Sneakerheads’ Newest Obsession: Nike Elite Socks

As far as sneaker consumerism, I kind of feel like I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen people overpay in dollar amounts I could never imagine for shoes I’d never wear. I’ve seen fights and police at sneaker lineups. So it takes something special to make me do a double take. About a month ago when I was hunting a new hoops shoe, I was skimming my old stomping grounds NikeTalk for a new hoops shoe, I stumbled upon a message board thread title that caught my attention. “What’s good with Nike Elite Basketbal Crew socks? (SOCKS FTW!)”

Socks? Really?

But the thread had about 100 pages at the time, and actually started about a year ago when I discovered it. I found it totally fascinating and bizarre. I don’t pay a ton of attention to my socks. I don’t buy bottom-of-the-barrel stuff because I’ve just found that my habits tend to burn them up too quickly, but I’ve also never gone out of my way to find the ultra premium stuff either. And yet, it was tough to miss Elite socks this season in college basketball, whether you knew you saw them or not. They were those socks seemingly every school wore — most notably, Kentucky — with the marks down the back of the leg. They were generally crew length, another real departure from most times when people like to wear no-shows or lows.

Most fascinating about the thread wasn’t the obsession with the quality — although there was a fair amount of that — but it was the hunt. These socks had become the new thing to find before they disappeared from store shelves. Special editions of them were reaching profoundly insane prices on eBay.

$1,025 for a pair? (OK, probably someone who wound up not paying.) But more realistically, $250 for a pair of the limited edition Think Pink Breast Cancer ones? It was incredible to me. You can get yourself a quarter-cut pair of USA Basketball ones for just a shade under $100 after shipping. And how do you know when a Nike product has truly made it? When there are even fake versions floating around. (Not to disparage this seller, but the word on NT is that the pairs coming from Israel are fake.) Even other companies are making similar socks. And I don’t mean similar in tech. I mean similar in look and style. How else would you explain this offering from Under Armour with an awfully similar stripe down the back?

So I was at least curious. I went out on my own and started hunting for a pair of these socks to try. And that is no easy task. Finding the running version is a little more straightforward. I tracked those down on my first trip. But my first few tries out for the basketball version got a lot of the same replies from store workers that all sounded like this. “No, we are out. Yes, we usually carry them. They disappear immediately.” I sort of expected eye rolls and a lot of “Elite what?” responses, but every time I asked an employee, I didn’t get the impression I was the first person that day, nor would I be the last, to ask about them.

The socks run $12 when you find them for retail, although there is a special Kobe Bryant quarter-cut edition floating around at Foot Locker stores that is allegedly $15. (As an aside, I found the Bryant ones because I wanted quarter-cuts, but didn’t have time to make it to the store tonight. Will have to give it a try tomorrow or over the weekend.)

Finally, about a week ago, I found a pair of white/black elites — I also found some red ones, but didn’t want socks that loud, so I only grabbed one pair. The verdict, without having actually played in them yet: they’re comfortable, but are they $12/pair comfortable? Not sold. More than likely, I’m going to opt for the next step down and play these now that I’ve got Zoom Kobe VI lows.

But regardless of what I do, these Elite socks are a success by any measure Nike uses. They can’t keep the things on shelves at this point. What I’m most interested in now is how Nike has created this grass roots viral apparel hit. (Buzz words!) They don’t advertise socks like they do shoes, and as far as I know, there hasn’t been a transcendent moment featuring these socks that I can remember with a notable athlete. On some level, I’m sure it’s built in grass roots hoops. Nike-outfitted teams wearing the things create curiosity with players who go out and find them, but just the fact that a specific type of sock has enough branding that every employee I’ve spoken to knew them immediately speaks volumes to Nike’s branding power, yet again.

Have you tried the Nike Elite socks? Do you even pay attention to the kind of socks you usually wear? I’d be interested to hear from the peanut gallery on this one.

(Image via NikeTalk)

Editor’s note: Just an update to this. I asked Stevie Taylor, a high school senior headed to my alma mater about his experience with Elite Socks. It further solidifies my theory on these that young players are getting these in their hands and they’re being branded with them early the same way they are with the actual Nike shoes. He told me on Twitter he’s been playing in them since his junior year and that he’s got six pairs. I also had to laugh when I opened Facebook this morning and saw this photo from Megane Ann Wilson of Amir Johnson’s monster shoes … while also wearing Elite socks. These things are everywhere.


2 Responses to Sneakerheads’ Newest Obsession: Nike Elite Socks

  1. David A. says:

    Sounds like an extension of the “collector gene”, but your line about brand awareness makes me think there probably is someone(s) building the market for socks in a way we haven’t seen before. Would LOVE to find that person and see what his or her life is like.

  2. chrislittmann says:

    That’s actually part of why I wrote this. I’d love to talk to someone at Nike about exactly how much time they spend on something like this. It’s a marketing success on par with what they do in sneakers, and yet it’s achieved in a totally different way. There is no YouTube viral campaign for this like the newest Kobe shoe or a TV ad either.

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