I am walking through — up, down and around — Istanbul, day and night; I have no fear; my first trip in a foreign country, alone (aside from the one that I live in). I am sleeping in the Manila airport, with my feet on my luggage, and I know no one will bother it (or me); I am safe. I am running through the airport and I am unafraid; I am invincible; I will make my flight. Walking through the aisles, as the Amtrak train sways, I will not fall — I don’t even need to hold on. I look taller than I am. “I never noticed you were so short,” people would say, months later — when we were more intimate. “You’re not 5’2”… no way….”
I call them my magic black cowboys for a reason. I credit them — a bit too superstitiously — with a certain fearlessness. It’s an invincibility I wish I could say I embodied ALL. THE. TIME.
Which is why it’s become such an obsession to recreate.
“Black Princess!” I reflect on this with humor because it happened in Turkey. Istanbul to be exact. So the context is one that could be considered harmless compared to our fraught, hyper-intense colorized conversations Stateside. It was one of the many compliments (but not my favorite) I received on the first trip with my boots. To be fair, I had three pairs with me, so excited was I to get out of the desert and into the temperate zone. And as I strode through Istanbul, single female traveler that I was — so freakin’ confident, Gals — as if I just made these solo journeys, all the time — I eventually also sauntered. I relaxed into my daytime ambles — and all the flirting* and tea drinking and shopping and sightseeing and cafeing — and into myself.
Was I from Europe? Sure. Was I from Paris? Mais oui. Never had this American girl felt so chic, as that first trip where my boots were the star of my outfits. And I discovered — that’s how I like it. I was home. I had found a new home, not only in my new boots, but also in myself.
Side note: I hate to stereotype, but if you need a good flirt, GO TO ISTANBUL. Turkish men know how to flirt, and the beauty of it, is that so much of life happens outside and in public, that you can get all the flirting you need on a walk, in a shop, at a cafe, at a restaurant — without having to be in a sketchy situation where you’re ALONE (assuming you keep your wits about you are and are smart about it.) FYI…that was ten years, and the atmosphere is decidedly different now.
But there was one pair of boots in particular that became home — no matter where I went or where I lived — for the next 10 years. My magic black cowboy boots. They took me to India and Thailand and East Africa. Once I gave up the expat life, they took me on my first trip to Seattle. I wore them on the flight when we moved from Dubai — SO pregnant — and when we moved to Viet Nam — even more pregnant. They were easy to slip on and off for those long flights. They were great for running through airports and sliding onto planes (not while pregnant)— so even if I was the last one to board, I looked so cool and so badass, and so cute in my dress and my cowboy boots, that some guy would still offer to help me put my carry-on in the overhead compartment (not that I needed it, mind you).
SO MANY GOOD MEMORIES. Goose used to play with those cowboy boots — they were almost as tall as her when she was learning to walk. And the first time I broke a heel…I was heading out to a wine bar with my neighbor in Sai Gon…they were five years old. It was the night before we were flying to the States for winter hols, and the next day I had to rush said boots downtown to a roadside cobbler near Ben Thanh Market to be resoled (same day) before our flight. It happened. That sole lasted at least another two years or so, and I had them re-soled again, here in PHL. I often photographed my boots. My profile pic, they were. They kept me moving. They were so existential — they became a symbol of a life worth living. But then another thing happened…
My boots started to sag. No matter how much you love them, no one — especially this girl — wants a pair of saggy boots. In short, my feet had shrunk. Within a year or two of having Goose, my feet were smaller — like a full shoe size smaller. Whether it was the pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, or a change in my diet resulting in less inflammation (or something else altogether), my feet no longer filled the space in my boots like before — and maybe that last resoling didn’t help. I mean, I’d trust that guy on the side of the road in Viet Nam more than the local guy I desperately hoped would resole my most soulful footwear without trying the place first. Not too mention, once they were too long, I started stumbling a bit more, so they have these itty bitty holes in the toe. No bueno.
It’s tough to say goodbye to a beloved wardrobe staple. Over the years, I’ve said goodbye to a number of items, but no goodbye is harder than this. In fact, my black cowgirl boots have been sitting in a corner near the door for the greater part of a year. I haven’t kicked them out yet. But it’s time. The boots that got me through my seven-day residency in Guam to get my overseas divorce, that allowed me to fearlessly sleep in the Manila airport during my overnight layover (with Manilla traffic, it wouldn’t have been worth it to leave and get a hotel — and hell, divorce is expensive enough). The boots that were part of my airport and train trip uniform for nearly a decade, are officially worn out. I wore them once this fall, and as flimsy as they are, I still got compliments from white dudes in suits.
