New York Fashion boots are a study in contrasts. They cover more leg but are sexier than shoes; they are warmer but just as treacherous as any high-heeled pump on a slick sidewalk; and they've been around for decades but have emerged as the hottest trend in footwear.
"You walk differently in boots," observes Cindy Weber Cleary, fashion news director for InStyle. "You strut like the vamp in 'Pretty Woman.' ... (Boots) are like sunglasses, they put you in character."
This year, there is a boot to match every side of your personality.
"It's an amazing season because of the variety," says Cleary, who names motorcycle, cowboy, equestrian and evening boots as the most sought-after styles. Better yet, they're available in several fabrics and price points.
Based on the fall 2001 runway shows, the riding boot is THE boot but many people don't shop based solely on the fashion industry's whims, Cleary adds.
Practical and personal considerations for buying boots include: shaft height, heel height, toe shape and what the rest of your wardrobe looks like.
There is a boot appropriate for just about any outfit but not every boot is appropriate for every outfit. From a style standpoint, to-the-knee boots with a medium to high heel is the easiest to work with.
They're sexy if the heel is either narrow and high or a "kitten" heel, which is lower and more shapely, explains Cleary. High-shaft boots can be paired with skirts of varying lengths, dress trousers, casual boot-leg pants or even eveningwear.
And, she adds, if you wear your pants a little long and have a sleek, high-heel boot, you create the illusion of a longer leg.
Cleary recommends wearing cowboy boots with weekend wear jeans, chinos or a denim skirt but not to go overboard with the Western theme. "Leave the hat at home."
Riding boots complement most pants, jeans, or tweed or wool skirts for a country look, and motorcycle boots are best when worn with jeans or a short leather skirt and a lot of attitude.
But while tall boots are easier to match with clothes, it's harder to find a perfect fit because several measurements are involved and calf widths vary so much, says Joseph Der, president of Der-Dau Custom-Made Boots & Shoes.
"Boots should fit not tight nor loose but snug," Der says. "You will break them in and the leather will mold so a little tightness is good at first."
But unlike in shoes, there can be a little movement in the heel, Der says.
If leather boots are cared for properly they can last up to 20 years. Der recommends using boot trees for boots of all fabrics to help keep their shape but particularly for leather to prevent wrinkles and cracking of the shaft.
Another tip: Use a wax-based conditioner (no alcohol, no oil) on leather boots twice a month. It opens the pores in the leather and allows the moisturizer to penetrate the material, Der explains. Only use polish when needed because a buildup of polish can also contribute to cracking.
To protect boots from winter weather, Der suggests using a silicon coating on suede but he warns that suede is more delicate than leather and should not be worn in heavy rain or snow.
Leather can also be treated with silicon but if the boot is made with high-quality leather it's not really necessary.