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Boots made for walking

Why are decent boots so hard to find?

Monsoon boots

When it comes to buying footwear, this is one of the times that I seriously lament living in the countryside. 

Other than a couple of trips to London, it's a good 13 years since I've been in a department store. There simply isn't anything like that in this neck of the woods. Gone are my days of traipsing round Debenham's or John Lewis. Gone are my days of tramping up and down Oxford St and Regent St, trying on boot after boot. Buying footwear in the flesh here means either stonkingly expensive small shoe shops, or a trip to the huge shoe marts that lie on the outside of town with their overwhelming stench of plastic and rubber.

Hence, I often end up buying my shoes online, and here I ran into an unexpected problem recently, as I'm looking for boots to wear this winter. 

The trouble is, my taste is pretty specific. I like a clean design, with no bells and whistles. I loathe studs and tassels and fur and unnecessary straps, exaggerated length or club toes, chunky heels and high stilettos. I want a slightly pointed or almond toe, a size 5.5 in shoes and a 6 in boots, so I can wear socks, and I need a calf fitting of around 39cm, with a full-length zip so I can get my orthotics into the body of the boot. 

Black leather riding bootsThis never used to be a problem but twice recently I've ordered knee-length boots (see these elegant black leather ones) and found that I can't get them done up over my ankles, never mind my calves. Too-narrow calves I could tolerate, knowing that I have fat legs (and the French standard is 35cm, btw - nearly an inch narrower than the British standard of 37cm). But the ankle isn't a fat part of the body, and as far as I'm aware, my bones haven't gotten bigger over the years. All my old boots still fit me, so why all of a sudden is it becoming hard to find boots that fit?

Personally, I blame China. It's not their fault those people have got tiny coltish limbs, but ever since shoe manufacturing moved from Italy and Portugal to the Far East, boot legs seem a lot less roomy.  

The reason for wanting new boots is that my podiatrist, having diagnosed me with plantar fasciitis and heel spurs (so NOW I know why every step is agony...), has ordered me back into heels. Not high heels, you understand, just an inch or two will do. I'm trying to vary the heights each day in order to vary the places that I feel the most pain - it's so nice to be able to choose between burning soles and screaming arches. 

Burgundy suede boots

But where are the shoes with one-inch heels? Three inches, four inches, no problem, but I cannot wear these because they don't provide enough lateral support to prevent my feet pronating (rolling towards the big toe). The high-heeled lace-up shoe is a thing that does not exist. Shoes that are flat as a pancake (very bad for my poorly Achilles tendons) are also easy to come across, such as the ubiquitous ballet flat. But an attractive shoe with a modest 1in or 1.5in heel seems almost impossible to find, and the prices of those that do exist make my eyes water. 

I hate buying footwear online, and yet I have to. Because, having lived in trekkers all summer, I now need boots for winter. Boots I can walk about in. Boots I can wear socks in. Boots I can wear with tights and long skirts to try to look at least a tiny bit elegant and not like someone who's lost the plot completely, given that I work from home and could quite easily spend the rest of my life in a dressing gown without anybody realising. 

So, with considerable to-ing and fro-ing, and with vendors kindly measuring boots for me, I've plumped for these three pairs on Ebay (two used, one new in box). Just look at the yummy turquoise pair from Rockport below (with a 2.75in heel - about my height limit). The plum ones (1in heel) are from Dorothy Perkins and the brown ones at top left (2in heel) are from Monsoon. Fingers crossed that when they arrive, they all fit... I dare not risk £175 or so for new leather ones from, say, the Celtic Sheepskin Company, and Bally boots here cost - wait for it - about 895 euros, Lord love them. Even our catalogue stalwart La Redoute's boots are around 170 euros a pop, and no calf measurement is given.

Rockport boots

So, cheap suede kitten-heeled boots it is. Other people's cast-offs suit me just fine. 

Added to my existing - and amazingly comfortable - teal suede kitten-heeled boots and a couple of pairs of 20-year-old leather riding boots that I've just had reheeled and soled, these should get me through this winter. Though I might still get another riding-style pair in oxblood leather, which will go nicely with my new plum-coloured dresses from Wall and enable me to stride about the local cobbled streets with something approaching confidence.


