Reader Request: The Tall Boot Dilemma


Every time knee-high boots come up – ESPECIALLY when they’re mentioned as a potential wardrobe staple – the hackles rise. So, so, so many of you have trouble finding tall boots that fit your calves correctly. And even if you love the look, you eventually give up the quest out of sheer frustration.

And honestly? I don’t have a solution. Because some of you have narrow calves and some of you have wide calves. Some of you aren’t proportioned for mass-produced tall boots and some of you are concerned about disguising your slender ankles. And even though there are a few minor workarounds for some of these issues, the bald fact is that some women may never find a pairs gorgeous, perfectly-fitting tall boots that flatter their frames. At least, not without getting them custom-made.

But, like I said, there are a handful of minor workarounds. So I’ll share those with ya and hope they’re helpful.

  1. Tall boots WILL scrunch up a little around the ankles: Don’t panic about this and think your boots are misshapen! It would be fantastic if they fit perfectly to your every contour, from heelbone to kneebone. But it is NOT going to happen. Expect some scrunch. Totally normal.
  2. Before you buy, measure: Most online shoe sites list calf circumference and shaft height for tall boots. Measure your own calves at the widest point and from ankle to knee. Ideally you want the shaft to fit closely to your calf, and hit about three fingers below the bottom edge of your kneecap. Then do some online digging to find boots that will fit and flatter YOUR calves based on these measurements. Even if you plan to buy in person, you’ll get a feel for which brands might fit you.
  3. Don’t shirk the specialty retailers: Yes, some of the boots on and Ted & Muffy aren’t as fun as the ones on Zappos. But with a tall boot, you might want to go classic anyway, so try not to focus on the fact that you can’t buy those kitschy button-up boots from Miz Mooz. Buy a pair that fits, feels good, and looks great. You’ll wear ‘em into the ground.
  4. Pony up: While this applies across the board, it’s especially true of specialty sizes. Now, I’m not saying that it’s FAIR, but it’s just the way of the world. The smaller the manufacturing batch, the higher the individual price. Prepare to spend up to $300 for these pups.
  5. For wide calves, consider a non-zip boot: Pull-on boots are considerably more forgiving. Yes, they create a less polished look than zip-up boots, but they’re SO much less constricting.
  6. For narrow calves, consider a stretch boot: There’s nothing like leather, it’s true … but if boots crafted from stiff materials fit you like galoshes, try something with stretch.
  7. If you like the look, consider a lace-up tall boot: You’ll have tons more control if you can adjust the tightness throughout the boot shaft. Lace-ups aren’t nearly as sleek and versatile, in my opinion, but they are far superior in matters of fit.
  8. Locate a decent cobbler: I know, here’s a task that’s nearly as fun as finding a great tailor! But a skilled cobbler can do amazing things for shoes that are ALMOST perfect. This will be especially helpful for narrow-calved women, as some pairs of tall boots can be skinnied up a bit without destroying their overall shape.

In addition to the two listed above, here are a few more specialty boot retailers I found with a quick search. I am one of the lucky gals who can buy regular sizes, so I can’t swear by any of them … but they’ll make a good springboard, I think:



**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details. Sustainable options are either used, handmade, made in the U.S., artisan made in non-sweatshop conditions, or made using sustainable/fair trade practices.

Originally posted 2010-01-14 06:25:00.

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55 Responses to “Reader Request: The Tall Boot Dilemma”

  1. gathering dust

    I just ordered a pair of wide shaft (hee) tall boots last week from – they are on backorder so I won't have for a couple weeks, but I'll let you know how they work out – they were cheapies so I'm not expecting much, but for a girl on a very very small budget, hopefully they'll function for a couple winters.

  2. La Historiadora de Moda

    Thank G-d! For years I thought I was a freak because of the bit of scrunching at the ankles. Finally I know this is normal.

    When I buy tall boots, I almost always go to the store to do it. The one time I ordered without trying on — my Fluevog Bondgirls — the boots were too tight, even though I have two other beloved pairs of tall Fluevog boots. I have relatively muscular calves and some regular boots fit fine and some don't.

