Of everything in my wardrobe, the items that never, ever fail to win me compliments are my black stomper boots. Reassuringly solid black leather, with a round toe on a sturdy footbed, a zip at the front and a pull tab at the back. There is nothing remotely pretty about them, but they are a thing of beauty. Don’t take my word for it, though. Like I say, I can’t leave the house without someone – often a stranger, often very stylishly dressed, always female – admiring them.
It was an adorable, designer-wardrobed assassin who made the stomper boot an It shoe. Before Villanelle wore Balenciaga boots with that pink Molly Goddard dress in the first series of Killing Eve, the stomper boot was deliberately, defiantly alt. It was skinheads and punks, goths and rockers. But Villanelle was a prime-time TV celebrity, and with her on board, the boot became a street-style hit. While school-run mums were still wearing vintage floral dresses with white Converse, Copenhagen fashion week influencers, makeup artists on shoots and cool girls in bands began wearing them with stompy boots.
Some clothing functions as a secret code among women. The items must have attitude, presence and energy. They must be fun, but also practical. The stomper boot is in this category, but it is not alone. A jumpsuit is practically a tribal marking among women who don’t want to wear fussy clothes but don’t want to wear boring clothes. Wearing a jumpsuit to an office with a substantial female workforce will bring you almost as much love as arriving with a puppy.
Dresses with pockets are also a way to recognise like-minded souls. “Great dress,” says woman A. “Thanks! I love it because it has pockets,” says woman B. Comradeship in a few words. This talk of jumpsuits, pockets and boots – or interesting earrings, unusual scarves – is fired by solidarity, not competition: very different from cooing over a ballgown or huge diamond ring.
It was by speaking in this code that I found my own beloved boots. Last autumn I was talking with Jo Sykes, the very chic creative director of Jigsaw, and admiring her elegant but heavy-duty boots. She told me they were the brand’s Sawyer Trek Boots. I copied her and have been wearing them ever since (as I write they are still available, marked down, in most sizes).
Ganni does a much-loved stomper in a leather-and-rubber, Chelsea-boot style. Dr Martens makes the iconic lace-up version, obviously, but Arket’s are also excellent. Atterley, a very handy online platform where you can shop from more than 300 of the kind of independent boutiques you would love to support but probably don’t have time to visit, recently put together an edit that included Stella McCartney, Pinko and Vagabond. The most desirable have an exaggerated lug sole, slightly larger than the boot, so the footprint is supersized.
They go with everything. With jeans, roll the hem so that it sits at the top of the boot; with blowsy trousers, tuck the hem into the boot to keep the shape neat at the ankle. With a pouffy dress, add socks in a contrasting colour. (Push the socks down so that they scrunch.) They are too heavy to wear as walking boots, but for urban marching, they are heaven. And if you can’t find them in the shops, ask the next woman you see wearing a nice pair where she got hers. You won’t be the first, believe me.