Fashion splurge

Well, clothes more than fashion, but you get my drift.

Eddy Base layer Something miraculous happened to me the other day - I got paid. It's been a long time. 

I think I last got paid before Christmas. Or between Christmas and New Year. A long time ago anyway. It's all a long and complicated story to do with a company takeover and a change of invoice system, etc, and then my invoice not being processed, but one way or another I was without income for several months.

Usefully, it gave me the opportunity to think about what I most needed in my wardrobe. Given that I lead a practical life, mostly in jeans and tees, boots and sweaters, I have decided to up my game a little and elevate my basics rather than buying more formal clothes that I end up never wearing. 

Elena bootFirst and foremost was boots. With my hopeless, poorly feet, I am on the hunt for knee-length boots (to go with skirts) that are either flat or have up to a 1in heel, riding-boot style, but in colours. There's the rub. I fancy red and purple and teal, etc, in leather or suede, but nearly all flat boots seem to be in black or brown, and coloured boots have heels I can't walk in. But most of all, they must have a thick, comfortable sole, so I can walk about without feeling like The Little Mermaid.

"Why not try DMs?" said the DH one day, as I was whingeing on again about the lack of comfortable footwear for women.

I must admit, DMs had never crossed my mind. I still think of them more as skinhead gear than as anything a respectable person would wear, though I remember my old friend Charlotte wore nothing else back in the 90s. 

I did a search for Doc Martens and quickly came up with the Elena boot from Brit Boot. This was the only stockist that still had my size (6, to wear with socks), and I fretted they would be gone by the time I had enough money to buy any, but yesterday, oh joy, I found they were still there, and £168 later, they were mine.

Ouch. I have never paid so much for boots before, but comfortable footwear is becoming such a necessity that it's time to stump up. I got them in teal, which was the colour I wanted, but in any case, the other colours were gone. The sole is a little obvious for me, so next month I'll be trying the DM Haley boot, which doesn't get as positive write-ups but is a little neater in appearance. 

Eddy base layer Next up, a couple of teeshirts I've had my eye on for ages. Our brown, acidic well water not only stains everything rust-coloured, it actually eats cellulose fibres such as cotton and linen alive. Wool, silk and microfibre cope much better in our water, so I went on a hunt for wool teeshirts, should such a thing exist.

The Eddy baselayer from fair trade UK company Finisterre is made from merino wool from rare-breed British sheep that are non-mulesed. At £45 for a tee, they are whoppingly more expensive than I would normally pay, but I hope they will last much better than my simple cotton tees. They also, apparently, have the advantage of being wearable for days without picking up any sweaty smells - a lot of people seem to wear them for trekking as they can be worn day after day without washing.

lace boxerstaupe vest

Next, to undies. My sis bought me some great, comfy boy-shorts from M&S for Xmas that actually come up to your waist and hug your arse without heading straight up your crack and sawing you in half, so I logged back onto the site to look for similar pants in other finishes. I plumped for these lace ones and similar cotton ones (the patterned ones I wanted weren't available in my size) and while I was at it, I bought a bunch of vests, leavened a little by lace edges.

In summer, when I'm not wearing a dress, I like a cotton cardi or blouse over a vest, so this bit of lace detailing, I hope, will lift my basics a little and help me to be less bored with my daily uniform.

Velveteen trousersponte trousers

And finally this month - it is finally, as it's nearly April and I just dropped 400 euros on more wood for the endless winter we seem to be having - I logged onto Lands' End and got a couple of pairs of velveteen trousers in a jeans cut, along with their ponte jersey trousers (because I had a coupon). I haven't tried proper trousers from Lands' End before, so it will be interesting to see what they're like. 


A firmer footing

Why are elegant LOW-heeled shoes so hard to find?

Yellow stilettos

I've been giving up a lot of fashion things over the past two years, it strikes me.

