Over-the-knee boots are long boots that fully or partly cover the knee. 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. The following year, Yves Saint Laurent’s couture collection included thigh-length alligator skin boots by designer Roger Vivier. 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.”

Rising hemlines and the availability of new, brightly colored artificial materials such as PVC 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. Pierre Cardin featured shiny black PVC thigh boots in his futuristic 1968 couture collection. Beth Levine designed seamless, stretch vinyl and nylon stocking boots tall enough to do double duty as hosiery. The tallest boots from this period were so high that they were equipped with suspenders to hold them up.

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 were so sought-after that queues would form outside the store when delivery was due. The decade’s end saw the 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. In the late 1980s, over-the-knee boots reappeared; these were loose-fitting, low-heeled styles in suede often brightly colored or decorated with brocade.

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; there was a brief vogue for thigh-length “riding boots” in the early 1990s, 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, receiving guarded approval and a level of mainstream acceptance that they had never previously achieved; this trend continued in 2010, 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 the leg, the effect is to optically foreshorten you.