Before the industrial revolution, many armies -and civilians- would wrap cloth around their feet to cushion them against shoes. But the practice lingered a bit longer in the Russian Army.
Near the end of World War II, Soviet and American soldiers met at the Elbe River in Germany. Lacking a common language, they compared their boots.
The Americans wore socks and lace-up boots. The Russians wore something that boggled the minds of their allies from the West: pieces of cloth twirled around their feet and inserted into bulky, knee-high boots.
The cloth strips, called portyanki, have been a signature element of the Russian military uniform since the 16th century. On Monday Russia’s minister of defense issued an order for a militarywide switch to socks.
“I have an instruction for you,” the minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, said to a gathering of the equivalent of the chiefs of staff and regional commanders in comments broadcast on NTV television news. “In 2013, or at least by the end of this year, we will forget foot bindings. I’m asking you, please, if there is need we will provide additional funds. But we need to finally, fully reject this concept in our armed forces.
Socks actually began to be phased in for Russian troops in 2007, but the switchover should be complete this year. The lag behind just about every other country in the world, and the recent reform, tells a lot about the structure of the Russian military. Read more, and also see videos on how to wrap portyanki, at the New York Times. Link -Thanks, Daniel Kim!