If your goal is to step out this winter in warm, toasty winter footwear that doesn't look like a fashion slip and fall, then it's time to enlist in boot camp.
Yes, some winter boots can be practical to the point of being clunky: "Functionality is key in the colder months, but you don't have to sacrifice (style or functionality) with a great pair of boots," says Becky Jones, a member of the product development team at Born footwear, which designs some stylish winter kicks that are practical to boot.
And you can find boots made for winter walking and still be completely on trend: Of-the-moment boots with shearling linings, sleek leather uppers and flat, chunky or wedge-style heels have made it possible to brave the cold while still sporting chic treads. "It's fine to use those old winter boots we all have stuffed in the back of the closet to shovel snow or take the kids to the bus stop," says Pamela Friedlander, owner of Positive Reflections, a Danbury-based wardrobe and image consulting service. "But if you need a nice warm and cozy winter boot to wear on a date or make an impression, it's completely possible to find a boot that can keep you safe, comfortable and stylish."
Emphasis on safe: Laura Liebesman, director of physical therapy at the Greenwich-based orthopedic surgery specialty group ONS, says too many women confuse comfy and warm with safe and supportive. Sometimes winter footwear can actually do that kind of double duty, but "boot safety isn't always so obvious," she explains.
For example, Liebesman takes orthopedic exception with flat sheepskin-lined boots, often the rage with teens and their hip moms. Indeed they are warm and feel like slippers, "but when someone says something feels like a slipper or like they are wearing nothing, in a way that's because it's true." Those kinds of boots tend to lack the kind of arch support essential for a properly supported gait, says Liebesman. "They may feel like nothing, but that's not necessarily ideal for your feet," she says.
Such boots can even lead to strain and injury by allowing for too much arch motion and ankle torsion. "In some ways, they are not much different from flip-flops. They are comfortable for a while, but not really good for your feet."
HealthyLife asked our expert panel for tips on winter boot style, care and selection that will keep you putting your best (and safest) foot forward all winter.
Safety & Comfort
Sexy they may be, but stilettos are far from ideal when it comes to navigating the winter sidewalks. Even in pristine conditions, "No one in my business wants to see you wear them. The lower the heel the more stable you are," says Liebesman.
-- A riding boot, with its minimal heel, is close to perfect for its combination of style and comfort, Liebesman says.
-- Look for soles and heels with traction. If that essential element is missing, steal this tip from Liebesman: She uses a nail or some other sharp object to gently scratch the bottoms of her winter shoes and boots to create some wear traction and keep slippage to a minimum.
-- Pointy-toes tend to scrunch your toes, cutting off circulation and making them more vulnerable to the cold, says Liebesman. Look for a wide toe box that gives your toes wiggle room for optimal circulation.
-- If you want a lift, wedge or chunky heels is the safest and most orthopedically sensible way to pair style with winter foot smarts, says Liebesman.
-- Slip feet clad in cotton socks or tights (not nylon) into your boots. Cotton absorbs moisture and helps keep you warm, Liebesman adds.
-- Even safe, supportive boots need to be worn with caution. "Never underestimate an icy parking lot," says Jones.
-- For work, look for styles that have a clean leather shaft and are void of fur trim and excessive trim for a professional office look, suggests Jones. Take a similar approach to clean-lined booties, pairing them with ankle-skimming dress pants.
-- Riding boots are ideal for pairing form and function, says Jones. She suggests tucking in slim pants or skinny-leg jeans and topping them with crisp white shirts and blazers for polished poise. Or try a longer, boot-skimming skirt topped with a chunky sweater for a more relaxed vibe.
-- Pair booties (preferably flat or wedge style) with patterned tights and a short, woolen skirt suggests Friedlander. Or wear those booties with a classic black skirt and neutral-tone tights. "The key is eyeing the ensemble for balance," advises Friedlander, who says the whole thing can go wrong if the shoes, skirt and tights don't work well together. "It can go as bad as wearing clogs with a skirt, if you don't get the proportions right."
-- Show your flair for trends by wearing a knee-high shearling or faux fur-lined style. Add laces to up your fashion savvy. "If they are treated leather or suede they can actually be quite durable," says Friedlander.
-- If you are plus-size, tucking pants into boots can be trickier. "They can cut off your body and add pounds," says Friedlander, who instead advises a chic bootie paired with bootcut jeans or dress pants to elongate the frame.
-- Stick a sock in it. Friedlander loves the look of a lace-trimmed or tweed sock rolled over the top of a riding or slouch style boot.
-- Try some fringe. "It's a huge trend for fall and with treated suede and a flat or low heel it could be a great winter look," says Friedlander.
-- Look for "distressed" leathers, biker chic or western styles in leather if you want to purchase something especially current, says Jones.
-- Leather is the look of the season. "It's showing up everywhere," says Jones. Consider a shearling-lined leather pair of boots as an investment that will pay long-term fashion dividends season after season."
-- Trench coat styles, including those in winter wools, "look especially good with winter boots," says Friedlander.