How to Find the Perfect Boots

If you're going to find the perfect boots, especially online, there are a few thing you're going to need to know. For example, how do you know if those knee-high boots will fit you around your calves? If you're tall, will they really be knee-highs or only calf-highs? And what exactly is the shaft of a boot?

Some of the most common boot terms are defined below. I've also included a few measuring tips to help you find exactly the boots you're looking for.

Boot Terminology

Boot Shaft: This is the part of the boot that covers the ankle and the leg.

Circumference: This is the measurement around widest part of the shaft of the boot. To see if tall boots will fit your calves, measure around the widest part of your biggest calf and compare that measurement to the listed shaft circumference.

Shaft Height: This measurement is taken on the inside seam of the boot, and is measured from where the shaft meets the sole of the boot, to the top of the shaft. To determine where the top of a boot will hit on your leg, measure the height of the shaft against the inside of your leg, starting at your instep.

The following list shows approximate shaft heights for some of the most common boot styles. Remember that where boots hit on your leg will depend on your height and inseam. For taller and stretchy styles, the circumference of your legs will also have an effect where the boots come to on your legs.

  • Ankle Boots: 3" to 8"
  • Mid-Calf: 8" - 14"
  • Knee-High: 14" - 18"
  • Over-The-Knee (OTK): 18" - 22"
  • Thigh-High: 22" and over

Goring: Many boots have elastic panels built in. These pieces are called "goring." Sometimes goring is used on both sides of boots or shoes, and sometimes only on one side. You might even find goring on the back of a boot.

Since elastic stretches, well-placed goring will make boots easier to pull on and off. Tall boots with goring are also a bit more forgiving than those without. So if you find your boots are just a little bit tight through the calves, look for styles with goring built-in.

Boot Styles

Pull-On Boots: These boots have no zippers, laces or other means of closure, they're simply pulled on and off. Pull-on boots will sometimes have tabs to aid in getting them on and off, and many times will feature goring as well. When putting on tall pull-on boots that have soft or stretchy fabric uppers, it's easiest to scrunch the shaft of the boot down and insert your foot into the bottom of the boot, the same way you put on socks or hose.

Obviously, that method won't work for boots that are made of stiff material, or those that are structured enough to hold their own shape. In those cases, you're just going to have to grab the sides of the boots, point your toes, and start pushing. Pull-on boots are sometimes difficult for people with high arches to get into, because their foot is deeper than the ankle opening, so they can't get their foot into the shoe portion of the boot.

Zipper Boots: As one would expect, these boots have zippers. Usually on the inseam, but sometimes on the back. It's a good idea to pay attention to how long the zipper is -- especially with taller boots. A boot with a long zipper will be the easiest to get on and off, but when it comes to ease of entry, even partial zippers are a step-up on most pull-on boot styles.

Lace-Up Boots: Very easy to get on and off, lace-up boots are incredibly popular, as the laces also add a bit of decoration to the boots. Unless the laces are merely decorative (in which case, they'll sometimes be on the back of the boot), they're usually placed on the front or outside.

The main problems with laces as a means of closure are mostly cosmetic ones, and they include: keeping the laces tied, having to loosen LOTS of laces on really tall boots, and finding replacements for really unique styles.

Stretch Boots: With uppers made from stretchy or elasticized materials, stretch boots are especially popular with people who have wide calves or very shapely legs, as the boots will stretch to fit the wider parts.

It is still important to look for a shaft circumference that is fairly close to the widest part of your calf. You don't want boots that have to stretch too much. They're uncomfortable, and they're far less flattering than those that fit well.