So, I’ve spent the past few months finding a “replacement” for these boots. It’s been REALLY difficult — SUCH A STRUGGLE — because that last pair — my magic boots — were such an ACCIDENT. I just walked into an ALDO — in Dubai, so 1). one of the few places in my budget in those super-fancy malls and 2). possibly the quality is better than here? — and found some boots I could wear in true Autumn. Thus, finding a replacement for something I wasn’t even looking for in the first place…nearly impossible.
The past few Christmases, I was lucky enough to receive some “mad money” from my family. This was money I could use on myself without feeling guilty — or use it for something we needed like a responsible adult would. And so I’d hunt for some new statement boots. I’d get close, but the cost of every boot I found and LOVED, was just a little more than I’d expected. So by last year, I knew, I would need about $400 to find a pair of boots SO STELLAR, they could replace my magic black cowgirl boots — oy!
Thankfully, I now understand the idea of investment pieces. I mean, those boots lasted me nearly a decade! Nearly ten years, and they were a go-to. I could put on any black dress or any baby doll dress and look badass, or I could put on a pretty dress, and make the entire look badass — and it was soooo easy with this ONE PAIR OF BOOTS.
Here’s my list of requirements for the perfect pair of statement boots. Keep in mind that your statement boots have to be YOURS. The perfect time to buy them is when you find them — and all the better if they’re on sale.
What To Look For In A Bold Pair of Boots
They have to be badass
For me, that means I feel a little taller, I feel brave on my own, they make people think I’m a movie star (or from Paris, either one is fine), AND — they make people a little afraid of me — in a good way :-).
They must be great for travel
They should be easy to get off and on at security, and good enough to run through airports (or sleep in them). Must feel comfortable stepping on and off trains, without fear of tripping on some fringe or getting a heel caught. ALSO — mine were so perfect for riding a scooter or motorbike; they even survived Monsoon flooding.
They must be outfit-making
Seriously. A great pair of boots can be the only accessory you need. After all, if they’re really statement boots, all eyes will be there…not anywhere else. See above, for that ‘throw on a dress’ reference.
They must be wearable in all seasons
Remember, I bought these for Istanbul Autumn, but I lived in Dubai and Viet Nam for the next half-decade. There’s nothing better than throwing on a shift dress, grabbing a purse, and pulling on these boots. Dress, boots and tights season? Also a fav.
They must be walkable
Committed: I Found My Statement Boots!
Well, Friends…after months and months of searching, I found some new BFFs. Some — yes….sucks in air…my last pair of boots were so good, that I’ve pretty much declared them irreplaceable. SO — I got two….yes, two pairs of new statement boots. I found I’m a sucker for stitching — really, really good stitching, as well as beautiful workmanship, and a little bit of hardware. That last pair of boots, they had some good chain. That was hard to find. The new black pair have a little bit, (plus they win for nostalgia), and the red — they’re just super-gorgeous. Both pairs are from Lane, handcrafted and made in Mexico. And I have to say, the red pair were already on my wishlist, and then one day we were walking up 17th Street near Sansom, and I saw these red boots stepping toward me in the crosswalk, and I knew immediately they were the Saratoga Stud. SO good.
Black LANE BOOTS The Vagabond Knee High Western Boot (Run large, size down): These are longer in the feet, so I could maybe fit an insert in here or just a pad under what might be a Morton’s neuroma. They are decidedly more curved in the foot than the red, so wearing them is more of a commitment. If in between sizes, you could probably go down a full size (e.g., if you’re a 7.5/8, go for a 7). However, I do love that they’re taller than the red, and they have a tiny bit of hardware reminiscent of my former loves.
Red LANE BOOTS Saratoga Stud Western Boot (Run large, size down): Totally walkable. I love the workmanship of these, and there’s no fear of tripping while stepping into a subway car. I’m obsessed with the way the white stitching pops from the red. The black are gorgeous as well.
Shop More Western Statement Boots
Heads-up: If you see a pair from Nordstrom you’re loving, now’s the time to buy: The Winter Sale ends Feb. 24, and some of these are up to 50% off. I think I got mine during the Half-Yearly Sale. Also, there are so many freakin’ Western styles out there right now, including booties, you’re bound to find a new love.
The new digs? They’re both fine so far. We haven’t traveled much together yet, but some. The red are probably my fave in terms of taking the train or spending a day in NYC. The black seem like they’ll take more time to break-in/figure out the right socks/tights situation. But they’re both worth it, and both seem plenty durable. Like their predecessors, I get compliments every time I wear them. Noticeably, women compliment the red pair more often, and men — including construction workers — holla about the black more often. It’s not summer yet — so we’re not in boots and dresses season, and I’ll give an update then.
This took months, Friends….months. I may have over-processed some of these photos so that you can see the boots more. And, um…excuse my dirty mirror. These are not even all the ones I tried on, y’all.