Help me buy good quality, fashionable women’s boots!
October 22, 2013 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Winter is around the corner and I’m direly in need of a new pair of boots. In the past few years, I’ve bought a few different styles but never “invested” (all under <$200) and I have destroyed every pair. How do I find a good quality boot (with the necessary snowflakes)?

Ideally, I would be looking for something that:

- Is a stylish knee-high boot (preferably brown)
- Won’t fall apart after a year*
- No heel (or no stiletto; I may be able to handle a small heel but I really prefer not)
- Good for people with skinny calves
- Will fit my orthotics**

I’m willing to pay a decent about of money, but I want to make sure that they will last! What brands or styles should I be looking for? Should I go leather or another material? Extra points if you have suggestions that I can find in Toronto or that ship within Canada.

* I bike through most of the winter and walk the rest of the time. So they need to be able to withstand salt, snow, and pedalling. Maybe I’m asking too much?

** My orthotics aren’t particularly big, but I bought them to combat my overpronation. A few of my boots have become warped inward because of the way I walk, so I’m hoping that these inserts will prevent that. But if anyone knows of any boot style that might be strengthened in the arch for people like me, that would be especially great.
posted by Paper rabies to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Clarification needed: you are looking for an insulated winter boot boot, right? Or?
posted by kmennie at 11:54 AM on October 22, 2013

Best answer: After I asked my question last year about boots, I ended up buying a pair of Frye boots. Because it rains so much where I live, I invested in non-ski sole add ons. I bought the Melissa, which stretched to fit my fatter-than-average calves, but most of their boots run on the skinny side.

For durability, I'd just take care to put on an extra sole and to condition it every so often. Real leather is very durable, and gets more comfortable with wear.

I have no idea about the orthotics. Sorry.
posted by ethidda at 11:56 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've had excellent, long-lasting boots from La Canadienne. I have no idea about orthotics or calves, but they've been my longest-lived boots by a long shot.
posted by jeather at 11:58 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: kmennie - Can boots be insulated and fashionable? If yes, then I would like that. But fashion trumps in this scenario; I can always wear thick socks.

Thanks for the suggestions so far. I didn't imagine that anyone would know one way or the other re: the orthotics issue, but I figured it was worth asking in case anyone had the same problem. I'll just take them along when I go shopping.
posted by Paper rabies at 12:02 PM on October 22, 2013

Best answer: The most beautiful boots I have ever briefly owned were La Canadienne knee-high boots, with padding on the inside and a waterproof outer. Sadly, my calves were approximately three millimeters too wide, and they do not (or did not then) sell boots that were any wider, and I do not have large calves. So I suspect that they would be perfect for you! They are an investment; you may want to try them on in a store or see if you could source a secondhand pair to see how they hold up and what size you would need. (They were so beautiful and so cozy and I was so, so sad to be too large for them.)

Other than that, I have a pair of Clark riding boots that are wide on me (but their styles change every year) and aside from needing the heel sole replaced, they've been great. They are also pretty attractive, and padded. I am pretty satisfied with my Rockport boots, which are very attractive, have a tight fit, and more interior padding...but the boot is not stitched in, it's glued, and I've already had to get them repaired. (The Rockports came from Zappos; the Clarks were in-store, which I recommend.) I loved my Merrell knee-high boots (super fashionable, very tight fit, very comfortable foot-wise, waterproof) BUT the soles were proprietary and could not be replaced and I wore holes in both pairs in literally two months.

Otherwise: yes, leather. Leather leather leather. When you have your boots, you should find a great local cobbler. They will have advice on how to take care of them and possibly what products you will need to maintain your boots over time, especially given salt/slush. They may be able to weatherproof or strength parts if need be ahead of time (my guys have started adding in a thicker replacement sole on the heels, because I always, always wear through the back in a boot-season.) If your boots can be reheeled, you should have them do it.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:04 PM on October 22, 2013

I third the La Canadienne. Cannot comment on the orthotics, but the calves do run quite narrow. They have all kinds of styles; maybe something like this?

Materials-wise, leather is good. Are you regularly cleaning off the salt and muck and polishing the leather? Because that should help prolong boot life in harsh winter conditions.
posted by dormouse at 12:06 PM on October 22, 2013

Nthing La Canadienne; they have plenty of low/no-heel boot styles and have a good reputation for quality. You can often find them on sale, too.