    I cannot second your cobbler advice enough! I had to have my Bondgirls stretched, and I've had heel repair done before. I believe most cobblers will urge you to try stretching with boots first because it is cheaper and it doesn't change the overall look of the boot the way that adding a panel can.

  3. Sarah

    One thing to consider is that calf width often increases from the listed circumference as the shoe size goes up. Even if a circumference is listed as a certain size (say, 13.5"), by the time it gets up to a size 9, you're more likely looking at a circumference of 14.5". My advice is to try on, try on, try on.

  4. Jamie Michelle

    I have had some success researching wide calf styles on sites like, and then price shopping for my findings on Endless, Amazon, or Zappos. I find that Naturalizer has some great wide width styles; you can get the wider calf with a regular B-width shoe, which is great.

  5. Jocelyn

    Thanks for the post Sal. I have an 18" calf circumference and had not been able to buy boots until the past few years. The internet has made it much easier to get wide-calf boots. I have yet to find a pair in a store that fit me. I paid $150 for my first pair from Nordstrom. I've had them now for almost 4 years. (They were well worth the money.) I've also found that some retailers will list a wide-calf version of an in-store regular boot on their website, but they don't have it in their stores. I love the look of boots and am grateful that manufacturers are finally realizing that big calf girls want to wear boots too.

  6. Anonymous

    I never find tall boots that will zip over my calves, which has always puzzled me because I don't think I'm really a very big person. Anyway, a couple of years ago I ordered some from Eddie Bauer, because they offered them in regular- and wide-shaft. The wide-shaft were way too big, and the regular ended up fitting right. "Would buy again."

  7. Couture Cookie

    Great post! I would like to add something: for us ladies with thin calves, a leather riding boot with some stretch material around the zipper (on the inside of the calf) is the absolute best bet. Fits like a charm and is snug in all the right places.

  8. five tomatoes

    I bought two pairs this year and am so excited about them. Even when I was less bulky than I am now, I had enormous calves – I was a size 8 or 10 in clothes and needed wide calf boots and they just barely fit. I've gained a lot of weight since then and have been frustrated I couldn't find boots…until this year! Check out the Fitzwell brand at Zappos. They have wide calf and extra-wide calf boots that come in regular, wide, and extra-wide foot widths too. They actually fit AND they're real leather.

  9. Sara

    When I bought my black flat boots a year and a half or so ago, I searched and searched and searched. It's really difficult to find a good pair of boots that looks good and fits properly on me, so I'd add that trying on and having patience is so key.

    I think I tried on about 70 boots. No exaggeration. I was hot and sweaty by the end of each day, too, trying to pull boots on (and off – that's the scary part, when the boot you don't own and don't want won't release its vice-like grip from your calf!).

    I brought a pair of my heaviest socks, too, to test fit over additional bulkiness. It also helped sometimes when trying to get the boot off my leg. Not always. It was a looong few days.

    In the end, my boots have a half zip at the ankle that comes up mid-calf. The top of the boot is one solid piece. This worked best for me because it kept a slimmer fit (yes, it still bunches, and thank you for pointing out that that's normal) around the ankle and enough width to fit around my athletic, wonderfully unique calves.

    Great post Sal!

  10. puddin

    Have never worn a pair as I am a senior senior, but I enjoy looking at vintage. Always smile at the first part of "Pretty Woman" where Julia wears the high patent boots and needs a safety pin to hold one up!
    Nice blog.

  11. evanadine

    for christmas, I asked for/received a pair of the "Maryland" boots by Ros Hommerson from the site. these are $200 boots, but I consider them investment piece (even better when it's someone else's investment!) they are very simple with clean lines, but they will last me for years because classic never goes out of style!
    I had a *great* experience with their customer service people, so I would really recommend this website to any other wide-calf gals.
    I searched for years for a pair of boots to fit over my calves, and there were times I was feeling desperate and almost bought a pair that would be ill-fitting ormaybe weren't styled they way I really wanted them to be, but I am *so* glad I waited.

    now, if anyone knows of a good pair of simple, flat, brown suede/faux suede scrunch boots, let me know!

