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9 Tips Every Boot Lover Should Know

How to style and clean — and everything in-between

spinner image A graphic showing various styles of boots
Getty Images

Women 50+ are crazy in love with boots, ankle boots and booties. Sure, sneakers are comfy but let's face it, they have no sex appeal. Meanwhile, a pair of boots do provide that kick of confidence, glamour, edge and power we used to get from bossy high-heel pumps, minus the pain, pinched toes, sore soles and blisters. Shorter boot styles — like low ankle boots and their higher-shaft “bootie” sisters — have extended our love from a one-season fling to a year-round romance. Can't stop browsing boot sales online? Me neither. Even celebs are hooked. Here are my top 9 updates to playing footsie like a fashion pro: 

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spinner image Halle Berry and Maria Bello wearing ankle boots
Halle Berry rolls her jeans to expose ankles above her boots. Maria Bello wears cropped jeans with booties — note the break between jeans and boots.
Getty Images (2), Robert Kamau/GC Images; gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

1. Show some ankle and ... stop stuffing your booties

A flash of ankle adds the illusion of inches to your legs and styles up those booties. Start with any classic straight, relaxed fit or boyfriend jean. Roll the hem up one inch in a casual way — twice. Keep the rolls a little messy and not uniformly matched. (A too-neat roll looks dorky and a triple or quadruple roll is too bulky.) Get the excess inches trimmed to roll as suggested or get your jeans tailored to a length that hits right above the ankles. For a little edge, DIY and leave the edge raw.

spinner image Isabelle Huppert in white jeans over black ankle booties with a blazer.
Isabelle Huppert in white jeans over black ankle booties with a blazer.
Stefania D'Alessandro/ WireImage/Getty Images

2. Tailor so-called “ankle pants” to cover your ankle boots

For a more classic or business-like look or if you have thicker ankles, keep your pants long enough to cover ankle boot tops. Aim for a slight break at the top of the foot. Here's the secret: too often jeans and pants labeled ankle length are too long for most women (though online they fit the model perfectly). Any slim or straight jean or pant that bunches up at the bottom or puddles over ankle boots in a sloppy way needs to be shortened to your leg length and boots. Wear or bring the boots with you to the tailor.

spinner image Oprah Winfrey in a long patchwork midi skirt and tall black leather boots.
Oprah Winfrey in a long patchwork midi skirt and tall black leather boots.
Michael Swensen/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

3. Make classic knee-high boots easier to wear

Love a good classic equestrian-style boot or a dressier hug-the-leg boot with a little heel? These boots look great with dresses or skirts from knee to midi, over tights or bare legs and they work over leggings or skinny jeans, too. They're not good under wide, loose or flared pants so don't even try it — that's what ankle boots and booties are for. Knee-high boots can be hard to get on or off, especially if yours are oldies but goodies before full zippers and stretch panels were added. Mature legs tend to swell and some of us just have fuller calves. This trick is one I use on photo shoots: Slide thin plastic baggies, dry cleaner bags or sandwich wrap over your feet and ankles and then pull the boots up. They'll glide. Note that tall boots can be a challenge for shorter women since the top of the boot hits mid-knee rather than below the knee. If you're ordering online check the shaft length — anything over 15.5 inches will be too high (12 to 15.5 inches is ideal).

spinner image Lorna Luft and  Sandra Bullock in over the knee boots
Lorna Luft in flat black over-the-knee (OTK) boots. Sandra Bullock in leather, stiletto-heeled OTK boots.
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images; Nancy Rivera/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images

4. Over-the-knee boots can be tacky or terrific

I get asked about these a lot. Here's the truth: If you're a celebrity or ex-supermodel, the high-heeled versions make a great photo op for paparazzi and talk-show buzz. For us regular folks, flat-soled, black over-the-knee boots are the way to go — adding fashion sizzle and extra warmth. Over-the-knee boots look cool over skinny jeans or black tights; just add long layers of T-shirts, long tunic sweaters, a knee-length wrap dress or shirtdress that unbuttons or swings free for a flash of leg.

