My aunt asked me to rectify quite a reasonable fashion dilemma the other day. "Now that autumn's here, what boots should I be buying?" she said.
Like many women, she prefers to buy into certain trends as each new season approaches. She doesn't invest in a truckload of must-haves, or go shopping every week on the lookout for fresh product drops. She just wants one or two new additions that will help to update her wardrobe. And for winter, her shopping list almost always includes a pair of boots and perhaps a coat.
But my attempt at answering her question was a little pathetic. After stumbling over various suggestions - military-inspired knee-high styles or that perennial favourite - the riding boot - I realised there really was no definitive answer for autumn 07.
This must be the first autumn in a long time that no one footwear style has dominated the industry. In fact, I can probably chronicle exactly which boots have hit the fashion headlines over the past few years. Let's see. For autumn 06 it was the over-the-knee boot - not one for thefaint-hearted, but it trail-blazed the season's 1960s-inspired direction. For autumn 05, the riding boot prospered. Autumn 04 became the domain of the Frye boot and autumn 03 was, of course, the start of Ugg mania.
During those years, other styles also made their mark, but they definitely played second fiddle to the above. These came in the form of stacked-heel styles (a relative of the Frye) and cowboy boots (another relative of the Frye), while mid-calf slouchy boots became a staple for everyone from teens to Hoxtonites.
Back to autumn 07 and the dilemma continues. There are definitely clear trends, but not one defining winner. In fact, with all the unseasonal weather we've been having this year, what's to say that boots will be a must-have purchase? After all, shoppers didn't buy into summer stock as heavily as they would have if the sun had actually shone.
If you're a footwear retailer, I wonder how you have combated this minefield. I guess you have bought into patent finishes - a look that has dominated flats and heels for two seasons and will be widespread across boots. And for a trend that was expected to die a death after two winters, I'm sure Ugg boots will continue to be a real cash cow whatever the weather (Ugg is currently the second biggest-selling footwear brand in Selfridges after Louboutin, so it is in good company).
However, after some thought, my money's on the ankle boot. The 1980s favourite made its return last autumn, and if shoppers are looking to update their wardrobe this is a good halfway-house option. It's suitable for all weathers, will work well with the new cinched-waist silhouette, under wide-leg or over skinny-fit trousers and shouldn't break the bank either.
That said, if you're a retailer chasing really directional shoppers you should have bought biker boots. But I don't think I'll be suggesting those to my aunt.
Leanne O'Shea is assistant fashion editor at Drapers.