It's not deliberate, but as you get older you increasingly realise that fashion and beauty - at least in terms of trends - are really for the young.

One of the things I gave up recently was shoes with three-inch heels. I can still manage a boot with a three-inch heel, worn with my orthotics, but shoes are now a no-no - they just don't give enough support, and now that the padding is virtually gone from the soles of my feet I can't even walk barefoot any more, let alone in heels.

Red stilettos

I have tried the lot: Boots insoles, Scholl insoles, Footpetals, which I ordered from the US and which turned out to be rubbish, gel insoles, rubber insoles. None of it helps.

What does help is my 90-euro orthotics, courtesy of the French national health service, and wearing flats almost exclusively, preferably with nice thick soles that don't leave you feeling every pebble in the pavement (does the average man have ANY idea how rubbish most women's shoes are?). At home, where comfort reigns supreme, it's either Crocs or Uggs, and with jeans I tend to wear Ecco trainers or walking shoes, but that still leaves the question of what on earth a girl is to wear with her skirts. 

Pink silk shoes

Flats, as anyone will tell you, quite truthfully, make your feet spread. In other words, your feet assume their natural shape rather than being squeezed into pointy little shoes, and I do - in summer - favour Fly Flots. But I note that the pointy shoes are still something I can't quite give up just yet, at least for posh. Because if a shoe isn't going to benefit your look by giving you some lift, the least it can do to pay its way is to be pretty. This is the see-saw between beauty and utility. 

I have therefore been buying myself some elegant low-heeled shoes on Ebay for times when I don't have to walk too far, and I must say they do seem terribly hard to find. It was not always thus. Perhaps I was lucky to grow up in the era when Diana Spencer made low pumps fashionable but in the 1980s, elegant leather low-heeled shoes were easy to find. Now, however, the manufacturers seem to be led by designers who may have heard of shoes but have clearly never actually seen any.


Boden are still very good, if you can splash the cash, and Roland Cartier, Bally and Hobbs all still make the odd shoe you can actually walk in, but most other manufacturers have succumbed to the idea that a four-inch heel is really something women can't do without, wedges are cute, and platforms are comfortable. None of these things is true. It makes me sincerely wish I had never passed on my well-cared-for vintage pumps in navy and black leather, brown suede and green kid. 

What I am really looking for is a 2-inch Louis heel, which lends some stability, but failing that, I like a classic Roger Vivier-style low stiletto  - very elegant and pointy, 1950s-ish. I can't abide mules, in which I cannot balance, I loathe peep-toes, which make you look like Minnie Mouse, toe cleavage (ugh) and even slingbacks are something I find problematical. However, for car to bar, my little batch of recently acquired kitten heels seems just about right: brown tweed from Boden, red suede from M&S, interesting yellow ones from No Doubt - a label I'm not familiar with - and daft pink ones from Dolcis that I bought because they were just too cute to pass up, dressed as they are to go to a party.

Navy loafers

On a more practical note, and having assessed my wardrobe needs, I've also treated myself to a pair of navy leather and suede loafers from Lands' End. I'd bought a couple of other pairs online that had turned out not to be right, but the LE ones are just about perfect, with an elegant line and plenty of internal padding. Lord, I haven't worn shoes this shape since I was at school.

Navy ballerines

So, feeling slightly more confident, I have also ordered myself some ballerines - another thing I haven't worn in nearly 30 years, and again in oh-so-practical navy. It remains to be seen whether I can actually walk in them, of course, as they are very flat indeed, where a 1-inch heel is much easier. But try finding THAT in today's stupid shoe market...    


The definite dozen

If you have these items in your wardrobe, you'll always have something to wear.

When it comes to getting dressed, I like to be quick, as a rule. I can't be bothered with faffing about trying on this and that, so over the years, I've narrowed down my choices to things that all work together and can be put together as a no-brainer, leaving me more time for a G&T.