In general, look for boots with removable insoles; sometimes you can fit the orthotics on top, but usually you have to take out the insole. (I don't remember if my orthotics fit in my La Canadienne boots, but I can check. I'm pretty sure they don't have removable insoles.)

And if you tend to wear out your soles unevenly, you'll probably need to replace them before your boots wear out. I have absolutely no knowledge on how to pick a re-soleable boot or find a reliable cobbler, but perhaps someone else does?
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:11 PM on October 22, 2013

I have Sorel "Joan of Arctic" boots and they are still good boots five years into it. Very warm. Apparently they are extremely fashionable because in the years since I bought them it feels like half the female population of Ottawa bought them, and now I can't wait until they wear out because I am so tired of seeing them and their legions of imitators. However! Sorel has other designs, and as somebody who buys tonnes of second-hand stuff: Sorel lasts.

If I had to get another pair of uninsulated boots that I wanted to take a beating, I would get another pair of Fryes. (Mine are the "engineer" style. They are crazy-sturdy.)

You are asking a lot of a boot in asking it to be fashionable and to deal with city ice-slush. +1 cleaning and applying protective goos. Maybe Bean boots would scratch both the durable and fashionable itches? I know they're not terrifically stylish but I think they are so iconic at this point as to just be "classic" and thus stylish in their own brown and clumpy right. The "Signature" section has them in waxed canvas and houndstooth wool.

(I saw some La Canadienne stuff in a "Winners" the other week; may be worth a look)
posted by kmennie at 12:12 PM on October 22, 2013

I've never worn an insulated knee-high boot that was really compatable with pedaling.

Boots can, indeed, be both at least moderately fashionable and insulated.

Nordic Casual Boots

Rieker 79970 Astrid 70

The North Face Snowtropolis Tall

Also, if you noodle around in Google on the search 'Thinsulate Riding Boot Leather Womens' you may come up with something that works. Here's a sample of what I found.
posted by anastasiav at 12:18 PM on October 22, 2013

Best answer: Resolable boots must be sewn, not glued - if the soles are glued on, they cannot be replaced. Before you buy, you should check - if you are not a shoe expert, you can't always tell imitation-sewing on a glued shoe from real sewing.

Glued boots (and glued boots can be quite expensive even) can have their lives prolonged by having a cobbler glue on a sole cover. A sole cover can be very thin so you can hardly see it from the side or more substantial (or very chunky indeed for a platform effect!). This sole cover should be replaced when it gets thin so that the sole itself remains undamaged.

However, I have never actually had the sole replaced (that is, restitched) even on my sewn shoes. The sturdier/less dressy sewn shoe typically has a solid sewn layer and an attached leather or rubber layer - it is this layer which is pried off and replaced, like a super-thick version of a sole cover. Restitching is pretty sophisticated stuff since you are basically disassembling the shoe.

Trippen makes beautiful, durable, resolable boots. This is a German website, but I have ordered from them from the US many times with no trouble. (You can see the text in English.) I have worn Trippens to bike and walk through the winters.
posted by Frowner at 12:24 PM on October 22, 2013

Another vote for La Canadienne! I have had mine for about 7 years now and they are still perfect. Not much arch support but I feel like they would easily take an orthotic.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:27 PM on October 22, 2013

(I add that Trippens run generous in the foot and have removable soles - I would be shocked if they did not fit orthotics. If you wear a 10 - 10.5 (EU 41) and would like to contact me, in fact, I have a pair I'm selling and would be glad to send photos.
posted by Frowner at 12:29 PM on October 22, 2013

6pm sells La Canadienne boots at a pretty steep discount. They're probably last season's though.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:45 PM on October 22, 2013

I am wearing my insulated Born boots right now. They look as great today as two years ago when I bought them. They are so comfortable, I think I could jog in them. Mine are ankle high, but there are knee-high insulated styles on this page. I will never ever buy another brand.
posted by raisingsand at 1:05 PM on October 22, 2013

Unfortunately, my La Canadienne boots did not fare as well as everyone else's. I bought them last winter, and they looked really shabby by the end of the season. However, I am in NYC and walk everywhere, and didn't take any special care of them. Maybe under less trying circumstances they would still be looking great.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 3:48 PM on October 22, 2013

Nthing La Canadienne. I have ankle and knee boots from them. They're water proof and seem virtually indestructible. I have a pair of Fryes as well but they're not as warm, not waterproof and generally seem poorer quality.
posted by peacheater at 3:53 PM on October 22, 2013