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spinner image Lauren Hutton attends the "Green Book" New York Premiere at Paris Theatre on November 13, 2018 in New York City
Lauren Hutton in a navy dress and block-heel ankle booties — showing a flash of ankle.
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

5. Short boots make long dresses — ankle and midi — look cool on us

Short booties with a gutsy lug sole or menswear-like combat boots or lace-ups can add a fresh bohemian look to any ladylike feminine outfit. They keep sweet florals from getting wimpy while peep-toe booties infuse a little black below-the-knees dress with a sexy detail.  

spinner image Lolita Flores and Elizabeth Marvel in colorful boots
Lolita Flores in jeans over low leopard ankle boots. Elizabeth Marvel in soft gray suede ankle boots, bare legs and a knee-length loose gray print dress.
Getty Images (2), Eduardo Parra; John Lamparski

6. Unexpected colors or prints can add some pizzazz

Yes, black boots, ankle boots and booties work with everything but sometimes it is good to jump out of your comfort zone. A warm burnished brown leather boot looks new paired with cool dark neutrals like black, charcoal and navy. Soft taupes, beiges and gray look chic and in sync in warmer climates and summer. Sparkly metallics give everything you wear a leg up. And animal prints ... well if the boots fit, grab them! You won't regret it.

7. Give your boots regular “facials" 

Whether real or faux, old or new, treat your leather and suede boots, ankle boots and booties with a routine of preventive care and maintenance. Enlist the services of a good shoe repair shop to reinforce leather soles on dressier leathers that don't already have rubber or lug bottoms with a very thin rubber extra sole to extend wear and provide more slip-resistance.

  • Mist boots with a weatherproofing spray once a month or as needed to form a transparent water-resistant film on the surface. It’s not a perfect solution, but it helps counteract rain if you get caught without rubber or PVC rain or snow boots.
  • Always remove grime and dirt before conditioning and polishing. No matter how great your boot style, any marks, worn spots or grit kill the effect. Rub suede boots with a kneaded or gum pencil eraser or a nail emery board to sand off dark marks, and then bring the texture back with a clean old toothbrush or terry facecloth. Dab dark leather scratches with a natural oil (like olive or safflower) on a cloth, a mix of 50/50 baking soda and water or a light dab of regular (non-whitening) toothpaste and water. Gently rub. Then use a clean cloth to buff the area.
  • Condition leather boots — faux and real — with a soft cloth at least once every other week to maintain luster and restore softness. Creams and pastes moisturize leather, which can crack, dry out and get dull ... just like facial skin. Neutral polish, cream and wax work with any color leather and won't alter, deepen or change the color. Apply with a soft cloth, allow it to dry for 10 minutes and then buff to a shine with a separate clean cloth.
  • Buff patent leather boots with a dab of petroleum jelly and a clean rag. Dab scuffs with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol or a tiny bit of nail polish remover (test first on a discreet spot).

8. Have an uh-oh plan

Expect to get caught in a downpour, trek through a slushy parking lot, drop your soup spoon on your toes or step in a puddle of trash when you are wearing your leather or suede boots. Just knowing what to do eases anxiety. For:

  • Soaking wet boots: Stuff them with newspaper and let them dry away from heat. Make sure you add some to the toes to keep the shape from curling. Do not attempt to dry them with your blow-dryer or put them in the dryer (yes, people do it it !)  Let them dry thoroughly, air out and then condition them. Storing damp boots can cause leather to crack, peel or turn mildewy.
  • Salt stain rings: Mix water and vinegar 50/50 in a cup, dip a cloth in and dab the stains. The vinegar breaks down the salt without harming the leather. Follow by wiping the boots with a damp cloth dipped in plain water.
  • Food and drink spills : Apply baby powder, salt or sugar to stains to absorb any excess. Wait till dry and brush them off. Take them to a shoe repair shop for further work if the boots are still discolored.
spinner image Catherine Zeta Jones and Diane Kruger in outdoor boots
Catherine Zeta Jones in leggings and wedge winter boots. Diane Kruger in rain boots. 
Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images; Chad Buchanan/GC Images/Getty Images

9.  Invest in rain and snow boots 

Winter boots have always been clunky and more about storms and freezing toes than style. This year new technology has created sleeker silhouettes that are waterproof and provide good traction. There is chic puffer-inspired insulated booties with wedges, shearling collar boots with fashionable block heels, hiker and combat-inspired boots that lace up but have plush linings and unexpected colors like white and silver. Equestrian or Chelsea-style rain boots (ankle-high boots with an elastic side panel) that are barely distinguishable from leather ones make sense for work. And consider all the new waterproof leather boots and booties as a smart all-season investment, too.

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