Some years ago, I wrote a list of 12 essentials an over-40s babe needs to keep in her wardrobe. If you keep all of these in, you'll always have something to wear. I've discovered other brands since then, so today, that updated list looks like this: 

1 Microfibre shorties. Go for a slightly low waist, and nude for the colour so that it goes under everything. Shorties give you a better line under clothing than a thong or brief and if your tummy or bottom are starting to sag, look out for those with butt-lift and tummy panels built in. The best are made by Jockey and Hanro but I because I live in France, I mostly buy Dim.

2 Nude-colour microfibre bodies or long camisoles, or a thermal camisole in silk jersey. If you choose the camisole rather than the body, make sure it's long enough to come down to at least your low hip, then it won't budge under clothing when you bend or stretch. If you choose the body, consider one with a built-in bra to minimise bulk and strap-show. Wearing underwear of this kind allows you to don low-waist or sheer clothing secure in the knowledge that you're properly covered up. It also has the secondary effect of smoothing over a bra that has lace or other additions, which many of the best support bras do. Check out Figleaves for ideas, or Winter Silks for thermal camisoles.

3 A decent bra. This becomes increasingly important as you age and the breast tissue softens, so keep your ideas updated - what suited you last year may not be right now. Wearing the right bra can take 10 pounds off your silhouette, so get properly fitted and when you find what you like, buy three of them (one to wash, one to wear and one to rest). Nude-colour is more flexible than white, then white, then black, then coloured items. If you're a C-cup or above, choose strong, wide straps that hoick your breasts forward and whatever your size, make sure the support comes from the band, not the straps (take your arms out of the straps and jump up and down to check). After 25 years of underwires, lately I'm a convert to the Doreen bra by Triumph, which is the best-selling bra in the UK. Sadly not the most attractive item to look at - though the Luxury option is an improvement - it gives a great shape under clothing, complete security as you move around and is so comfortable you don't know you're wearing it. I am also partial to the Grace bra by Royce and a very comfortable bra with padded straps by German firm Spiedel, which I found on Ebay. My latest purchase is a pack of three Ahh Bras to wear at home, when I don't need to hoick the girls up. 

4 T-shirts.  Only choose short sleeves if your arms are toned: long-sleeved tees are infinitely more wearable for most women and they cover a multitude of sins. When they appear in the shops with a neckline that suits you, snap them up, or order from a catalogue. I now rely on firms such as Lands' End and Gap for my cotton tees. Winter weight tees are usually better quality than summer tees - don't waste your cash on anything see-through unless you're aiming to wear it under a dress, in which case you want as thin as possible - American Apparel is a good place to look. A crisp white tee is as useful as a white blouse and can be dressed up or down accordingly, but almost any colour is wearable. Avoid logos and designs though - keep them plain if you're above an A cup, or you'll never make eye contact again. By and large a scoop-neck or v-neck is the most flattering neckline unless you're very thin, and cotton with some stretch - say 5 per cent - wears better than pure cotton.

5 Fitted white cotton shirts. Have a bunch of these in various styles - here's a good place to echo current trends, if that's your thing, or indulge a personal fetish for lace or embroidery. A shirt ending at around hip length means you can tuck it in or leave it out - keep it fitted, not tight nor too loose and baggy, so that you can layer both under and over. Vertical detailing such as pintucks, seams or pleats will lengthen your torso, making it looks slimmer - only choose items with horizontal details if you're small-busted. Whether you prefer collarless or collared is up to you, but generally, an ageing face benefits from a bit of tailoring and a shaped open rever or a standard shirt neck flipped up at the back are very flattering. Wear the neck open to give you a long, slimming, vertical line. Just above your bra is a good level, but if you feel this is too revealing, fill in the gap with a camisole or light t-shirt. White shirts are available everywhere, but Gap do good cotton ones and George at Asda do fab poly-cotton ones if you're short of cash. For investment pieces, consider Shirin Guild or men's shirtmakers such as Hilditch and Key.

6 Sweaters. By this I mean thin 2-ply cashmere or merino if you can stretch to it, something like Courtelle or a soft viscose if you can't. Choose crewneck for the most mileage, v-neck to be flattering, or poloneck if you're the chilly sort, and always buy them long-sleeved and at least hip length. These thin jumpers should be close-fitting - loose enough to get a blouse or tee underneath but still tight enough to go under a jacket. You need at least three - one in black, one in a paler neutral such as cream, beige or grey, and one in a colour that really makes your complexion sing - but having more won't hurt.

