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.

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:

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”.

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”.

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).



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