PYMNTS Intelligence Alternate Banner June 2024

Gen Z and Millennial Sock Shoppers Go Toe to Toe

socks, fashion, pair of thieves, retail, millennials, Gen Z

It looks like there’s a generational paradigm shift in a key hosiery category — on platforms such as TikTok, viral videos depict a lighthearted sock war between millennials and Generation Z.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Mona Goshin, senior vice president of merchandising and product development at Pair of Thieves, a brand that sells socks, among other items, spoke to this generational shift in sock-buying preferences.

“We see that the trends definitely dictate how our sales work,” Goshin said. “…We know as well from NPD [new product development] that … they’re definitely seeing that the trend towards the higher silhouettes is affecting global sock sales,” adding that the company also relied on insights from consumer behavior firm Circana.

The recent uptick in awareness among older consumers about these generational differences has accelerated the shift.

“[The trend has] been going on for a while, but certainly has gained some enthusiasm as the noise is happening on social media, and people are talking about these trends,” Goshin said.

As these videos put forward, Gen Z consumers lean towards crew socks or even higher styles, often featuring bold colors or graphics. This reflects a broader emphasis on comfort and self-expression within Gen Z fashion choices. Millennials, on the other hand, are playfully stereotyped as favoring ankle socks that disappear into shoes. This highlights a potential generational difference in fashion priorities, with millennials valuing a more streamlined aesthetic.

Videos on TikTok showing millennials wearing higher socks to look younger have garnered millions of views.

In fact, PlayUSA even conducted a survey of 2,000 Americans that found that 68% of Gen Z consumers believe that no-show socks are out of style versus just 44% of millennials, and 59% of Gen Z said the same of ankle socks versus 23% of millennials.

“It’s fun to watch what’s going on social media and with the public in terms of these trends and to see people talk about socks,” Goshin said. “I’ve been working in the sock world for over a decade, and it’s just really fun to see people engage and have so much passion about what types of socks they think define them.”

Plus, Gen Z and millennials alike look to social media to inform their shopping behaviors. Background research from the study “Tracking the Digital Payments Takeover: Monetizing Social Media,” a PYMNTS Intelligence and Amazon Web Services collaboration, found that 68% of Gen Z look to social media platforms for shopping inspiration, along with 64% of millennials.

Yet millennial shoppers may be less plugged into what people are saying about them on TikTok. The study found that 37% of Gen Z had browsed for or purchased products on the app in the platform month, versus just 25% of millennials. Gen Z and millennials alike were more likely to browse or shop on Instagram, with 46% and 38% of consumers in these generations, respectively, doing so.

“All that [social media] conversation to me is about people really being more educated, more conscious and more aware of what silhouettes even exist in socks,” Goshin said. “…I think some of that [millennial vs. Gen Z trend] is probably not completely a one-to-one to how people really live, but I think it’s fun to watch.”