Science - October 28, 2004

Updating the Wageningen style image

Is Wageningen still a town of vegetarians with no dress sense? This week Wb peeped under canteen tables and lifted trouser legs, in search of goat’s wool socks.

In the rest of Holland Wageningen used to be known as a town of farmers and
back-to-nature freaks. This week Wb decided to investigate whether this still is true. The search focused on one of the key symbols of this stereotype: the goat’s wool sock. It’s not a strictly Dutch phenomenon, as a German from the Environmental economics and natural resources group commented that they had the same prejudice in Germany: ‘It’s said that the socks are worn by hardcore environmentalists.’

But first, let’s be honest: goat’s wool socks are out. Who wears them? people wondered when asked what kind of socks they wore. The quest did not yield one goat’s wool sock. Instead there were loads of black and white socks. One Finnish lecturer, who was wearing white tennis socks with a pair of dark leather shoes, said he felt a bit embarrassed to be seen with his white tennis socks. ‘In Finland we say of people who wear white tennis socks that they have no dress sense. If I had worn a tie today I would have been really embarrassed.’

Just two students in the article actually possess goat hair socks. One is a female Biology student, who on the day the picture was taken wore white sport socks with a pair of sports shoes. ‘They are comfortable and warm, although you soon get holes in the them as they wear out quickly. I often wear them in my army boots.’ The other student only wears them with his hiking boots.

The lack of goat’s wool socks seems to correspond with the lack of energy saving lamps, vegetarians, people who go on biking holidays and those who remove the paperclip from the teabag before they throw it away in the green bin. ‘Who does that?’ one person wondered. So maybe Wageningen is no longer a town of open sandals and woolly sock types. / YdH

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