aging · fitness

Adventures in buying compression socks and confronting my own ageism

This summer finds me taking a few longer-haul flights, to and from the western part of the US.  Yes, this is not bad compared to European flights, or even longer, to Australia or Asia (where, for one trip, I logged 38 straight hours of travel door to door).

But these days, just getting on a plane and sitting in that cramped space for a couple of hours or longer is not just unpleasant, but also bad for my body.  My ankles get really swollen on flights of more than a few hours, and this week I’m nursing a vaguely injured foot/calf muscle that I pulled incidentally while moving through life.  Sigh.

I remembered that Sam had posted about wearing compression socks on a plane, and I thought– yes, that’s the solution!  And I hear that athletes wear them now, which means it’s okay for me to wear them, too… 🙂

A female relay runner with baton, wearing blue compression socks that match her shorts and top.
A female relay runner with baton, wearing blue compression socks that match her shorts and top.

Yeah, this is totally the vibe I’m going for (in my head).

Enter reality. I was pressed for time to buy the compression socks, so I didn’t go to a cool sporting goods store or order some really interesting colored or patterned socks for my upcoming flight. Instead I went to my local medical supply store, which is a 3-minute walk from my house.

When I walked in, I was confronted by, well, medical supplies. Adjustable hospital beds, portable toilets, canes, walkers, gadgets and devices of all sorts, and also a bevy of older customers, some of whom were there to try on and buy compression socks.

There are a lot of very good reasons to wear compression socks.  An upcoming long flight is just one of them.  There I was, in the presence of people with compelling medical reasons to buy the same thing I was buying. All I could think was:

Words saying Yeah that's not me

A salesperson approached me as soon as I walked in, and when I asked about compression socks, he pointed to a rack with beige and black color choices.  He said, “the ladies prefer beige ones because they look like knee highs”. My first thought was:

A woman with long brown hair, running in a field, with the words "just run away".
A woman with long brown hair, running in a field, with the words “just run away”.

Trying not to lose my cool, I asked about other colors. He looked puzzled, and then I said I was getting on a plane and wanted them for that.  Then he went, “oh”, and pointed toward the cash register. There, in 4 colors (blue, brown, charcoal and black– nothing cool, but I’ll take it), were the socks I was looking for.  They looked like this:

A package of compression socks, called "Flight socks".
A package of compression socks, called “Flight socks”.

Okay, maybe I won’t be able to imagine myself as a cool athlete, but at least this package tells me that these socks are for a practical purpose:  airline travel.  Buying them doesn’t challenge my views of myself as 1) not old (whatever that means to me); and 2) able-bodied (again, addressing my inchoate notion here). More on this in a sec.

I bought them (selecting the charcoal ones), put them on, and headed for the airport.  I was wearing long pants for flying to Tucson, AZ, so I could wear them in stealth mode.  You can see them here:

I can report that the compression socks helped.  My left ankle and calf are still a bit swollen, but it didn’t get much worse, and my other ankle didn’t swell.  Success!

What else I learned: I’ve got an ageism problem. In that store, I was seeing older people, in particular older people in search of devices to address medical and functional conditions, as something to be feared.  Also, I was seeing them as different from me.  I am not old (well, not very– 56 is the new… what? isn’t that silly?).  I am also able-bodied (although I mentioned my recent injury and worries about swelling joints and limbs while flying.  Hmmm– should I rethink all this?)

This whole experience has given me pause.  I see that fearing and distancing myself from aging and the needs/conditions/accoutrements that come with it is probably not the way to go. I don’t know if I’ll take to wearing my airline compression socks with a skirt, but maybe it’s ok.  I mean, they’re socks. Still, I would like some in pretty colors.


Pretty patterned compression socks (these are marketed to nurses, fyi).
Pretty patterned compression socks (these are marketed to nurses, fyi).



12 thoughts on “Adventures in buying compression socks and confronting my own ageism

  1. Thanks for this. I too recently have realized that I have some ageist attitudes to address. (It’s fine for everyone to age but me!). Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about compression socks for hiking. Anyone have any experience with that to share?

  2. I love them and I’m never flying again without them. Like, I will buy a pair in the shop at the airport if I forget mine. People told me they worked but I’m not sure why it took me this long to listen. Ageism, right? Sigh.

    1. HI Tara– the ones in the last picture I saw on amazon, and they were marketed to nurses. I may get some cute ones, too (currently torn between the blue/purple/black ones and the pastel diamond ones with the black circles).

  3. I have been wearing compression socks since I was 29 or 30, thanks to horrible varicose veins that started when I was 16. I’m now 57. I still hate them and how old they make me feel. I was really excited when I discovered “sport” versions at my vein doctor’s (at more than double the price of the regular beige models). Now I want to find your colourful socks.

    1. HI there– these are available on amazon; I just searched for compression socks and they popped up. Yes, I may get a pair of those, too.

  4. I accept age!
    I’ve been wearing compression socks for years. The nude ones that look like bad knee highs, of black. On my last trip I had a nice chat with some grey haired older than me ladies about which compression socks were best. Lol
    I often have them on under my lululemon capris. With Comfortable orthopaedic shoes.
    I’m 46. Pretty able. But my legs swell so badly. I accept my lack of style.

    1. Thanks for this– yes, taking care of ourselves can open us up to learning from others (like where the great compression socks can be found!)

  5. I love my compression socks – I run in them, recover in them, fly in them, drive in them, use them every day at work, pretty much. (standing desk) I’ve been using them for years (52 now). My dad HAD to wear for medical reasons.

    There are SO many brands – cute patterns, different compression levels. Watch out for if they compress your toes too much though. Look at running and triathlon sites and publications. Some brands in the US: CEP (my fave for running), Pro Compression (cute colors/styles, fine for most things but I prefer more cush in the foot), SLS3Tri (triathlon, similar to Pro but better IMHO). Even injinji toe socks does a compression pair – I used those this morning on my run. Crazy Compression has cute ones but are less compressive. The balance between cute, what you need, what feels good is an evolution and different socks may work at different times. Google and Amazon are happy to help. Plenty of companies specialize in cuteness now. 🙂

    I’ve also decided I can look like a goof, and sometimes wear my knee length black socks with shorts and running shoes. As the Brits would say, “I can’t be arsed”. (tho I do sometimes fight with myself about “making an effort” with my appearance)

    By the way the picture of the running athlete – she’s wearing compression calf sleeves, not full socks. (sleeves appropriate when you’re in motion, otherwise you can get puff between calf sleeve and ankle sock) Here are some of American Shalane Flanagan in compression socks.

  6. So true: the ageism within takes us by surprise. I only began wearing The Socks flying after getting a DVT, despite being about 70 at the time. I shocked my friend by advising her to wear them flying long distance. So I am thrilled to learn about crazy or even just non-ugly socks, thank you!

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