  12. Alison

    I can say that I love my Sofft knee high boots. They are the wide width version. I got them from I am in the hunt for dark brown and gray knee high boots now. I love zappos because they are really good about including the calf circumference and the shaft height. Plus their service and free shipping both ways is awesome. I would suggest if you have 15" or so calves to look at everything offered out there don't limit to just the wide calf offerings as many boots will fit just fine and may not be listed as wide calf but still have measurements in your range.

  13. Anonymous

    I have been on the hunt for low-heeled brown tall boots for ages. And then a few weeks ago I wandered into Ross for no reason and snatched up a pair of wide-calved ones in my giant size eleven for TEN BUCKS.

    I still don't know how this happened.

  14. ranksubjugation

    Someday, I'll probably go custom. Someday. I have pretty normal calves, but it seems like my ankles are often too small for boots, making it hard to get a good variety going. I suggest looking for adjustable details in the areas that are hard to fit – functional buckles on the calves, stretch panels, laces on the ankles, zippers. Calvin Klein's Tipper Boot does a good job of adding stretch, design-wise (though I don't think those ankles would fit me, these may help someone with calve issues):—Black-Leather&pfid=LDS11750&eng=2.

  15. Courtney

    I have wide calves, and I've found that wandering the mall and trying on every pair of boots in every store usually generates at least one pair that fits! Also, I haven't tried it, but there is a local cobbler here that says they can stretch the boot shaft for a reasonable price (<$50). That makes me a lot more willing to snatch up a pair on Ebay that I think will be a teeny bit too snug, but are a good deal. $50 quality brand boots + $50 stretch = still a steal!

  16. abigail

    I bought a pair of tall boots that didn't fit at the calf and took them to a cobbler who took them in for me.
    My mom has one calf that is bigger than the other and took her tall boots to a cobbler and he let one out for her.
    A good cobbler can work miracles!

  17. Andrea

    I got a pair of classic boots from My calves are 20in, but I'm also very short so a rigid tall boot was out. I ended up with a boot that has a leather front and stretch back. These are the first boots I've been able to wear right out of the box. In the past, I've had elastic panels inserted into the sides by a cobbler, but after a few years of hard wear, they show their age.

  18. Shannon

    I am lucky to fit those 14" boots. A little scrunching at the ankle is normal, but I caution thin ankled girls that too much scrunching in a cheap material will hurt! This really is an in-person purchase. Try both boots on and walk walk walk before you spend the money.

    I can only wear my boots with skirts. I guess it is too much time around horses, but I only think the pants in boots looks right on me if I'm actually riding. Cute as heck on everyone else though! That's one of those 'timeless' looks I just haven't ever managed to pull off.

  19. angie

    Nice write-up!

    I’d like to reiterate the power of slouch boots. They work extremely well on narrow calves – the space around the slouch actually works in your favour because it’s part of the look. Also, slouch boots have the ability to slouch at the base of a wide calf which solves the problem too. All my clients are happily sporting some sort of slouch boot this season. It’s the way to go!

  20. Linda

    Oh, hello. Apparently you could hear me mourning those Miz Mooz boots all the way from over there.

    I got nothin'–I just bought a pair of mind-numbingly boring boots because they zipped up easily, they're waterproof, and they were on sale. (They're Blondos, purchased at a Clarks shop.) These replace a pair I bought for identical reasons three years ago and have hated (but gamely worn) ever since, but I don't love them much better.

    I have two other pairs I really like: one from Ecco with a teeny wedge heel–very walkable and I live in fear of them wearing out. NO other tall Ecco boots have ever fit over my calves, however. The other are from Eddie Bauer a couple of years ago and I regret not buying them in both colors. These are the only boots I've ever successfully bought by mail, and it required sending back another style that was TOO wide.

    I really hesitate to order online because I don't believe their measurements for a minute. Often the exact same boot will be "16 inches" on one seller's site and "14.5 inches" on another. And honestly, it boggles my mind why any manufacturer WOULD expect calves to fit a standard size, any more than ANY OTHER PART OF THE HUMAN BODY. It's infuriating.

  21. The Raisin Girl


    I hate about 65% of their clothes, but they usually have at least a few pairs of boots, even out of season. Right now they have a lot of different styles, all very cute. They run anywhere between $40-$60, maybe a little more. I'm a wide-calved girl and this is the ONLY store in the mall I can wear boots from.

