Yes my friends, this is for real. I alluded to it before, and it's been a long time in the works, but The Great Black Boot Experiment of 2012 is finally finished, and the results are in. I researched hundreds (pretty sure I'm not exaggerating here) of black ankle boots, narrowed it down to 8 candidates, and after careful scientific analysis, have made my decision.
I'm sure you're dying to know all the gory details...
Warning: this post is extremely thorough and detailed (or anal and ocd, depending on how you look at it) and very text-heavy. If you are a compulsive researcher, this is the black bootie guide for you. If reading all this makes your skin crawl and leads you to believe I am completely insane, feel free to skip down to the results at the bottom of the page.
A few things you should know before we begin:
- There were some boots that had a lot of potential but did not come with free shipping and free returns, and so were immediately disqualified from the race. As far as I'm concerned, in this day and age paying for shipping and returns is pretty much out of the question, unless you are already madly in love with something, convinced of fit and quality, and can't find it anywhere else.
-I walk everywhere in my life, literally, so for a shoe to be wearable it has to actually be truly and honestly comfortable; I have to be able to wear them for hours on end and walk long distances even over cobble-stoned streets.
-I'm usually a size 8.5, though my feet are on the wide side so I often have to size up. Sometimes I will size up just for the extra wiggle room; I get a little claustrophobic in tight shoes and my dogs start to bark (I think it's from years of pounding the floor in high heels).
-I also have large (ahem, athletic) calves, so while these are all ankle booties and it wasn't really an issue, it is something to keep in mind, as calf shape does change the overall look even of a short bootie.
-Also it's important to keep in mind what I was looking for, namely something comfortable enough to wear often and walk a lot in, but sexy, with a slightly higher heel than my everyday shoes, and with a wee bit of rock 'n roll edge to it. So anything that read too casual was out, even if I loved it in the abstract.
Now, let's get down to business.
1. Mars by Rachel Comey - actually purchased from McMullen, via FarFetch (whose free return policy, while functional, is much less easy than all the other places I tried, in case you were wondering). I ordered these boots in a 39; they went on snug and I thought, uh-oh, too narrow. But the leather is buttery and supple, and in 10 minutes I felt like I was wearing custom-made gloves. No joke. I got them in Merinho, which is listed as navy, but I swear to the human eye they're black. The pebbled texture is actually quite nice and I love the little natural tan strip running across the sole. BUT. The heel is a low everyday kind of heel, making them too casual for my current needs. And while they definitely feel luxurious, they do not feel (or look, at least on my legs) sexy. I would, however, consider getting a different color at some point for everyday wear. Especially attracted to the whiskey. Just saying. Grade: B+
2. Harrow by Rag & Bone - these are the ones I was most in love from seeing them online. Same last and build as the famous Newbury boots, but they have a shorter shaft with a touch of hardware and a little v decolletage in the front of the ankle. So sexy. In person? Just as hot. If not better. I will say though, that if you want to wear your pants long and over the top of the shaft, it's too bulky for that. And actually tucking them inside doesn't work very well either. But if you roll your pants up and show a bit of skin between boot and cuff, they are absolutely stunning. Likewise if you had pants that were hemmed to just skim the edge of the shaft, it looks sleek, chic and unexpected. The insole is also a major plus, it feels padded but not fluffy, like they used tempurpedic inserts or something. Seriously comfortable. All the reviews I read online before ordering said these ran small, and they were not kidding. I ordered a 39.5 and it was extremely snug. But after wearing around the house for a few hours I decided this would indeed be a good size for me; the leather is super high quality and while it doesn't feel soft per se, it does form nicely to the foot. Grade: A
3. Andersin by Steven - for $100 I coudn't not order these. They are obviously Penpal knock-offs, and while I know that it's impossible to get the same quality as the Rachel Comeys, I figured it was worth a try. I got them in a size 9 and they fit fine. Honestly, if you have slim legs and want an affordable black boot to wear with socks or tights, this is not a bad option. I loved the line from the side, elongating and really lovely, but from the front I felt like I looked like an amputee, and from the back they looked like they were biting into me. And what really drove me crazy was that on bare feet and legs, the stitching rubbed me raw in a few places. But like I said, totally decent for the right (sock-wearing) person. Grade: C+