7 Well-cut black pants. Follow the style of the day, but not slavishly - avoid fashion extremes such as parachute legs and fiddly details like cargo pockets. Most women are well-served by a slightly low waist (ie: just under your belly button, not a low-rider), no pockets and a side zip to minimise bulk. This style of waist is very clean and allows you to wear your tops either tucked in or layered on top. Keep the leg bootcut, straight, full or flared. For fibres, anything matt and with some stretch is useful - wool/poly blends, microfibre and stretch velvet are all good options. I buy mine at La Redoute, from the supermarket, or from Lands' End.

8 Jeans. Choose a slightly low waist for minimum bulk, some stretch in the denim (2-10 per cent), dark indigo dye and a boot cut hemmed to the right length for either flats or heels. This type of jean will take you almost everywhere except formal offices and functions and it practically never dates - for this reason, avoid acid-washes, stonewashes, cropped legs, zips at the ankles, paper-bag waists or anything 'trendy'. A bootcut is not only flattering on every woman with hips or a backside, it also gives you the option of wearing long boots underneath in cool weather. You can wear these jeans with a t-shirt every day, with a jacket to smarten them up, with a white shirt, a sweater or a frilly blouse. When the denim starts to look tired, chuck it in the wash with a pack of Dylon dye and follow the instructions. Don't allow your denim to get stained, messy or faded unless it's strictly for casual wear - only young, thin people can get away with looking scruffy. After indigo blue, neutral colours such as black, grey and beige will give you the most mileage. Personally I favour Boden, which has a choice of bootcut width, and Lands' End.

9 Knee-length skirt. Somewhere around your knee, from slightly above to slightly below there is a length that is perfect for you. Take the trouble to find it and your legs will magically slim down and lengthen. Once you do find it, have all your skirts altered to fit (this might entail a visit to the tailor, as if you shorten skirts you often have to narrow them too). The knee-length skirt is always appropriate wear for business but you can wear it to work all day and still go out in it in the evening. Black woolmix with some stretch is probably best, followed by a neutral with some texture, and pair it with dark tights and shoes or boots. I have skirts this length in wool flannel with a lace hem, microfibre with a beaded hem, wool crepe with a wrapover front, velvet and cord. 

10 A classic coat. You can't go wrong with a trenchcoat or fly-front polo-coat of the Burberry type in a dateless colour such as beige or navy. Bought with a zip-out lining it will take you through at least three seasons each year. The real thing is always worth the investment but cheap knock-offs can be found in microfibre with poly linings and they will go in the washing machine. If you're looking for a winter coat, the most flattering shape on women remains the classic wrapover camelhair with a standard or shawl collar, worn to the knee or calf, belted or unbelted. In a good colour like beige, navy or black, it will take you from office to night out to a weekend in the country with nothing more than a change of accessories. Wool-poly blends will last you 2-5 seasons, while a good cashmere will last a lifetime. Incidentally, this is the coat that has consistently tested as the most appealing to men, if that might sway you.

11 Black leather footwear. Shoes are a very personal thing. One of my friends has over 65 pairs and favours leopard-print stilettos; I have about 10 pairs and favour stack-heeled boots. One thing we're both agreed on, though, is that the black leather ones are the ones we really wear. However full your wardrobe is of spiky-heeled satin numbers, pink suede peep-toes and diamante-studded boots, the fact is that streets are dirty, driving takes its toll and your feet can get cold nine months of the year. Good-quality footwear is a must, whether it's Footglove sandals, Chanel slingbacks or Shelley's boots, and black leather requires the least upkeep. Decide on your style - flats, court shoes, spike-heel boots - and maintain them well.

