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Like bagged milk or the dulcet tones of CBC Radio while you’re driving through a blizzard, Roots Cabin Socks are a staple of Canadian life. They’re warm, they’re wooly, and they’re capable of holding their own when temperatures drop below freezing (even when that happens to be in August). They’re also, somewhat curiously, a bonafide fashion accessory up there.
Growing up in Toronto, we wore the classic version — heather gray and ivory, with a red stripe around the ankle — scrunched down around clunky Birkenstock clogs, often with matching salt-and-pepper Roots sweatpants (always with the inside pocket flipped out, the better to hold our flip phones); or, on Friday nights, with flippy Hollister mini skirts and Urban Outfitters graphic tees.
Mid-aughts revival aside, I’ve retired most of my high school wardrobe, but the socks have stuck around, partly because they’re genuinely practical and partly because nothing I’ve found in the States quite compares.
As much as I’d like to, I can’t share our prime minister; I can, however, share the joy of these socks.
For a company that started less than 50 years ago by two guys from Detroit, Roots has managed to become one of Canada’s quintessential heritage brands, and a reliable source of swag stamped with maple leaves, beavers, and self-conscious slogans (this season’s is “nice,” because, y’know, Canadians are nice?)
The brand wasn’t the first to make gray wooly socks with a red stripe — as far as I can tell, that honor goes to Duray, a Québec company founded in 1939 — but it has been the most successful at marketing them. Roots even has an entire Cabin Collection™, so you can buy a speckled-gray hoodie, snood, or tea towel to match your feet. (I bought the joggers this fall and regret nothing.)
At $16 for a pack of two (or $20.50 CAD at current exchange), the signature socks are relatively expensive, so plenty of us grew up wearing cheaper, off-brand versions. Most of these are fine, provided the elastic doesn’t give out and the fabric isn’t unbearably itchy, though they aren’t nearly as warm or luxurious to pull on. Target, for instance, carries $4 Stripe Crew Boot Socks, but given that the company failed to stock, well, basically anything during its brief stint in Canada, buying them would feel like a mild act of treason.
I’ve accumulated a pretty sizable collection over the years and can confirm that in any incarnation, Cabin Socks are too bulky to wear with most shoes, but fit perfectly, Cinderella-style, into a pair of Birks or a sensible hiking boot. I’ve worn them on canoe trips in Ontario and curled up on my couch in New York, and either way, they feel like home.