4. Newbury by Rag & Bone - these get insane glowing reviews from thousands of people online (only a slight exaggeration). How can that be possible? Well, I'm here to tell you, it's all true. They are truly awesome boots. As I said earlier, same last, build, heel and sole as the Harrow, but they're sized roomier (I got a 39 in these and wondered if I could even go down half a size more, though with thick socks they would have been fine). The cut seems so normal, so... average, but when you put them on it's just magic. They work with your pants inside, with your pants outside, or with some leg showing; these babies can do it all. And I would have thought that higher shaft cutting across my not-super-slim leg wouldn't be flattering, but it really is. They've got the design of this boot just right. And yes, they are super super comfortable. The Newbury also comes in about a zillion colors, so I can see becoming addicted. And at $500 a pop I can see how that would be a real problem. Grade: A
5. Zipcode by Madewell - I've been eyeing these on the Madewell site for over a year now, since back when I got my Jamisons, and this seemed like the perfect time to give them a try. They look so sleek online, don't they? Well, in person, compared to all the others I ordered, these are the chunkiest. The toe is much rounder, and they read a bit more western, and just, well, slightly clunky. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, for a casual everyday boot, but it definitely isn't what I'm looking for right now. For the record (and for myself, in case i change my mind for the future) I ordered a size 9 and they were definitely too big. Grade: B
6. Parlei by Lucky Brand - this was the real wild card of the bunch. There's not very many reviews online, and I was concerned that the elastic would just look tacky, but with free shipping, free returns, and a price of only $125 (now only $98 folks! Go get 'em!) I had to try. I was absolutely shocked to discover that these boots rock. The elastic just makes them easy to pull on, comfortable, and not bite in when you walk, but it really doesn't show much at all. I mean, of course it shows, but it doesn't read as elastic so much as a slightly different texture of black. And they're not very tight in the shaft either, only slightly narrower than the Newburys, so your skinny pants can easily be tucked inside, but a straight-leg pant or (even a narrow one) can easily be worn over the top as well. The insole is perfectly padded and comfy too. I kept having to retry these because I just couldn't believe my luck! (Yes, I know, Lucky Brand, ha ha.) Here's a side by side comparison of the Parlei and the Newbury for you to judge for yourself:
They are obviously not the same, and I'm not here to argue that they are. Plus, who wants a straight-up knock-off anyway? If you want the luxury of the Newbury, then you need the Newbury. And if that seamed fold really rocks your world, and it's worth the extra $400 to you, go for it. Do what you heart wants and your pocket allows. But honestly, these two pairs serve the same purpose; they have the same line, the same heel, the same silhouette. I'm not saying I will never get a pair of Newburys (all those colors!), but not these, not in black, not with the Parleis doing the job just as well as far as I'm concerned. By the way, I got a size 9 in the Parlei, and it's roomie, but not huge, and works well with or without socks. Grade: A
7. Friisky by Steven - While the design team at Steven did a decent job on the Andersin, they totally tanked on the Friisky. What an ugly and lame boot. Seriously. Online it looked like a decent neutral option (though I did figure I'd have to have the wooden heel painted black at my cobbler), but these are total duds. Avoid at all costs. The lack of seaming and contouring makes them totally flat and weirdly two-dimensional looking, and they are about as comfortable as cardboard boxes. I got the size 8.5 and it was too big, but it didn't matter one bit; no size would have worked. Still, I'm including them in my roundup because I figure if I was intrigued you might be too. Grade: F
8. Cassidie by Cole Haan - I thought this might be a good alternative to the Newbury. It's not. It is badly proportioned and honestly just plain silly looking. It's comfortable, what with that Nike technology and all, but not more so than the Rag & Bone boots or even the Parlei. Silly silly boot. Grade: C-
(Join in here if you skipped down for the results)
The Winners: The Harrows and the Parleis both got to stay, everyone else went back.
Yeah, I know, I needed one pair of new boots. But it was partially a christmas gift (possibly the funnest christmas gift ever). And at that price I just couldn't resist adding in the Luckys. And really, they do serve two totally different purposes, they do different things, they have different personalities... right? Ok, fine, this may be where my scientific method possibly starts to crumble a tiny bit. But hey, as long as I can fully rationalize and justify the purchase in my mind, it's all good. And I'm thinking this counts as fully rationalized. I couldn't be happier with my new black booties!