Are made to measure boots worth it?
The big question: are made-to-measure riding boots worth it? If you stick around until the end of this article, you may just be surprised by our answer.
Disclaimer: In this article, we are drawing on our many years of experience in boot fitting. This has shaped our opinion on this subject and as such, it is not to be expected that everyone agrees with our conclusions.
So, you want a new pair of boots and want them to fit well? But, what are the options out there when buying long riding boots anyway?
To answer this question, we could discuss different boot brands, styles, and various leather types that make sense for you. But, let’s try to keep it simple – for now, at least.
Generally speaking, there are two major options available when it comes to long riding boots. They can be either 'standard' sizes (also called 'off the shelf') or they can be 'made-to-measure'. EVERY long riding boot can be put in one of these categories. There is one small exception (half made-to-measure) but we'll talk about that later.
Before we begin, let's first define what we mean by ‘made-to-measure’ or ‘standard’.
‘Made-to-measure’ boots are ones that are made specifically for you – multiple measurements are taken and used to create a truly custom fit and feel.
When we refer to a 'standard' size, we’re talking about the standard size chart offered by each boot maker or brand. Each brand will have different choices/sizes, but almost all of them will offer a core range of 'standard' sizes.
When we say a person is 'standard', we are simply saying that their measurements happen to match with the relevant standard size chart. Keep in mind that not all boot makers have the same size charts, so you may be standard in one brand and not in another.
On the other hand, some brands may feature far more extensive options (offering multiple height options or calf options). It's worth looking for these as they can give an amazing fit at a drastically cheaper price.
Now that we’ve got a grasp of some general terminology, let's try and answer our question from the beginning. Are ‘made-to-measure’ boots really worth it?
If your measurements happen to tie up quite closely with the standard options, then we reach our first contentious point, which is that made-to-measure is probably not worth it for you. While you may still gain some benefit (usually around the ankle or foot), the benefit-to-cost ratio is often not worth it for most people. In some cases, made-to-measure options are almost double the price of standard ones but you certainly don’t get double the benefit.
That is not to say that we should dismiss custom riding boots completely though. In fact, we find that there are only a handful of people lucky enough to be in this situation. Out of 100 people that come into our store to be fitted, I would only expect 5 or 6 of them to be truly standard (where a standard boot is indistinguishable from a made-to-measure one).
Out of the remaining ones, almost 80 would be close to standard in varying degrees, so they’re neither here nor there. To paint a better picture, being ‘close to standard’ means that you fit perfectly in one or multiple aspects such as calf, ankle, height or foot - but not in all. You might end up with a perfect fit around the calf, ankle, and foot but come up just a tad bit short when it comes to height. That is a very common situation when fitting boots.
Nevertheless, most people go with the standard option in this scenario, even though it's sub-optimal. This is mostly due to having a limited budget and getting the most for your money. However, there tends to be a misunderstanding of what a good fit is. So, let's just quickly address this issue.
A good fit is the one that you feel comfortable in – plain and simple. A dressage rider may insist that your boots are too short but you wouldn't be happy in longer ones, so you’re happy with how they fit. Your happiness should come first, indeed.
Having said that, there are definitely some guidelines that should be followed to help you get the most out of your boots. This is where you need some balance between comfort and performance. If you find boots that are baggy comfortable, then you’re going to run into issues when riding. Furthermore, if you ride really well in a particular pair but you risk losing your feet due to blood loss, that is also not great.
So, let's have a brief look at the guidelines for fitting boots. Side note: we’ll be covering this in more detail in a separate blog post soon.
For starters, boots should be slightly snug around the calf when new. This is because leather stretches - if you get boots that are big to begin with, they’re only going to get bigger as the boots break in and the leather relaxes. Secondly, the height should be just on the edge of ‘too tall’ (the point where you feel a pinch). This is due to the fact that boots drop by up to 2cm as they break in and crease at the ankle. As a disclaimer, we do not mean “too tall” as in “above your knee” - you can consult our fitting guide here for a better visual representation. While you may not enjoy the breaking in process straight away, you'll thank us in the long run when they still look amazing after the breaking in period.
Before we jump into discussing made-to-measure, we will quickly talk about half made-to-measure as an option. When we say ‘half made-to-measure’, we mean that only one measurement is changed from the standard size chart - this is usually a cheaper alternative to the full made-to-measure costs (although it is not offered by every brand). One example could be a customer who perfectly fits a standard height but is between a small and medium calf size. This customer can use half made-to-measure to get that in-between calf size while keeping the standard height.
A major drawback to half made-to-measure though is that it only applies if a single measurement is off. If you need the calf AND ankle taking in, we're back to talking full made-to-measure.
Now, let's move on to the remaining people who actually NEED made-to-measure. These are generally people who don’t match size charts at all. Before you get visions of tiny legs and big calves, you’d be surprised at the number of different situations we find ourselves in when taking measurements from our clients. Some people have a standard calf but very tiny ankles. Another scenario might be someone who has a much shorter lower leg than average – we’ve seen it all. These people NEED a made-to-measure solution to find a boot that matches the basic guidelines above.
Another case where made-to-measure is necessary is when someone has had an injury and now has uneven legs (a very common occurrence with horses). Made-to-measure will allow you to fit both legs optimally rather than settling for one being a bad fit. Yes, it’s possible to find two standard pairs that fit, buy both, and throw away the two useless boots - but that seems wasteful (and probably more expensive).
You see, made-to-measure is not JUST worth it in some scenarios - it's necessary. Some people also need it for very specific reasons that are not considered immediately. A competitor riding at peak performance, for example, may find an extra 5% boost here or there from a great pair of boots. This could be the difference between winning and only being placed in a class. We’d say that counts as "worth it". Also, if you simply want some boots that feel comfortable and look amazing but don't have quite the ‘standard’ legs, then made-to-measure is a great solution for you – one that’s also "worth it".
However, if you fit well in standard boots, you really won’t find much value in going full made-to-measure. You generally don’t gain anything in terms of leather quality or any other factor, for that matter – just the fit.
Standard may also be a better choice for those on a tighter budget, even if you have to slightly compromise on one aspect of the fit. If you’re after a great pair of standard boots with a huge variety of choices on their standard size chart, then I would personally recommend something like the De Niro Stretch Panel. Through multiple years of testing various 'standard' boots, this has emerged as the clear winner. The stretch panel gives greater flexibility to the calf measurement, ensuring that you generally only need to compromise on the height (if anything at all). Plus, it comes in 5 height options - that's quite rare.
If after reading all this, you’ve realized that you definitely need made-to-measure boots, we can help you. Just click here to learn more about our services.
We hope this article has been helpful. Feel free to get in touch with us - we are always happy to share our professional opinion.
- Simon Bartlett