    Lane Bryant sometimes has boots as well, and some shoe stores can special-order wide calf boots if you ask.

    Note: The more I read this and other blogs, the more I begin to understand that I was raised on a budget. I've never owned a pair of shoes in my entire life that cost more than $100. And the $100 shoes had to last 5+ years.

  22. Laura Elaine

    For those plagued with plain "non-cute" boots because of having to buy narrow/wide calf sizes, there's a great website that sells adorable boot acoutrements to gussy them up! Everything from chains to patterned cuffs, they will definitely set your boots apart, and are cute…to boot! 🙂

  23. Kelly

    It took me a long time to be OK with ankle scrunch. I was constantly convinced that something was wrong with the way I was fitting or wearing them!


    I have a size 9.5 narrow foot, skinny ankles and wide calves.

    I bought my wide calf boots from zappos. By Sofft. Zappos has quite a few styles and if you are in the states you really can't knock free shipping and return shipping.

  25. Sal

    Laura Elaine: What a GREAT suggestion! I'd seen those Bandit dealies before, but never thought how useful they could be to someone who felt confined to less interesting boot styles for sizing reasons. BRILLIANT, lady!

  26. Christina F.

    I have been obsessively shopping online for boots and have, unfortunately, returned them all (thank goodness for free shipping/free returns!) so this is a timely post for me. I don't think I'm asking for too much (black and/or brown boots, not too high heel and no gapping at the calves) but apparently this is a tall order. I'm a 9.5 and I agree with the other reviewer that the calves increase proportionately and therein lies my dilemma. I'll keep trying, though! Love all the suggestions here.

  27. Kristen

    Thanks for the great tips, Sal. Someone may have mentioned this already, but I was at Nordstrom last week trying on boots and the sales girl told me that Nordstrom can stretch any leather boots – either in the foot bed or in the calf. Good to know!!!

  28. Steph

    I just ordered a pair of Naturalizer tall boots from–because Naturalizer's site and every other site that carries them was out of them in my size in wide-calf. But I've ordered from other sites in the past as well from manufacturers that make wide-calf boots:,,,,, (seriously!!), and (custom shaft circumferences for ALL their styles). is now offering wide calf in some styles from the standard set of manufacturers who make them. So is and And of course, which is my personal favorite because they list every single spec of a shoe/boot: shaft height, heel height, shaft circumference–well, I'm sure you all know. Zappos rocks, but their selection of wide-calf boots is sometimes very slim. My calves won't fit into any boot shaft smaller than 16 inches around, which is on the small side for wide-shaft boots. As you can see I've done tons of online searching for wide-shaft retailers. I love a tall, classic zip-up boot and own several pair. Because it's so hard to find a wide-shaft boot that fits and looks good, it's VERY MUCH worth it to treat one that fits you and looks good, but not necessarily trendy, as a long-term investment worth almost any price. Get them reheeled/capped and resoled as needed, get any alterations necessary done to them, and wear them practically forever.

  29. Julia

    Thanks for this great post! I've searched for years for good boots (wide-calf issues).

    just to add to the tip to measure your calf and compare online: sometimes the listed calf circumference is at the opening of the boot shaft, sometimes it is at the widest part of the boot shaft. often these are the same. But check to see if they specify (not always.)

    I've found this to be an issue. the widest part of my calf is NOT where the top of the boot hits so often boots seem like they should fit based on circumference, but I can't get them over my calf-bulge 🙂

  30. K.Line

    Well, I prob should order specialty because my calves are extremely narrow and I can't fit anything but plastic stretch i.e. Franco Sarto pull up boot that saves my ass. I actually love a little ankle scrunch with leather. Shows the quality and softness…

  31. Ecc3ntricCynic

    I just found a pair I liked and then took them for alterations. I'm not sure how much of a cobbler the place was, but they did an excellent job. The place was a clothing alterations (and shoe repair i think).

    I definitely plan on doing this again if I find another pair of knee high boots I love.

  32. rb

    I went shopping with a good friend who is my height and shoe size but she is naturally thin and willowy, and I am curvy. Boots usually gape on her, and are often too tight in the calf for me.

