The cowboy boot is more than just a shoe. It’s part of a lifestyle, and it’s one of the key pieces of clothing that transform a person into something new. Even with a horse, a cowboy hat, a six-shooter, a lasso, and a dusty street at high noon, no cowboy would be complete without the boots.
That goes the same for a country music fan. Try going out dancing or hitting a concert without your favorite boots. It just wouldn’t work.
But, what’s the history behind cowboy boots?
First off, the concept of having special footwear to wear while on the back of a horse isn’t anything new. Some sort of equestrian boots have been around for hundreds of years. They have been very different in every culture, but they usually managed to be unique and distinct.
There are a few rules that are needed before something qualifies as a cowboy boot, and each feature was given for a reason. They always have a rounded to pointed toe, and this helps the foot to get into the stirrup. Next, they have a Cuban heel (the fancy name for the big heel on the back), and it’s there to give the boot an easier hold in the stirrup. They never have laces because those only serve to catch on things and cause harm to the wearer. A real cowboy pulls on his boots. Also, they have a high shaft, and this means that they go pretty far up the leg. Finally, they’re made from tough material, usually leather, to protect the wearer from stirrups, horses, snakes, barbed wire, and other nasty things.
The story continues into today with the more modern roper boot. Our rodeos have more demands on the cowboys, and the biggest is that they often have to run on foot, not just on a horse. This led to the creation roper boot, and it solves that problem by having a lower heel and not going as high up the leg.
No one really knows who made the first pair. But, with all the different types in the evolution of the boot, maybe there wasn’t a true first pair. Some rumors say the original was in Texas or Kansas, and that’s likely because of the location, but it’s impossible to prove.
Another boot that had a big influence was the Hessian boot. This was a popular part of the cavalry uniforms during the big military period in Europe in the 19th century. These boots had a rounded toe and slight heel, so they weren’t as extreme as cowboy boots. But, they reached nearly to the knee to really protect the rider.
Wellington boots are still around as those clunky, rubber monsters that people wear when splashing through puddles, but they’re different from the original version. They were named by an English nobleman, the Duke of Wellington, who decided to modify his Hessian’s. Basically, they made them a little softer and significantly cut down length of the side. This made them more comfortable and fashionable, so they weren’t unbearable to wear around during city life.
The closest ancestor of the cowboy boot was the footwear worn by the Spanish vaqueros. These were basically cowboys from Spain, and they were around before the Wild West grew up. They came into Mexico and Texas to herd cattle, and a lot of their traditions and methods spread north. They wore some footwear similar to the cowboy boot.
One issue with making cowboy boots is that they had to be able to be sold at a fairly cheap price. Equestrian boots for militaries and high-class riding competitions could be more expensive because the buyers had deeper pockets. But, the cowboys were farmers and country folk, so they generally had a tighter budget. So, a big influence on the design was they had to be strong and sturdy, but for the least amount of money possible.
By the 1930s and 1940s, the Wild West had died out, but Hollywood was resurrecting it in the form of Western movies. However, they really didn’t value functionality as much as they did appearance, and they started making costumes a lot more colorful and noticeable. They wanted things like bright leather and patterns of flowers stitched on the outside. It’s more than likely that a few old gunslingers were rolling over in their graves as they realized they were being portrayed with such flashy footwear.
Today, real cowboys still wear their boots, but they’ve become an icon for many others. The debate between having a practical boot or a fancy pair will never end, but the best solution is probably just to get multiple pairs. How many do you have?