With scrawny 11.9-inch calves, I've been on a mission for years (decades!) to find the very best, most beautiful slim calf boots. There have been successes, but for whatever reason, what remain most elusive are the perfect riding boots for thin calves. Heels and wedges are challenging to find with a narrow shaft, but equestrian inspired? The toughest of all. In this blog I'll review riding boots with calf circumferences published, or reported anecdotally, at under 14 inches around. If your legs are like mine, maybe you'll find your dream boot here :)

Please note: Except where otherwise stated in the captions, all photos & text are copyright this "Howdy Slim" blog and cannot be used elsewhere without permission.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Frye Melissa Tall Riding

Once you've tried Frye, it's easy to go broke on the brand. But less so for us thin-legged ladies, as this venerable label tends to cut things wide, and slim calf Frye boots are not easy to find.

That's why I'm so excited to show you the Frye Melissa Tall Riding (June '17 update: now priced under $200 in some size/color combos). It's essentially a reboot (ouch! sorry, couldn't resist that dreadful pun) of the stunning Paige Tall, but made significantly slimmer.

Yes, I know, it's confusing. There's already an array of "Melissas," so why couldn't they just call this the "Paige Slim" or something like that?

What matters, though, is that these are the closest things to bona fide skinny calf Frye boots I've tried so far in a knee-high style. (June 2014 update: The Frye Chelsea Riding has a different look and color options but is even slimmer, in case you want to check that one out.)

Like the Paige, this version of the Melissa has a lovely "layering" or doubled effect in the shaft that adds a little style without slipping into trendiness. We will definitely be seeing this boot on ebay a few years down the road, fetching strikingly close to retail even pre-owned, as with many of the classic-looking Fryes. And if you're averse to stretch panels, these beauties have absolutely none -- not even the hidden kind. So I wouldn't recommend them for calves over 14 inches. (You could hope they'll stretch with your leg, but why push it when you can just pick the Paige for a wider fit?)

A pretty foot shape cuts a lot of butter with me, as the combo of scrawny calves & not-tiny feet (size 7.5-8) tends to make my feet look a bit boatlike when in less artful shoemaking hands. This boot comes through with an almond-ish shape that walks the line between polished and rustic. The color I chose -- "camel" -- is somewhere in between my beloved "fawn" ankle and "cognac" midcalf Taylors. Those have both proven super versatile, so the camel in-between shade will likely go with virtually anything. The "redwood" option also looks really nice, and of course the classic black. In the camel, at least, the burnished effect is subtler in real life than shops' web photos, which suits me fine.

Measurements?  In size 8, these narrow calf Frye boots were 13.5" at the midcalf, where most calves are widest; 14.5" at the top; and 11.5" at the ankle. The ankle measurement would be more of a concern if the leather were slouchy, as has been the case with a few boots I've reviewed here. Instead, it's quite structured, so there's no bagging, just an equestrian-inspired straightish line from top to bottom of the shaft. I did need to undo the half-zip to get these on, which is always a good sign!

Note:  If you go for these, I highly recommend at least two layers of weatherproofing spray (let it dry fully before reapplying) before the first outing, though it may darken the leather just a tad. That approach worked miracles for my taller Taylors, which look new despite being worn into the ground, and I'm still kicking myself for not using it on my shorter ones :(

If you've got a firsthand Frye with narrow shaft recommendation, please do share in the comments. As I said, this isn't an easy find.

**ps: If you don't love the layered shaft as much as I do, check out a gorgeous cousin to this boot, the Melissa Tall Tab. A glowing review I read by a petite person was very encouraging -- though for those of us who take a shoe size larger than hers (6-6.5), the shaft will be a bit roomier too. (I know, I know -- calf width is not, in reality, proportional to foot length, and I don't know why the manufacturers all do this! Maybe we can start a petition...)

Rating for the Melissa Tall Riding:
Beauty: *****/5
Value: ****/5 (show these some TLC & they'll last a loooong time)
Calf slimness: ***/5

Find the Melissa Tall Riding at:


  1. Im a male who wears womens long riding boots under trousers. I love these boots, I shall have to buy a pair and wait for the comments .

  2. Thanks for stopping by :) Not sure these are the best under-trousers choice, due to the layered effect on the shaft, but there are plenty of Fryes you could try --though not with as narrow a calf, if you're very lean and need that. Best of luck & enjoy.

  3. Frye Phillip Riding are very slim.They fit me in a 7 with 11 inch calves.

  4. Hi Mary,

    Could you give me the exact shaft height measurements of the Melissa Tall Riding?

    Thank you for the useful review!


  5. 16" in my size. Thanks Amy :)

  6. Thanks to your wonderful blog, I will be the getting these beauties from my husband for Christmas! I never thought I would be able to fit in any Frye tall boots but then I stumbled upon this blog. Seriously, SO helpful!! FYI, these boots and other Frye styles are 30% right now on Amazon with promo code CYBWEEK14. Thanks again for the awesome boot finds and reviews!!

    1. They are such gorgeous boots - enjoy!! And thx for the promo code - 30% off Frye prices is huge!

    2. I have also gotten these boots using the promo code. Your blog was super helpful. I kept looking at your blog pictures to decide if I should get them since they are quite pricey. You definitely sold me on them, so the boots are on their way now! :)

    3. Yes, Fryes are pricey, but that promo helps! Hope you love these - do report back ok? Thanks!

  7. Hey there! I purchased these boots and am curious what waterproofing spray you recommend? ~ Liz

    1. Hi Liz - I've always just used drugstore brand sprays such as Totes & Kiwi, with good results (I take the time to spray new leather shoes/boots 3 times before wearing them outside, letting them dry in between the 3 coats). But with the last Fryes I bought, I got the Frye Conditioning Cream for a more natural, less chemical approach. It smelled a lot better and gave my boots a lovely soft shine. I haven't worn them out in rain yet, though, so unfortunately I can't vouch for the conditioning cream's waterproofing power. No matter what you use, I think the best thing you can do if caught in the rain is to dry them off with a clean cloth as soon as you're inside. You don't want the beads of water to air-dry on the leather if you can help it. Best of luck.

    2. Awesome. Thank you so much!