Thigh-high boots, known also as thigh-length boots or simply thigh boots, are boots that extend above the knees to at least mid-thigh. Other terms for this footwear include over-the-knee boots (abbreviated OTK boots; the full term is also used for the 15th century riding boots for men, later adopted by women) and, especially when cuffed, pirate boots. Lengths vary from reaching just over the knee to reaching almost to the crotch (referred to as crotch boots or crotch-high boots).
Thigh boots are made of materials ranging from various leathers to various synthetic materials (including vinyl, polyurethane, or latex) to various fabrics (such as silk or polyester microfiber). Many are constructed with zippers, but some are designed as pull-on boots. Heel heights vary, but most styles are either flat or with heels greater than 3 inches (7.5 cm). Heel styles vary from metal spikes to chunky. Like other boots, they can also have platform soles.
Thigh boots are considered by many to be erotic or kinky. They are used as fetish clothing in boot fetishism and shoe fetishism. Cheaper thigh boots are often worn by prostitutes and professional dominatrices, so many people consider them icons of such trades. Because of the latter, they are often associated with sadomasochism. Nevertheless, they are frequently sold by couture designers, perhaps because of the implied eroticism.
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."
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Late Victorian era
Laced leather boots were fashionable throughout the Victorian era for women. By the end of the 19th century, over-the-knee length laced leather boots were becoming a trend among London prostitutes wanting a style that would appeal to foot fetishists and clients interested in finding a dominatrix.
In the world of women's fashion, thigh boots run through cycles in both popularity and design. As referenced by several authors, the popularity of the motion picture Pretty Woman hurt the credibility of thigh boots as wardrobe staples. Nevertheless, in any fall fashion season, at least one or more designers and retailers will take a chance on their appeal.
Like shoes in general, fashion thigh boots are marketed through several different channels. A key differentiator among these channels is the price point and construction:
- Couture fashion designers
- Fashion designers
- Couture shoe designers
- Boutique brands
- Fashion and shoe retailers
Couture fashion designers marketing thigh boots will vary from year to year. Introducing a boot model is typically tied to the designer's theme for the line. These boots will typically be marketed at the highest price point for thigh boots and, usually, for shoes in general. Fashion designers market similarly, though at a lower price point.
A number of couture shoe design houses regularly include thigh boots in their collections, and the price point will be at a premium, just as with the couture fashion designers. Examples of these designers are:
- Brian Atwood
- Manolo Blahnik
- Jimmy Choo
- Christian Louboutin
- Sergio Rossi (of Gucci Group)
- Stuart Weitzman
- Giuseppe Zanotti (of Vicini S.p.A.)
Couture fashion designers regularly use the shoe design houses to design the boots and shoes for their collections.
Thigh boots are a regular staple of several Italian boutique brands, including:
- Gianmarco Lorenzi
- Left and Right
- Le Silla
The price point for these boots can be very high, particularly at retail boutiques, but will vary more than for couture designers. Some brands are available through eBay sellers and clearance sellers (e.g., YOOX) at discounted prices. The lowest price tier is typically the fashion retailers. Retailers who regularly market thigh boots in their line include:
In Autumn 2010, thigh-high boots repeated as a fashion highlight from Autumn 2009. Designers and fashion houses who showed them with their designs included:
The Autumn 2009 fashion season featured thigh-high boots as a key fashion accessory for the season, resulting in the style being declared a fashion trend in early 2009. Reaching a wider audience through fashion magazine editorials, the footwear style was shown in two different feature layouts in the September 2009 issue of US Vogue. Numerous high street fashion stores featured thigh-high boots in their Autumn 2009 collections, with many fashion designers also featuring them in their ready-to-wear collections.
Miuccia Prada pushed the margins of fashion with her thigh boots designed after hip boots for fishing. One version even featured garters to suspend the tops from a belt. Right behind her was Stella McCartney, featuring three crotch-length boots with synthetic uppers, in following with her usual animal-friendly practice. All three had snipped toes and extreme stiletto heels, and one featured a multi-patterned, pierced upper.
Other design houses showing thigh boots in their Autumn 2009 lines included:
- Alexander McQueen
- Catherine Malandrino
- Louis Vuitton
As for the couture shoe designers, Christian Louboutin marketed no less than four different styles in Autumn 2009 – a front-lacing mid-thigh length with sculpted heel and hidden platform (Supra Fifré), a crotch-length, skin-tight boot with hidden platform, a chunky mid-thigh boot (Contente), and a chunky platform mid-thigh boot. In addition to one heeled thigh boot featuring an elastic cuff just above the knee and two pairs of flat over-the-knee boots in their couture line, Jimmy Choo's limited edition capsule collection for H&M featured a mid-thigh black leather boot with a four-inch heel.
Fendi supported the thigh boot cause in Autumn 2008 with a chunky suede boot that featured a metallic leather accent around the ankle of the boot and at the top of the heel. The boot was carried by several different retail outlets and was available in black, brown, taupe, and gray.
Burberry Prorsum championed the thigh boot in Autumn 2007 with a black patent leather model, which was shown with several pieces from their medieval knight-inspired line. The boot featured a four-inch heel and pointed toe.
Karl Lagerfeld styled all of his designs in the Autumn 2006 Chanel collection with thigh boots. The boots were finished in a variety of materials, including black suede and different shades of blue denim.
Narciso Rodriguez created a stir in Autumn 2003 when almost half the models in his ready-to-wear show were wearing his thigh boots with his clothing line. The boots featured four-inch heels and pointed toes. Phoebe Philo at Chloé showed leather and suede thigh boots in several colors, including red and green, in addition to the more typical black and brown.
Thigh boots as articles of fetish clothing date back to at least the 1950s when Irving Klaw used them in the costuming of the women in his erotic photography. Since that time, they have been a staple of fetish and adult photography. For instance, Bob Guccione photographed the 1982 Penthouse Pet of the Year, Corinne Alphen, in a pair of black leather thigh boots for her feature layout. Similarly, Dwight Hooker photographed the Playboy 25th Anniversary Playmate, Candy Loving, in white leather over-the-knee boots for her layout.
Until the 2000s, fetish thigh boots were generally distinguished from fashion boots by being more extreme in many design dimensions, particularly heel height and platform height. In the late 2000s, this trend began to change as couture designers, particularly Christian Louboutin, began to experiment with more extreme designs in their shoes. Consequently, the difference between the two now is more a function of the materials used. In particular, fetish thigh boots tend to be constructed of polyurethane (PU) or vinyl (often incorrectly referred to as patent leather). In addition, they are generally produced in China and sold at low cost. Some European cobblers have specialized in higher-priced thigh boots for the fetish market.
Iconography and symbolism in motion pictures
Motion pictures in which thigh boots were prominent in an actress' wardrobe include:
- In the 1990 film Pretty Woman, the protagonist, Vivian Ward (played by Julia Roberts), wears her black vinyl thigh boots throughout much of the first part of the movie as a symbol of her role as a prostitute.
- In the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, the protagonist, Andy Sachs (played by Anne Hathaway), completes her ugly-duckling-to-swan transformation by strutting confidently into her employer's offices wearing a pair of Chanel black leather thigh boots. Andy's wardrobe for this scene and the rest of the movie was styled by noted costumer, stylist, and designer Patricia Field.
- In the live-action versions of 101 Dalmations and 102 Dalmations, Glenn Close (Cruella) wears thigh high red PVC and thigh / crotch high black PVC boots respectively; boots end up in molasses, mud and caked in.
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- Hooker, Dwight (January 1979), "Picture Perfect," Playboy, pp 196–205.