Portrait of Ernst Casimir (1573–1632), count of Nassau-Dietz, wearing over-the-knee riding boots

Over-the-knee boots (or cuissardes, which include thighboots, top boots, hip-boots, and waders), OTK boots, are long boots that fully or partly cover the knee. Originally created as a man's riding boot in the 15th century, in the latter part of the 20th century, the style was redefined as a fashion boot for women. Over-the-knee boots are also used as a work boot in circumstances requiring additional protection for the legs (e.g. fishing waders).

As men's footwear

Over-the-knee boots first became popular as riding boots for men in the 15th century, when the growing popularity of doublet and lightweight hose meant that extra protection was required for the legs when on horseback. This was also linked to the decline in the use of full plate armour as the use of firearms became more widespread in warfare. Heavy cavalry in the 16th and 17th centuries had only limited armour, in the form of a helmet and breastplate, or cuirass. Thigh-length boots in heavy leather provided additional protection for the legs. Today, many cavalry regiments still retain these high boots for ceremonial dress.[1]

Riding boots of this style were widespread in the 17th and 18th century, and remained in common use through to the late 19th century. They are the likely source of the term bootlegging, which originally came from the practice of concealing hip flasks of alcohol in the legs of boots. Because of these historical associations, cuissardes came to convey an image of potent masculinity, conjuring up images of cavaliers, pirates, or musketeers.

As women's footwear

Woman wearing over-the-knee fashion boots, 2011

The earliest examples of women wearing over-the-knee boots come from the traditional principal boy role in pantomime theater, in which the young male protagonist of the play is played by a young actress in boys' clothes. These breeches roles were also a rare opportunity for an early 20th century actress to wear a revealing costume, potentially increasing the size of the audience.[2] When playing historical characters such as Dick Whittington, the principal boy would often wear over-the-knee boots as part of her costume,[3] emphasizing her swashbuckling, heroic character.

The adoption of over-the-knee boots as a fashion item for women began in the early 1960s. In 1962, Balenciaga's fall collection featured a tall boot by Mancini that just covered the knee[4][5] and the following year, Yves Saint Laurent's couture collection included thigh-length alligator skin boots by designer Roger Vivier.[6][7][8] These were based on a design originally produced by Vivier for the dancer Rudolf Nureyev in the ballet Swan Lake. The adaptation of hyper-masculine boots as fashion footwear for women has been interpreted as part of a broader 1960s trend against the femininity of Dior's post-war "New Look".[9]

Rising hemlines and the availability of new, brightly colored artificial materials such as PVC,[10] combined to make boots an attractive fashion option for younger women. As skirts became even shorter in the late 1960s, there was a resurgence of interest in thigh-length boots or cuissardes.[11][12] Pierre Cardin featured shiny black PVC thighboots as part of his futuristic 1968 couture collection[13] and Beth Levine designed seamless, stretch vinyl and nylon stocking boots tall enough to do double duty as hosiery.[14][15][16] The tallest boots from this period were so high that they were equipped with suspenders to hold them up.[17][18]

Over the next three decades, the popularity of over-the-knee boots as a fashion item for women waxed and waned. In the early 1970s, the multi-colored suede and canvas over-the-knee boots produced by the London store Biba[19] were so sought-after that queues would form outside the store when a delivery was due.[20] The end of the decade saw a second-wave of over-the-knee and thigh-length boots; these were a longer version of the stack-heeled knee-length boots popular in the late 1970s and were usually worn over jeans.[21][22] In the late 1980s, over-the-knee boots made a reappearance; these were loose-fitting, low-heeled styles in suede,[23] often brightly colored or decorated with brocade.[24] By 1990, Karl Lagerfeld had included thigh-length satin boots in his Fall/Winter Couture collection for Chanel, using the boots as an alternative to leggings;[25] there was a brief vogue for thigh-length "riding boots” in the early 1990s[26] and over-the-knee styles were intermittently popular throughout the first decade of the 21st century. In 2009, thigh-length boots were a subject of major attention by the fashion press,[27][28][29][30][31][32] receiving guarded approval and a level of mainstream acceptance that they had never previously achieved; this trend continued in 2010[33][34][35] and by the following year, over-the-knee styles had become commonplace.

Thigh-high boots are more flattering on women with longer legs: "The shorter you are, the less leg there is above the top of the boot, when wearing footwear that ends above the knee. A very high heel helps to give the illusion of height, but when there is much more boot visible than leg; the effect is to optically foreshorten you."[36]

As work boots

Hip boots in mud

Hip boots (sometimes colloquially called "waders"), are a type of boot worn by river fishermen. Hip boots are typically made out of rubber, and cover the legs to the tops of the thighs or to the waist. They are designed to protect the fisherman when wading into deeper waters and keep the feet and legs warm in autumn and winter. Hip boots are also worn by ecologists and environmental scientists who do tests in swamps or lakes to determine the quality of water.

