Reader Krysta e-mailed me this question:
I would love to hear some input on the process of finding a good pair of boots! Growing up, boots were always worn with a specific functional purpose in mind, either for dirty messy work or getting in/out of the ski lodge while on vacation. In the past couple of years, as I’ve grown into putting effort into my style, I’ve also started looking for a nice pair of boots. However, everywhere I turn, it feels like I can’t find anything that hits the perfect trifecta of fitting my style, fitting my pinched-penny budget, and fitting me. Looking online at sites like 6pm gets me closer, but I have no idea how to even guess if the boot will fit in the height and calf (valid concerns when you fall well outside the norm in leg-length!). I’d love to be able to pull out a pair of trusty boots as the weather turns cold and wet, but I just can’t seem to make the jump!
I sent Krysta links to my numerous posts about selecting and buying boots, but also realized it might be valuable to compile that information here. Especially since many styles of boots are on MAJOR sale right now (in the northern hemi anyway) and it’s a great time to nab a bargain. For specifics of boot shopping, buying, and wearing, scroll to the end for a list of related posts. But for an overview of boot shopping and selection, read on!
Before you head out to ANY stores, sit down and have a think. There are hundreds upon hundreds of boot styles out there, and if you dive in without a plan, you will become overwhelmed and cranky and possibly buy a pair that you’ll regret. So, pour yourself a cuppa and take this pre-boot-shopping quiz:
What are my measurements?
Grab a tape measure and get cozy with your calves. How long are they from arch to mid-knee? How big around are they at their widest point? And although this doesn’t fall under “measurement,” consider where you’d like your boots to hit. For tall boots, an inch or so below the kneecap is ideal. Mid-calf and ankle styles have far more leeway.
Which neutral will I wear most?
Very few women would describe fire engine red or emerald green boots as their ideal. Neutral shades are the most versatile, which makes them your best bet for wise investment. So ask yourself which neutral will get the most wear. For most women, it’s black. But cognac brown goes with EVERYTHING and generally looks more expensive. Also gray is fabulously flexible, and is becoming easier to find in all styles of boot.
Is a heel practical?
If you are on your feet all day then super-tall heels are right out, but can you deal with 1″ or 2″? Are you better off with a flat/riding boot style? Or will these be boots that never walk more than five blocks at a time? Be honest about heel height. Boots with a heel that hurts will not get worn.
Are my feet fussy?
High or fallen arches? Bunions or corns? Need loads of support or flexible soles? Read customer reviews online, check construction, ask questions, do everything you can to make sure that your potential new boots will caress and love your fussy feet. (Check Barking Dog Shoes’ boot recommendations for some ideas.)
Do I have fitting concerns?
If you have wide or narrow calves, small or large feet, or any other traits that make boots tough to fit, you may prefer to shop in person. But if not, I highly recommend going online. I’d try scouring Zappos, Nordstrom, and 6pm for starters to get as much info as you can about brands that will fit your needs. Try Barefoot Tess for larger sizes and DUO for wide and narrow calves. (More resources below.)
What’s my budget?
Multi-purpose boots can be bought cheap, but real leather and quality construction will last longer and be kinder to your feet. Still, never, ever spend more than you can truly afford.
The next and final question on the quiz deserves a little more focus, so let’s tease it out a bit.
What’s my preferred style?
There are hundreds of boot styles available, and with the world of Internet commerce at our fingertips it’s easier than ever to find your dream pair. Do you want riding boots? Heeled tall boots? Short moto boots? Mid-calf slouchy boots?
In my opinion the five most versatile styles of boot are as follows:
- Sleek, tall flat boots – riding boots and tall moto boots qualify
- Classic tall heeled boots – just below the knee with a 2″ or higher heel
- Ankle boots – new to the classics category, but ubiquitous and fun
- Tough boots – combat and engineer styles, but also anything with loads of buckles and hardware
- Cowgirl boots – even if you aren’t a Western dresser, these can be remarkably useful especially in summer
The first two are the most basic and classic, of course, but if you’re not into tall boots the other three offer great alternatives. Naturally, your perfect boots might not be on this list, but if you’re not sure where to start, these styles have proven themselves over the years as reliably versatile. (Rain/snow boots are essential in many climates, too, but I’m focusing on fashion boots here.)
Once you’ve narrowed down your style choices, start refining by making some decisions about shape. I am most likely to wear classic tall heeled boots and to me, the shape of the boots shown above represent the tall-boot baseline. Those beauties are Frye Marissa Back Zip boots and they’re fantastically spendy, but you can find similarly-shaped boots just about everywhere: Tall shaft, medium heel, solid color including the heel and sole, absolutely no detailing. Even if those boots look far too dull for your taste, it’s often best to begin with a very plain, sleek, pared-down design and THEN start adding embellishments like buckles, slouching, exposed zippers, etc.
So what are your ideal boot’s essential features? A block heel? Below-the-knee shaft height? Full zip? Suede, leather, or vegan? Build your perfect boot in your mind, then see if you can find something similar in the shops or online.
Searching and shopping
You’ve thought, compared, researched, and considered. Now it’s time to shop! If you’re shopping online and can afford to do so, I highly recommend ordering your top three pairs from a free shipping/returns place like Zappos so you can compare them in person, take notes, and send back the duds. If you’re shopping in person, try to visit three or more stores before making a purchase … or have enough budget flexibility to buy more than one pair, compare at home, and make returns. It will likely take some time to find your ideal pair, even if you’ve done your homework. But the payoff will be a pair that lasts for years and suits your style perfectly!
- Reader Request: How to Find Your Perfect Boots
- Boot Basics
- Reader Request: Boot Height and Leg Flattery
- Guide to Boots, Part 1
- Guide to Boots, Part 2
Online boot-buying resources:
- DUO: Expensive, but beloved for creating hard-to-find narrow and wide calf styles
- Widewidths: Wide calf options in classic neutrals
- Zappos and 6pm: These companies have amazing selection and make searching easy. Watch product videos to get a sense of how boots look in action and fit.
- Nordstrom: Loads of options from budget to designer
- Barefoot Tess: A great resource for sizes 10 -15
Image courtesy Zappos
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