The mystery of the origin of cowboy boots in the shoe fashion world is almost as fabled as the Old West itself. While no one really knows where this special style and design really comes from, stories abound that a shoemaker from anywhere between Kansas and Texas came up with this invention that would eventually become a cultural icon. No matter who is credited with the original creation, cowboy boots remain a staple in our society…and the only form of footwear for some traditionalists.
Shoe enthusiasts would be interested in how cowboy boots have developed up until now. This is important in order to understand this popular style, as well as predict how it might change in the future. To this end, we’ve summarized a few points about cowboy boots below:
When the Civil War ended, cowboys found themselves in different terrain than during the battle. Instead of remaining stationary, settlers now found themselves putting in long hours and hundreds of miles on the trails. Battle boots just didn’t hold up to the rigors of this new lifestyle; hence, a new alternative had to be formed.
Since cowboys spent long hours perched atop their favorite horse, they wanted a boot with a pointier sole so that it would slip in and out of the stirrups a lot easier. They also optioned their shoemakers to make a thicker, more rugged heel so that the boot wouldn’t slip through or out of the stirrup on long rides. Finally, the calf-length design protected their legs from elements such as burs and brush as well as snakes and other trail varmints.
The first pair of such boots was probably made by a Kansas or Texas shoemaker. When cowboys finally found the perfect style for splashing through river and creeks, riding through prickly buses, and sitting on a horse for long hours, they stuck with it to this day.
The Cowboy Boot Design
The cowboy boot design was the ultimate of form and function. The thick leather material prevented the cowboy from getting rashes through rubbing against the stirrup. The loose top of the boot enabled an easy slip-off in case the wearer got tangled up in something. Finally, the thick heel made it easier to dig into the ground when pulling a stubborn mule or walking through an unsettled trail.
The Development of the Cowboy Boot
The speculations about the earliest cowboy boots include the whole process of developing these pairs. Cowboys after the war would have had to visit their cobblers in order to get their feet measured and have a custom-made pair of boots. Later on, there might also have been mail-order companies that would deliver the boots to any cowboy who sends his measurements to them.
At first, cowboy boots were mostly a tool for allowing cowboys to get their work done properly. It might even have been looked upon as a survival tool of sorts. As time went on, though, the appearance of the boots became more important. While function still remains important, the outside sitting changed from neutral black or brown to more colorful options.
Now, we might find several designs, pictures, and engravings on even the most serious cowboy boots. Bootmakers also started experimenting with overlays, inlays, and several other designing ideas. The ideas for such designs are endless, especially with technology making more embellishments possible.
Cowboy Boots Today
The basics of the cowboy boot remain the same to this very day. While at first they were used simply for work and had the same basic leather design, cowboy boots have now evolved into a fashion statement. You might find a pair of cowboy boots on a ranch in Minnesota, on a Harley rider in Wisconsin, or on a young celebrity on Rodeo Drive. The lengths of fashionable cowboy boots may also be short, barely covering the ankles.
Today, cowboy boots come in a number of different colors with elaborate designs on the outside. While the first cowboy boots were made to protect trail riders from snakes, now cowboy boots are made out of snakeskin materials. If the settlers of the ancient West could see some of the fancy designs today, they’d shake their head and just continue eating their can of beans.
The traditional style of cowboy boots involves a rounded or pointed toe, a high shaft, and no lacing features. Of course, today’s fashionable options may look highly different. The traditional option for cowboy boots is cowhide leather, but that’s also changed. Exotic materials like elk, elephant, stingray, buffalo, lizard, snake, ostrich, and alligator skin are also popular and durable options now. The choice of exotic materials drives up the price, but they still have quite a decent market.
The two basic styles for cowboy boots include the roper or classic (western).
The roper is the newer style, with a short shaft that ends between the ankle and the calf. The heel is also low and square, unlike the traditional style meant for riding horses. The heel here is usually barely an inch high, especially if we’re talking about options for men. Rounded toes are usual for roper boots, but some may also sport a squared one. Furthermore, the design also features laces, which makes for a better, more adjustable fit. However, the laces also mean a safety risk if you choose to ride horses with this design. Finally, the decorative stitching makes roper cowboy boots quite the fashionable option.
The western or classic kind of boots has a tall shaft. This means they’d reach the middle of the calf at the very least. The cowboy heel is angled and usually more than an inch high. If one wants the boots for mainly walking, lower options are also available. While the square or rounded toe is traditional, the pointed toe idea was first seen at the beginning of the 1940s.
Cowboy boots might not have changed much in their designs, but the target audience for them has definitely grown more nuanced. One might invest in a genuine pair of leather cowboy boots in order to get the complete cowboy experience, or simply to make a fashionable statement. The trends today have also led companies to come out with cowboy boots made of synthetic materials and in several length options. These might also come in several price ranges so that everyone could stay fashionable with cowboy boots on their feet.