    We both tried on the same pair of Paul Green boots at Nordstrom (Salon shoes dept.)They looked great on both of us. The Paul Greens have an adjustment at the top to bring in or let out the width a little, and they are GORGEOUS. Very stylish. My friend bought two pair.

  33. Steph

    Laura Elaine–thanks so much for that link! The accessories are SO CUTE!

  34. lisa

    I always struggle with finding boots that zip up over my wide calves. Buying in person and trying them on helps. So far I've only found 3 pairs that I like and that fit properly–Miz Mooz, Aldo, and Blondo (a Canadian brand).


    I agree, they are not that easy to wear, but I am crazy about them! I hope I can find mine in lOndon!

  36. Candice Virginia

    Thanks for the awesome advice! I have muscular calves and I have always struggled to find cute, great fitting knee high boots. The only pair I've ever found that really work for me are from Target, surprisingly. I bought them last year and they're already falling apart (what I get for spending 30.00) but I love the shape and I love the flattering, versatile fit. I will keep your suggestions in mind when I start looking for a new pair of boots. Thanks!

  37. CompassRose

    Oh, yes, this. I went through this in the fall, when I wanted a pair of knee-high black boots. Last fall, I bought a pair of brown Franco Sartos with narrow elastic panels down each side, and they're perfect, but I didn't want to go the elastic route again. I've got big, muscley calves, and narrow ankles, and have very often run into the problem of chafing with the ankle scrunch, too.

    So I ordered the Fluevog Earl of Montagues (and if you have narrow calves, I recommend them; the size 8s I got had a calf circumference of, I don't know, 12" or so). Sent them back (hello, shipping charges each way), because no shoemaker would tackle a 3" stretch on them. I ended up with the Fluevog Adrian Heidis, and had those stretched a bit more than an inch.

    Leather boots will stretch; linings can be problematic, and apparently so can zippered or lace-up boots; the stretching is done purely mechanically, and can rip out zippers or eyelets.

    What makes me really cross are lace-up boots which SHOULD be all adjustable and such – but have teeny-weeny little tongues, so that you get gapping if lacing over larger calves! Bad designers! Bad! Such as, for instance, my Fluevog Countess Olivas – I've got to be so careful when I lace them to make sure the tongue is exactly centred, and even then there can be a bit of gapping at the top – bleah.

  38. Sharon

    Sigh. I have never found a pair of boots that fits me. My calves are 18.5" around at the widest part, which is at least 2" bigger than most wide-calf boots. Add to it that my calves are 13.75" from ankle to knee… and my feet are a very average size 8. On the incredibly rare occasions I can find a pair that almost fits, it makes me look like I have hooves.

    So, yeah… I've abandoned all hope of ever wearing boots. It's just not worth the angst of trying on what feels like a hundred pairs and not finding a single damn pair in any style, price, or material that fits.

  39. Kate Coveny Hood

    This has always been an area of frustration for me. I don't look like I have wide calves, but my muscle is just a tad too bulgy – is that a word? – for the standard tall boot width. I have no money to spend on new boots this season – but I'll file away those links for future. Thanks!

  40. Mona

    Nice post, but such a controversial topic 🙂

    I got Eddie Bauer lace-up boots as a present last year and they turned out to be super-wide. I cannot lace them up so they fit – even my boyfriend can wear them. They bunch around the ankles and chafe, sadly. I also found that the given calf width only applies to size 6 or 7….
    I wear size 8.5 and have pretty narrow feet and ankles, and usually boots are too wide at the calf. If you need a wider fit, Eddie Bauer may be right for you.

    My perfect boots this winter I got at Payless – black fake leather, motorcycle zipper. They are water-tight and despite their 4 inch heel super-comfortable for walking around in Manhattan in snowstorm and inevitable sludge (considering getting a spare pair but they seem to have sold out).


  41. fleur_delicious

    hey, can I throw you yet another curveball, Sal? What about knee-high boots that are actually knee high? I don't have the $1200 to drop on Prada over-the-knee boots, but I wish I did. I love the look of actual knee-high boots, but I'm so tall that they never come up higher than my calves. boo, I say. boo.

    someday, I suspect, I *WILL* go custom and be done with it. It's good to be reminded that this is still an option – thanks!

