Utilitarian Boots

When it comes to cold-weather dressing, sweaters and scarves are always must-haves, but what we truly get jazzed up about is a new pair of boots. And let's just say we have a hunch that we're not the only ones with a fondness for flaunting the latest footwear: you know you do it too! Accordingly, we're always looking for the next big thing when it comes to outfitting everyone's tootsies. At this time last year, over-the-knee iterations were garnering widespread oohs and aahs, but this season the look is much more down to earth. Instead of embracing a flashy shoe silhouette, right now fashion-forward ladies like Rachel Bilson and Rihanna are going for something a little more grounded, which is why they're reaching for utilitarian boots. These sturdy lace-ups are an excellent way to reference the lingering military trend, plus they typically come in neutral hues, which makes them a natural fit with winter basics. Additionally, they are surprisingly versatile, and can seamlessly punch up off-duty looks or provide edgy contrast to a floral or feminine cocktail frock!

A prime example of how to incorporate this must-have footwear into your everyday wardrobe comes to us via Sportmax's F/W 10 runway. For this collection, the design team sent models out in accessibly chic winter-ready outfits punctuated by knee-high cable-knit socks and lace-up boots. Case in point: our featured ensemble comprised of a lusciously textural Fur/Tweed Coat ($3989, 212.879.6100), thigh-high Socks ($95, 212.879.6100), and army green open-toe Booties ($875, 212.879.6100). The pulled back hair and unfussy makeup further reinforces the sporty, street-ready vibe of the ensemble, making for a perfect running-around-town look.

In case you're still not convinced that utilitarian booties are your next boot-to-buy, we think one look at our featured ladies will have you lusting for lace-ups! Take, for example, Rachel Bilson: the stylesetter was spotted strolling though Milan earlier this fall wearing Zara's Suede Wedge Laced Ankle Boots ($99), which expertly accent her cuffed-jeans-and-blazer combo. We love how she showcased her high-street find by pairing them with Adriano Goldschmied's Ex-Boyfriend Crop Jeans ($224), and then contrasted this boyish bottom half with a Willow peak-shouldered jacket. Furthermore, we appreciate how she eschewed basic black footwear and went for a smart taupe hue instead. Apparently, a shroomy shade is quite the popular choice; Jessica Alba also favored it when she selected a pair Boutique 9's Iliana Ankle Boots ($200) for her arrival at the JFK airport late last month. Her carefully curated layers are oh-so layover ready and we like how she combined warmth with style by contrasting her cozy outfit with rugged lace-up shoes.

Of course, these functional boots are not strictly relegated to pants-minded basics; they look just as au courant when paired with skirts of varying lengths--just take a look at hip Brit Fearne Cotton and the always cutting-edge Rihanna for more styling tips and tricks. As Cotton proves, these boots can readily be used to add a dash of outdoorsy intrigue to a casual, nautical-striped dress. While on a visit to the BBC studios in London in September, Cotton styled an H&M dress, Mulberry scarf, and Marc Jacobs' Camille Cracked Leather Tote ($2096) with Tommy Hilfiger's Bennington Low Duck Boots ($298) and then completed the look with scrunched socks--a premium styling choice. But Cotton isn't the only trendsetter to pair utility boots with a skirt: Rihanna also used these shoes as the cap to an otherwise feminine look when she appeared on Good Morning America in New York late last month. The flame-haired singer paired Alaia's Lace Front Shoe Boots ($1505) with Rick Owens' Lillies Long Skirt ($495) and Missoni's Zig Zag Knit Fringed Long Scarf ($170) for an eclectic spin on a minimalist look.

Now that we've fully acquainted you with the how-to-wear aspect of this trend, it's time to delve into the fun stuff: the actual goods you need to execute the look! Luckily, there's a bevy of utilitarian boots on the market to get you on your stylesetting way. If you've got a yen for a neutral version à la Alba or Bilson, we suggest checking out Pour La Victoire's Deon Ankle Boots ($345), Tory Burch's Halima Suede Booties ($450), or Dolce Vita's Prince Boots ($135), all of which can expertly complete a cold-weather outfit. However, if you're really looking to make utility boots your big season purchase, we'd suggest investing in Brian Atwood's Military Buckle Boots ($1400)--they'd look excellent with leather pants for an after-hours ensemble--or the Suede Knit-Trim Wedge Boots ($850) from Chloe, which we'd pair with a cozy sweater and skater skirt.

Yet, those aren't the only fancy-footed variations on the market! We love how Fearne Cotton's shoes of choice embody the spirit of an outdoor adventure and we found the Arella2 Heeled Hiker Boots ($190) and Ashisha Black Fleece Faux Fur Lined Heeled Hiking Ankle Boots ($170) with festive red laces, both by Topshop, to fulfill our need for a haute hiking shoe. While on that shearling kick--one of the season's essential accents--we also discovered Topshop's Alberta Furlined Heeled Boots ($170) and River Island's Helix Fleece Lined Boots ($129), which have a deliciously boyish vibe and an excellent look. Finally, we couldn't complete our coverage without mentioning few pairs as powerful as Rihanna's lust-worthy lace-ups, hence our inclusion of Alaia's Lace-up Leather Ankle Boots ($1790) and Givenchy's Lace-Up Boots ($2038). Don't feel like splurging? Happily you don't need to spend a fortune on this footwear; Jeffrey Campbell's Boot Camp Boots ($175), Aldo's Winebrenner Felt Lace-Up Heeled Ankle Boots ($138), or William Rast's Perforated Lace-Up Booties ($398)--the latter is from their F/W 10 runway show--are also affordable, interesting options!--Liza Kaplan

Photos of Jessica Alba and Rihanna, courtesy of Splash News; photo of Fearne Cotton, courtesy of Getty; photo of Rachel Bilson, courtesy of INF.