12 Accessories. Here's where any woman can dress up her basics and really make the most of colour and trends without breaking the bank. So if there's a season's colour that you like and it suits you, buy it in a scarf or belt rather than something expensive like a jacket. If there's a fussy trend in bags or belts, such as studs, fringeing or crochet, consider carefully whether it works on you - nothing updates an outfit quicker than a change of bag, but nothing dates it quicker either. Also, few things date a woman of a certain age more than an unwise belt (my once-favourite 4-inch deep black elastic belt with gigantic double peacock bronze clasp doesn't look quite so good now that it's not teamed with football-player shoulders and a big swirly skirt...) Trends apart, you'll still find that the accessories you wear the most are in good quality materials such as silk, wool and leather, and in neutrals such as brown or black, or cosmetic colours that flatter your skin. This means items such as leather belts half an inch to one inch wide, silk foulard squares, long velvet scarves, dark leather gloves and classic hats such as berets and fedoras.

London Fashion Week

London Fashion Week has so far been curiously grown-up, which is very good news for the over-40s babe

Kane dressI've been looking at the Fall collections from London Fashion Week to pick out what might be suitable for the over-40s babe.

Well, quite a lot, is the answer. Leaving aside the micro minis, etc, there were quite a few usable looks strutting down the catwalk and the whole ethos so far has seemed very grown up, classic and - quite often - countrified. I wonder if this is a sign of the infant terrible, London, finally becoming an adult?

Kane jacketFirst up, from Christopher Kane (probably set to be the lead influence this season), came some interesting florals, usually on a black ground. If you like this look, you could track down a black tote bag with a big, bold floral design and that would update your whole wardrobe for the season. Alternatively, a scarf would do the trick. One other option that might be fun is to take a black coat or jacket to a professional embroiderer and have them treat the collar, revers or cuffs with some big, bold floral designs. 

Erdemerdem lace dressFrom Erdem came some interesting dark florals and other prints such as these swallows, again often on a dark background. I love prints with a dark background, which were de rigeur for women in the 1930s and 1940s, because they are both practical and slimming. I'd snap these up while they're available, along with the heavy laces in black, taupe and grey that also featured in this collection. Heavy lace of this kind - guipure and its ilk - are one of those revolving wheels in fashion: buy correctly now and you could wear your pieces for the next 30 years. I'd go for a sleeveless vest and a long, v-neck top with sleeves. 

Nicole coatNicole jacketFrom Nicole Fahri, who produced a nice grown-up collection, came lots of classic looks in beige and black. I like this kind of thing because it's pretty much how I dress (right now I'm in a long black pencil skirt and long beige v-neck cardi with pockets, which could have been lifted straight off her catwalk) but she also showed another trend - plenty of black patent.

Patent was something that also turned up at Kane's show, so I predict the shops will be full of it, and pretty good knockoffs too, by autumn. I'd go for boots, shoes, belts or bags rather than whole coats, and certainly not leggings. 

Fahri also showed quite a lot of asymmetric garments - like Comme des Garcons but not as hostile, so if asymmetry is your thing (and it is mine), that's another trend worth exploring.  Asymmetric garments suit intellectual women who want to be noticed for their difference, not their sameness and are a great design thread for women over 40. 

JulienIf you like to spend winter in big fluffy cableknit sweaters and grey tweed, there were plenty to be found at Julien Macdonald's show, along with some very nice tailoring in dense black wools and camelhair.  Since camelhair also turned up at Fahri, that could be a go-to colour for the winter (time to get out my camelhair car coat with black chenille embroidery). Macdonald also showed lots of black chiffon, and black lace over nude chiffon - a great colourway for lingerie or sexy eveningwear. My major complaint about his show, though, was the use of some of the most anorexically thin models I've ever seen - one of the girls looked frankly like a corpse. 

Pringle dressThere were more cream cableknits and grey tweed over at Pringle, along with gorgeous cobweb knits in black and camel colour. Apparently this uses a new technique involving soluble fibres, which washes away to reveal the cobweb pattern. Very pretty anyway. 

So, overall, classic but not in any way sombre, with lots of food for thought for next winter. But how about we get this one over with first?


Little boots

Here's a quick guide to warm boots for winter

Winter boots that are both warm and practical