Getting the Boot


Our Daily Correspondent

An 1881 boot ad.

There is a part early in Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy in which the eponymous heroine is told that “there are more important things to think of than one’s dresses.” To which the redoutable Sophy replies, “What a stupid thing to say! Naturally there are, but not, I hold, when one is dressing for dinner.” 

This is some of the soundest advice in literature. The necessary frivolities of life may as well be approached with seriousness—you’ll be dealing with them anyway. 

It is my personal and firmly held conviction that if one shops thoughtfully, the actual process of dressing doesn’t demand much of one’s time; all the work has been done on the front end. But it is a sad fact of life that, in the buying, some things will take up a lot of time. 

I’m thinking specifically of boots: something one wears nearly every day of winter, generally a relatively large investment and, as such, a purchase demanding a certain amount of thought. An ideal boot has to be decently made, versatile, affordable, and comfortable. And, of course, it must fit your leg.

Until quite recently, this had been my private white whale. Most boots flapped around my calves like galoshes, giving me the air of a child playing dress up—although as what, I’m not sure. An old salt, maybe. It is a mysterious truth that only very, very expensive boots fit every leg, and most of us cannot afford that. It’s also a sad reality that having boots taken in is perilously expensive and generally not worth the trouble. For years I’ve made do with the occasional vintage pair (until the heel begins to wiggle ominously and rain begins to leak into the toe) or believed a sales clerk who told me mendaciously that a particular boot would “crunch down” as I wore it, or “looked fine.” As someone who’s worked in retail, I know I should be able to interpret the noncommittal “It doesn’t bother me” as a coded denunciation. But in moments of desperation, I’ve wanted to believe.

All of which is to say that when I ran across a new line of boots for “skinny calves”—the label even bears a picture of an emaciated cow, like in Jack and the Beanstalk or something—I was elated. I couldn’t stop raving to the saleswoman helping me. She shared my excitement, after years of sloshing around in large tubes of leather. “Do you know what me and my girlfriends call it?” she said, and lowered her voice conspiratorially. “The sugar-spoon-in-coffee effect.” I shuddered sympathetically, reveling in the novel caress of suede against my scrawny gam. 

I know this is not an issue of international importance. It is, in fact, unimportant. But, goddammit, we’re going to buy boots, and they might as well fit. I sent the information along to interested parties.

After the electrifying boot experience—I had put them on hold for a day, to prolong the excitement (and because I was not going straight home)—I had to go to the hardware store to have some keys copied. I could not help but notice that the young woman helping me had remarkably slender legs, showcased by her jeans. I debated saying something. I didn’t want to be creepy, or insult her. On the other hand, this information would change her life. I came up with a plan miraculous in its subtlety.

“If you’re wondering why I’m smiling,” I said—and she clearly hadn’t been—“it’s because of something really stupid. After years of searching, I just found an entire line of boots made for skinny legs, across the street. Sorry, I just had to tell someone!” 

Her jaw dropped. “Seriously?” she said. “I have skinny legs.”

“You do?” I said innocently.

“I can never find boots that fit me! For real, I was just talking about this to my coworker.”

“Well, definitely check it out!” I said. “There’s a flat one, and a fitted guy with a heel—and also this wedge over-the-knee situation.”

“Ooh, I like over-the-knee.”

“They’re not cheap, but they look good quality.”

“Oh my God, for boots that fit, I will totally pay. Just to not have to think about it, you know?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I do know.”

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.