by David Isle

One fun thing to do is leer at the exorbitant prices ludicrously rich people pay for ugly or trivial things. This tradition goes at least as far back as George IV, whose clothes was sold at his death in 1830 for then-eye-popping amounts. It continues in this GQ article about Paul Manafort’s $1 million wardrobe full of exotic skins, and in friend-of-No-Man @dieworkwear’s tweets about $1,000 paranormal hoodies.

But I think I’ve found the best one yet: White cotton socks. Some fuchsia design flourishes on them, but nothing special aesthetically or technically. A brand you’ve probably never heard of. One size fits all, readymade. As of this writing, $86,450 a pair.

These socks aren’t sold in stores. And the price wasn’t set by the designer – they’re traded on a digital exchange, the Unisocks Exchange. The company has apparently made 315 pairs (only 13 are left unsold), and created tokens that can be bought and sold in any fraction.

Anyone who accumulates a whole token can trade it in for an actual physical pair of socks that look like they could be bought at Costco. So why doesn’t someone just produce a bunch of these socks, probably at a cost of pennies per pair, and sell them for tens of thousands? With each pair of socks delivered by the company comes a digital “nonfungible token” (NFT) – that is, a token that can’t be broken up into pieces and sold in shares. This NFT acts like a certificate of authenticity for the physical pair of socks. It’s the same technology that secures rights to digital art and NBA moments.

So the socks (and their accompanying NFT) act sort of like gold reserves for a currency that’s on a gold standard. This digital currency is on a socks standard. There are some differences: gold probably has more intrinsic value than a pair of socks. It’s rare in nature and can’t be produced by man. But for both the gold and the Unisocks, the main value comes from the social understanding of what they represent and what other people would pay for them. Just like fiat money! With the socks, the distinction between the commodity on reserve and the pieces of paper that have value only by virtue of what they represent becomes still more blurry.

If you wore gold jewelry during the gold standard era, you were very nearly wearing money. Maybe that was a thrill for some. I wonder if anyone has the fortitude to wear a pair of $85,000 socks. And if they did, would the socks lose value? Are they a collector’s item or a currency? A $100 bill doesn’t lose value when it wrinkles, but does an $85,000 sock lose value if it goes through the wash?

I would think so, but I’m not a player in this market. But these $85,000 socks do make me feel much better about socks that are 3 pairs for $85. They don’t come with an NFT. But they’re good socks.