In contrast to hip boots, waders are waterproof boots that extend from the foot to the chest. Waders are available with boots attached or can have attached stocking feet (usually made of the wader material), to wear inside shorter boots. In addition to being used for leisure purposes, such as angling or waterfowl hunting, industrial, heavy-duty waders are used as protective clothing in the chemical industry, agriculture and in the maintenance of water supply, sewerage and other utilities.

See also


  1. ^ Cox, Caroline (2008). Vintage Shoes. New York: HarperCollins. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-06-166576-9.
  2. ^ anon (2005). "History of British Pantomime". Limelight Scripts. Archived from the original on 21 April 2011. Retrieved 18 May 2011.
  3. ^ anon (29 November 2010). "Oh yes it is - it's panto time". The Yule Blog. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  4. ^ Molli, Jeanne (29 August 1963), "Noted in Paris: Sleek Wigs and Boots", New York Times
  5. ^ "Fashions: Balenciaga By Day", Vogue, pp. 88–89, October 1962
  6. ^ "Paris: The First Full Report: Vogue's First Report On The New French Clothes And The Fresh Excitement Of Paris", Vogue, pp. 164–181, 243, 245, September 1963
  7. ^ Cox, Caroline (2008). Vintage Shoes. New York: HarperCollins. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-06-166576-9.
  8. ^ "Accession # 1976.360.440a, b: Roger Vivier black alligator leather thighboots, 1963". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  9. ^ Quinn, Bradley (2010). The Boot. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-85669-663-0.
  10. ^ Emerson, Gloria (4 August 1966), "Paris Adds Finishing Touches to Fall Lines", New York Times
  11. ^ Cox, Caroline (2008). Vintage Shoes. New York: HarperCollins. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-06-166576-9.
  12. ^ Blanco F., Jose; Leff, Scott; Kellogg, Ann T.; Payne, Lynn W. (2008). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing Through American History, 1900 to the Present. Vol. 2. Westport CT: Greenwood Press. p. 201. ISBN 978-0-313-35855-5.
  13. ^ "Accession # T.667:1&2-1997: Pierre Cardin black pvc thigh-length boots, 1968". Victoria & Albert Museum. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  14. ^ Verin, Helene (2009). Beth Levine Shoes. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. pp. 132–133. ISBN 978-1-58479-759-3.
  15. ^ "Accession # 2009.300.3381a, b: Beth Levine thighboots, 1968". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  16. ^ Crenshaw, Mary Ann (7 September 1967), "The Boot That Kept Growing", New York Times
  17. ^ Emerson, Gloria (17 July 1967), "The Collections Are On in Rome: Coats Long, Boots High", New York Times
  18. ^ "Fashion Forecast: The Next Directions", Vogue, pp. 36–65, July 1968
  19. ^ "Accession # T.67&A-1985: canvas boots by Biba, 1969". Victoria & Albert Museum. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
  20. ^ Cox, Caroline (2008). Vintage Shoes. New York: HarperCollins. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-06-166576-9.
  21. ^ anon. (July 1977), "Shoe Signals", Vogue, p. 98
  22. ^ "Fall report on shoes/boots: all the news and more...", Vogue, pp. 154–161, August 1978
  23. ^ "View: Sure Shoe-Ins", Vogue, pp. 132, 134, July 1988
  24. ^ "Vogue's View", Vogue, November 1988
  25. ^ "Vogue's Point of View", Vogue, p. 327, October 1990
  26. ^ "Vogue's Point of View - Best of Fall", Vogue, p. 441, September 1993
  27. ^ "Fall 2009 Trend Report: Over-the-knee please". Coutorture.com. 30 March 2009. Archived from the original on 24 July 2010. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  28. ^ "Trend Report: Over-the-knee boots". WhoWhatWear.com. 4 November 2009. Archived from the original on 13 July 2010. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  29. ^ Haver, Sharon (19 December 2008). "How to wear over-the-knee boots". Focus On Style.com. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  30. ^ Reach for the Thighs. Marie Claire, October 2009, p. 26
  31. ^ Datu, Danielle (7 January 2008). "These boots were made for strutting". MyStyle.com. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  32. ^ Bergin, Olivia (10 July 2009). "Trend Alert: over-the-knee boots". Daily Telegraph. UK. Archived from the original on 14 July 2009. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  33. ^ "Winter 2010's Recurring Trend: Over The Knee Boots". Times of the Internet. 9 November 2010. Archived from the original on 13 November 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
  34. ^ "Fall's hot foot fashions from high to low". The Charleston Gazette. 13 November 2010. Archived from the original on 17 November 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
  35. ^ "Over-the-knee boots have sky-high style". The Detroit Free Press. 19 December 2010. Retrieved 21 December 2010.
  36. ^ Consultant, The Shoe; Clarke, Samantha. Outfits in Minutes: A Guide for Time-Pressed Women.