  42. Kiki

    I find boot shopping quite frustrating. I am of the narrow calf group. I have found that stretchy boots tend to work well for me. I've purchased 3 pair over the years. As well as, the Naturalizer brand. However, I'm a bargain shopper and haven't ventured into the more expensive brands.

  43. Kiki

    P.S. Thanks for talking about the "narrow calfed". I'm always hearing about the "wide calfed".

  44. Freeda

    I have 17.5 inch calves and some seriously thick cankles, but 16 inch boots from DSW Shoes work for me. Leather stretches – synthetics don't!! I got 2 pr and 2 pr of tights and spent under 200 total.

  45. ebinbaby

    A couple of years ago I tried on a stunning pair of cherry red Fluevog boots only to find that they didn't even zip 1/2 way up my calf – the top of the boot was at least 3" apart and I was heartbroken. The lovely fellow at the shop waved his hand and said "no problem, we can stretch them, can you come back and pick them up in 2 days? I agreed to try it only if he agreed to take the boots back if they didn't fit me. Two days later I returned and zipped those babies all the way to the top. A Fluevog miracle!
    My cobbler gave me the secret – unlined or leather-lined boots work the best and they may have to be stretched in stages. I now buy boots freely off of eBay – I ask the sellers to measure the circumference at the top and ask about the lining before bidding. I recently bought a pair from Born that fit without stretching! Woot!

  46. Kristi

    I have the most perfect pair of tall boots I bought 10 years ago on Macy's on 2 in San Francisco (The Macy's shoe department in union square takes up the ENTIRE second floor, it is a dream, but I digress) well I have tried to replace these because the leather is wearing off the shoe part a bit, actually up toward the ankle and cannot find any comparable boots to replace them with … I'm in the Twin Cities, do you know any good cobblers who might specialize in this type of repair? Thanks ahead of time.

  47. Chesh

    Yes, thank you for talking about narrow calves! Basically, my only option is slouch boots; I tried inputting my calf circumference on JJ Footwear, and the site was like "Sorry, but uh… seriously? No." Stretch boots don't do it, because nothing looks sadder than a boot that is CLEARLY supposed to stretch and is… sagging on your leg.

    Fluevogs do tend to run pretty narrow–though not narrow enough in my case–and there's a western brand called Oak Tree Farms that makes lace-up boots that fit me over pants. They're a little lower than knee-height, and they're definitely NOT going to be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're into the hippie/granny boot/Victorian kind of thing and you're also despairing that Nordstrom's narrow section is full of boots five inches wider than your calf, you might want to take a look at those! (But be careful with boots you have to cinch to their limit to get them to fit closely, because they can end up irritating the ligaments in your ankles.)

    I would definitely never drop a huge chunk of change on anything that didn't make my heart palpate with delight, though. It's easy to flip out and immediately attach yourself to the one pair of boots that does fit off the rack (off the shelf?) after you've tried on dozens that don't, but still, don't BUY them if you don't LOVE them. Lots of things in life are bland–commuting, waiting in lines, brushing your teeth. Why, oh why, would you ever want to add your shoes to that list?

    (I wish more narrow-calved ladies would weigh in!)

  48. ranksubjugation

    I really like the bandits site, but $70 just for boot chains? Ouch, that's almost another pair of boots… for those with a lower budget, Home Depot sells chain for as little as $0.70 per foot.

  49. Eliza

    I always figure that I should spend about 2x as much on boots as I would spend on similar shoes. I never wear pants/jeans, so knee high boots are a staple part of my closet 3/4ths of the year.

    I have large feet, thinner calves, and very tiny ankles. The best fit I've found are my Alberto Fermani boots. I had to wait until they were on clearance to afford them, but they're worth every penny. They fit, they flatter, and they are COMFORTABLE despite a rather high heel.

  50. Anonymous

    Boots are so hard to buy. They are like dresses — they have to fit you in so many different places.
    I spent a fair amount of money on cute Born boots made with super-soft leather, and they started wearing out and looking damaged in a month or two. I've replaced them with some waterproof leather boots made with a thicker leather that I hope will last for years. They cost more, but I hope the cost per wear will be less.