Footwraps (also referred to as foot cloths, rags, bandages or bindings, or by their Russian name portyanki) are rectangular pieces of cloth that are worn wrapped around the feet to avoid chafing, absorb sweat and improve the foothold. Footwraps were worn with boots before socks became widely available, and remained in use by armies in Eastern Europe until the beginning of the 21st century.
Footwraps are typically square, rectangular or less often triangular. They measure about 40 centimetres (16 in) on each side if square or about 75 centimetres (30 in) on each side if triangular. Thinner cloth may be folded to produce a square, rectangular or triangular shape after folding. Russian army footwraps were made of flannel for use in winter and of cotton for use in summer.
Apart from being cheaper and simpler to make or improvise, footwraps are also quicker to dry than socks and are more resistant to wear and tear: any holes can be compensated for by re-wrapping the cloth in a different position. Their principal drawback is that any folds in the wraps, which easily occur during marching unless the wraps are very carefully put on, can quickly cause blisters or wounds. Consequently, armies issued detailed instructions on how to put on footwraps correctly.
Footwraps are notorious for the foul smell that they develop when worn under military conditions, where soldiers are often unable to change or dry the cloths for days. Russian veterans used to jokingly pride themselves about the stench of their footwear, referring to their footwraps as "chemical weapons" that would defeat any enemy unaccustomed to the smell.
Footwraps were issued by armies and worn by soldiers throughout history, often long after civilians had replaced them with socks. Prior to the 20th century, socks or stockings were often luxury items affordable only for officers, while the rank and file had to use wraps.
Prussian soldiers wore Fußlappen, foot cloths. An 1869 "Manual of Military Hygiene" advised: "Footwraps are appropriate in summer, but they must have no seams and be very carefully put on; clean and soft socks are better." An 1867 German dictionary of proverbs records the following saying: "One's own footwrap is better than someone else's boot."
The Russian and later Soviet armed forces issued footwraps since Peter the Great imported the custom from the Dutch Army in the 1690s. Footwraps remained standard issue in many Warsaw Pact armies. The Belarusian, Ukrainian and Georgian armies eventually abandoned them in favor of socks in the 2000s. In each case, nostalgia about the traditional footwear ran high among soldiers. The Ukrainian army held a special farewell ceremony for its footwraps, with soldiers reciting poems and fables about them.
In the Russian army, footwraps remained in use for tasks requiring the wear of heavy boots until 2013, because they were considered to offer a better fit with standard-issue boots. Because of their association with the Russian army, footwraps are called chaussettes russes ("Russian socks") in French.
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- The triangular version is recommended as a sock substitute by Volz, Heinz (2008). Überleben in Natur und Umwelt. Walhalla & Praetoria Verlag. p. 217.
- Armstrong, Jane (Dec 26, 2007). "Russian military adopts a modern touch: socks". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 9 September 2010.
- O'Flynn, Kevin (December 19, 2007). "Goodbye to the Footcloth, Hello to the Sock". Moscow Times. Retrieved 11 September 2010.
- Kirchner, Carl (1869). Lehrbuch der Militär-Hygiene. Enke. p. 329.
Fusslappen sind im Sommer zweckmässig, doch müssen sie ohne Nähte sein und sehr sorgfältig angelegt werden; reingehaltene, weiche Socken sind besser
- Wander, Karl Friedrich Wilhelm, ed. (1867). Deutsches Sprichwörter-Lexikon: Ein Hausschatz für das deutsche Volk. F. A. Brockhaus. p. 1307.
Ein eigener Fusslappen ist besser als ein fremder Stiefel
- Liss, Artyom (19 February 2007). "Armies boot out Soviet tradition". BBC News. Retrieved 9 September 2010.