Puttees are strips of cloth which are wound around the lower leg to provide protection and support, much like gaiters. They are probably most famous historically as a part of military uniforms in the First World War, and in some militaries, they have endured as part of the uniform worn in the field. The cloths are also worn by riders and climbers, who appreciate their supportive function.
The word is derived from a Hindi word, pattah, which means “strip of cloth.” Traditional military puttees were made from khaki broadcloth, typically dyed to match the color of the wearer's uniform. Wool was also used, especially in colder climates, and some examples from the First World War can be seen in some museums and many photographs from the trenches.
To wear puttees, someone must first put on the rest of his or her gear. Trousers need to be snug around the calf, while any sort of boot and sock may be worn. A puttee is carefully wrapped around each leg, with each layer pulled snug without being too tight. The cloth is wrapped from the ground up, and the top of each is tied with cotton tape, which was traditionally affixed to it for this very purpose.
When wrapped properly, puttees will snugly insulate the leg from cold weather and potential sources of injury without restricting freedom of movement. In fact, they can be so good at insulating that some soldiers complained about them; in the First World War, for example, the cloth could trap water that would turn to ice, causing frostbite and extreme pain.
The main source of potential discomfort and irritation from puttees lies in the trousers that are paired with them. Many historical military uniforms were specifically designed to be worn with these strips of cloth, and they had features that ensured that they would fit smoothly over the calf. Looser garments can cause discomfort as the fabric of the trouser folds under the puttee, creating a ridge of material which can feel very unpleasant.
Some climbing supply stores sell puttees, along with a range of other supportive garments, many of which are easier to don. They can also be found at riding stores. If someone wants to wear them as part of a vintage military uniform, he or she may be able to find some in a store which specializes in such things, or make them from fabric obtained at a local fabric store.