple in men’s socks drawers across America since their inception in 1919, offering their namesake gold reinforced toe since the 1930s as a way to stand out from other brands. They began as a label from Great American Knitting Mills (G.A.K.M.) in Bally, Pennsylvania, officially becoming Gold Toe Brands in 2002. For nearly a century, Gold Toe and its sub-brands were known not only for their versatility, offering patterns to match any taste and colors to match any outfit, but especially for their durability. Soon after being purchased by Gildan Activewear, however—a brand famous for wholesale T-shirts—the long-esteemed quality of Gold Toe took a hit.
Gold Toes hearken back to my childhood growing up in the 1990s. My dad had many pairs of the Metropolitans—a fine 1×1 nylon rib and probably their most popular style—as well as a similar type from Burlington, known for a green ring around the toe. The Gold Toe Metropolitan, the subject of this entry, became my go-to once I started getting allowances in my teens. I would lose them all in Hurricane Katrina, but I was reintroduced to the brand and style in 2017 after receiving my first pair of Florsheims from my grandfather. Purchased from Sears, they were the same thick, “manly” socks that I remembered, only with a grey ring around the toe to let me know that they were navy and not black.
Fast forward to 2019, and I received a Sunday freelance job that encouraged the use of suits and other dress items. Now ready to finish my collection with black and brown Metros, I bagged a some in black at Stein Mart. I was elated, needless to say, but something about them felt and looked…odd. For example, Gold Toe socks usually come in multipacks, and three pairs of men’s over-the-calf socks are usually pretty heavy. But these were oddly light.
And oddly blue…
My suspicions were confirmed when wearing them for the first time. Though made to fit a range of shoe sizes—an unpopular yet common practice—Gold Toes used to fit like the gloves they technically are. But these bunched up so badly over my shoes and up my heel. Not only that, but they were unusually thin with an ink-like cast. Only then, after scouring online reviews, would I realize that they’ve fallen victim to outsourcing and cheapened production.
Brands around the world have turned to cheap labor—typically in disenfranchised areas of China—to assemble their products, often sacrificing quality in the process. On needn’t look any further than Florsheim, my favorite shoemaker. It’s also the reason why collectors and enthusiasts like me have turned to Poshmark and eBay to find products from their prime. In this case, Gildan Activewear would purchase Gold Toe Brands—as well as American Apparel, another classic—outsourcing products that were once made in America with some of the highest standards of quality in favor of ill-fitting garments of cheap materials that for some, become damaged with little provocation. I put the aforementioned “black” socks in giveaway after finding a set from 2016 on eBay—the last of the good socks.
I was inspired to write this entry while putting away laundry some time ago. I turn my best clothes inside out as a way to hide any pilling from the dryer. As exceptional as my navy Metros, I wrestled with the black socks—brand new at the time—quite a bit while turning them outside in, clicking my thumbnail against those chasmic ribs as I stacked them in the drawer. Like my Florsheims, I felt pretty good knowing that I could still find old favorites in their true forms.
It’s just that as a consumer, I wish it were the exception and not the rule…