November 25, 2008

A (Semi)-Official Guide to Winter Boots

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As I am writing this in Libe café — shoutout to all my fellow Libe-addicts — it is becoming increasingly snowy and cold outside. I am fortunately not out there, but I will be soon. And, because I was silly enough to believe the weather report, I am not wearing those singularly excellent and necessary winter items this column is about: boots. I have boots, and boots that I like, but I was trying to get an extra day of not-boots in before winter set in completely. My goal in this column is to help you find one (or more!) pair of boots that can bring you through the winter without feeling bored or uncomfortable.
The first thing we need to examine, as always, is utility. Why do we wear boots?
(1) They keep you warm.
(2) They keep you dry.
(3)They keep pants dry/clean.
(4) They provide traction in the ice andsnow.
Now, not all boots do these things. If yours don’t, they are silly and you are silly. But seriously, I understand the appeal of a lot of fashion boots, many of which have very few of the above characteristics, but they are just that — fashion boots — and they are not to be confused with proper footwear.
In the category of functional winter footwear, there is another distinction, which is that between “winter boots” and “snow boots.” The main difference is that “snow boots” provide waterproofness that enables premium level romping about in the snow. Basically I think everyone should have at least two pairs of boots: serious snow boots and dress boots. Considering you will be spending the next four months in them, I recommend investing in pairs you’ll really wear and that really work.
Although there are a lot of options, finding boots that you really want can be difficult. Even more so than with other shoes, I caution against buying boots online; there is a lot more material in a boot, which means a lot more places for it to fit oddly. If you do venture online, I’d start with L.L. Bean, Land’s End, Eddie Bauer, REI and other outfitters that specialize in outdoor-wear — they’ll have the more outdoors-y stuff you’d expect, but many brands are also venturing into “lifestyle” wear (i.e., more fashionable designs). Good brands to look at are Børn, Merrell, Teva and Sorel, all of which specialize in high-quality good-for-you shoes, and have great design as well.
There are specific features to look for that will optimize your boots’ usefulness.
For good traction: If you’re checking online, try to see a view of the boot’s sole. You’re looking for deep grooves, patterns that stand out from the base of the sole, ridges, etc. And I don’t mean little lines that look like they were made with a pin. Key words are “non-skid,” “tread,” “all-terrain” and the like.
For waterproofness: In general, you want rubber outsoles and PVC or leather uppers, but also look for the descriptors: “waterproof” and “seam-sealed.” Many boots can be made to be waterproof; the treatment needed to do this varies depending on the material of your boots, but leather especially needs to be treated. The procedure might darken your boots, so follow directions. (That’s a hard one, I know!) Also, boots you already have might need to be re-treated; most need to be re-applied every season.
There are many different heights of boots — you want any boot to hit at least above the ankle to help keep out the snow, because getting snow in your sock is really uncomfortable, as anyone who has experienced it knows. The higher your boot, the more leg it helps keep warm, so higher boots are definitely good for skirt-wearing. Whatever you decide works for you, be very careful about calf-sizing. Some websites will give diameter measurements, so whip out a tape measure and find out what you need. (If you don’t have one, find a ribbon or piece of string, wrap it around, and measure on a ruler.) In general, just follow the fit guidelines the companies provide — boots are sometimes sized differently than other shoe styles.
So what’s good? Well, many of you have already turned to Uggs and other shearling-lined varieties. In the winter, these do not leave a terrible burning of irrelevance and ugliness in my eye sockets like they do during warm weather months. In fact, Uggs are a good bet for the non-snow-boot category; one source said they’re good for up to negative-30 degrees Fahrenheit — but they will not keep you dry. Spraying them as discussed above gives them a better chance, but they’re not made for walking in serious snow. One problem, at least for a few styles of Uggs, is that they have very little structure, and lead to feet-dragging and sore arches — try arch support inserts if you need them.
Some good stuff I found online: At Target there were fleece-lined rainboots for $30 and fleece rainboot liners for $9.99 that would enable you to convert the rainboots you already have. At L.L. Bean you can find many variations of the L.L. Bean Boots for around $79 — you’d probably recognize them. They are about 6-inches high and have a tan leather upper and a rubber lower part. The best thing about these is they come in navy! (I have a not-so-secret-but-repressed love of navy). They are hand-made and look pretty awesome for icy Cornell paths. According to a customer review on their website, they’re also good for mucking out the chicken barn.
I realize I haven’t given you all much specific style guidance — that’s partly because I’ve run out of space and partly because, when it comes to winter accessories, you kind of just have to rock them with your own flair. As in, you HAVE to wear boots, so stop complaining, stop wearing your little flimsy ballet flats ,wear the boots and get over yourself. Love, Alex.
I’m only partly kidding — the key to wearing boots, especially “snow boots,” which can be bulky and more sporty than sleek, is to embrace them. If they have an accent color, play with that. If they have fur trim, bring that out with a slimmer and more basic rest of the outfit. Alternatively, just put on a t-shirt, sweater and jeans, pull on your boots and forget they’re there.
So, enjoy your boots and this beautiful weather (that was only partly facetious). Oh, and please pick up your feet when trudging through the campus — the person behind you doesn’t want that snow/salt/mud mix you’re flinging at them on their nice new boots.