I'd at least take a look at Poppy Barley boots. They haven't been around long enough to have many reviews yet, but they're pretty serious on quality claims, and it sounds like you could measure them to include your orthodics, or to have a higher arch, and be the right size for your calves. Plus they're a Canadian small business, which always gives me warm fuzzies when I get a chance to support them.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 4:48 PM on October 22, 2013

I own a pair of these Merrell boots that I bought at REI. I've had them for two years and they've held up to everything you describe. They do come in brown, but I'm not sure if the calves might be a bit wide for you or not. Think there would be plenty of room for orthotics though. Also they are much more attractive in person when someone is wearing them than they are in pictures
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:34 PM on October 22, 2013

* I bike through most of the winter and walk the rest of the time. So they need to be able to withstand salt, snow, and pedalling. Maybe I’m asking too much?

I think you're going to get a lot more value out of your purchase if you buy two pairs of boots: 1) a wintery pair that you carry in your panniers or backpack on your bike and change into when you get to your destination most of the time and 2) a less attractive but solid pair of winter boots.

A friend of mine commented to me that boots never last her for more than one winter and I was confused because I have a few pairs that have lasted quite a few winters. I ride my bike but when the weather is bad I don't wear my good shoes on my bike. I do wear them sometimes out and about, but they're not getting the worst of it. On the worst rainy/sleety days (in Portland, Oregon, so more rain than snow), I wear old duck boots, which keep my feet warm and dry and I don't worry if my boots get wet.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:35 PM on October 22, 2013

Best answer: Hi there, I'm an Edmontonian lady who walks and cycles year-round too! :)

I love my Poppy Barleys but the leather is quite delicate. I don't think I would want to bike commute in them regularly or walk in them through lots of snow. I'm actually just about to get rubber put on the soles of mine because I find the leather too slippery! That said, if you are more careful with your belongings than me and don't mind regularly waterproofing and cleaning them you might be ok...

If you want something a little more weather-proof, I have had good luck finding stylish insulated boots at Browns Shoes (Canadian chain). I own both La Canadienne and Blondo brand and both have lasted me several years and have held up fine to walking and cycling.

Here are a few pairs from their website that look promising:
Aquatalia Minnow
Aquatalia Leyla
La Canadienne Fionna
posted by sanitycheck at 12:43 AM on October 23, 2013

Best answer: Now that I think about it, another possibility might be Fiorentini and Baker. They are heartbreakingly fucking expensive and have actually gone up in price since last I checked, but they will hold up to rain and snow and biking. I have an ankle pair from when they were cheaper, and I used to know someone who had a tall pair that she kept well-treated with wax polish.

Honestly, though, I am confused by these La Canadienne shoes - they seem to be nubuck, possibly the worst leather for slush and salt. Even treated, don't they stain like blazes?

I recommend the Trippens in a nubbled leather (well, of course I recommend them) but seriously, I wore the Miamis (I have big calves) for both biking and walking through snow and slush for two winters, and so did a relative. She had to have hers resoled sooner because she wore hers every single day. (That's another consideration - boots that you wear daily in the snow are going to wear down because the leather will be getting stretched and wet without adequate time to dry.)

Here's what I would do: either buy a nice pair and a cute rubber/junk pair and wear the rubber pair for biking OR buy one expensive pair new and troll eBay for the same style gently used or from a liquidator. I got my first pair of Trippens, for instance, from Ped Shoes (the sellers of the F&Bs above - very helpful and reliable by mail) and subsequent pairs on eBay.

Whatever leather boots you get, you should be meticulous about drying them out. Get boot trees and, particularly if they get wet, give them as much treed time to dry overnight as possible. Keep an eye on the finish. Get some beeswax or mink oil or something and treat the leather as soon as it looks dull - in snow this will be frequent.
posted by Frowner at 6:07 AM on October 23, 2013

Response by poster: Really, really appreciate all the suggestions - so many beautiful boots! I'll start hitting some stores to check out fit this weekend, now that the cool weather is settling in.

Also, extra thanks for all the boot-care tips. I knew I wasn't taking the most precautions, but I just learned to what extent (ie. boot trees and wax were all new ideas for me).
posted by Paper rabies at 7:52 AM on October 23, 2013

My Merrell tetra Strap boots from rei are fabulous-I've had them for two years, wear them four days a week at least 6 months o the year. Waterproof, cute, super comfortable. Get compliments on them all the time-and reasonably priced.
posted by purenitrous at 10:09 PM on October 23, 2013

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