Cowboy boots are regarded as being a specialized form of traditional riding boots, and it wasn't until the 1800's till you see the version of the cowboy boots you now know today. You may think of cowboy boots as a fashion statement, but they had actual practical value to the American cowboys of the Old Wild West.
Traditional riding boots of the early 19th century had unique heels and tall tops that were later adapted to withstand the harsh environment of the American West. These boots were coined as cowboy boots, and its features are still prevalent in cowboy boots available today.
In regards to design, cowboy boots have a signature look that includes a Cuban heel, a high shaft, and either a pointed or rounded toe section. Traditionally, cowboy boots didn’t have any lacing to them, but modern versions may have this lacing feature.
Typically made out of cowhide leather, cowboy boots can also be made out of various animal skins such as snake, lizard, elephant, elk, buffalo, and alligator. Some modern cowboy boots are made out of faux leather, so no animals become endangered in the shoemaking process.
Many tales and legends claim that the original cowboy boot was seen on the feet of Genghis Khan since historians have found evidence that he would wear characteristic red boots that contained a wooden heel.
In the early 1800's, the first Duke of Wellington wore a distinctive boot that later became known as the Wellington boot you see in fashion today. Since it had origins in Europe, the heavy migration of Europeans in the 19th century who were coming to America made the Wellington boot a popular riding boot design.
The simple design of the Wellington boot included only four sections and was commonly made by hand. Since these boots were easy to build, they grew in popularity during the Civil War and were seen on the feet of a majority of soldiers.
After the Civil War had come to an end, the cowboy era you're familiar with emerged, which led to the evolution of the cowboy boot we see available today.
After cowboy boots had been introduced to American soil, bootmakers dedicated their time to craft boots that featured simple silhouettes, which made these boots affordable as well as practical for ranch workers. These farm workers were later called Cowboys, which is where the term cowboy boot originated from.
Cowboy boots grew in popularity when they became less expensive to produce, so when the industrial era came around, it made manufacturing cowboy boots more efficient and less time-consuming. Many bootmakers would develop machinery that would build boots within a matter of minutes.
It was during the 1930's, and 40's that the cowboy boot design no longer prioritized practicality. Cowboy boots during this time period focused on flair and fashion, and Hollywood played a role in this design transformation.
The famous Western films emerging during the 1930's and 1940's led to cowboy boots with various bright colors. You'll also see cowboy boots being made with other exotic leathers other than cowhide, which was never seen before.
Rodeos and country music rose in popularity in the 1950’s, so millions of pairs of cowboy boots were sold to eager Americans that demanded different colors, styles, and shapes. You can easily say that the entertainment industry led to cowboy boots being a staple fashion footwear.
There are 5 basic designs:
The classic Western boot is the standard and most iconic cowboy boot design out of all the western boots you’re familiar with.
Classic Western boots feature a one and a half inch angled heel, which aims to keep you in a saddle. More traditional western riding boots have slightly higher heels, but the low heel design of the classic western boot makes it easy for the wearer to ride or walk around without developing foot pains.
The boot typically features an overall height measuring around 12 inches with a shaft that will hit the mid-calf section of your leg. In regards to design, the classic western boot will have no laces and will contain a toe box that effectively protects your toes if a horse were to step on them.
Ropers are an innovative take on the classic Western boot design and continue design similarities to English riding boots.
Rodeo cowboys have to perform calf roping events in which the cowboy has to ride its horse behind a calf to rope it and then continue to get off the horse and run down the rope to effectively stop the calf from moving.
The entire calf roping process is performed smoothly if the cowboy were wearing short-heeled cowboy boots, which is unique to roper boots. In fact, the purpose of ropers was to make the jobs of rodeo cowboys easier by aiding them to quickly rope calves during shows and competitions.
Out of all the western boots, ropers hands down contain the lowest heel height since it measures about one inch high. The heel specific to ropers has earned the term "walking heel" since it's no hassle to walk around with a heel this low.
The heel typically found on ropers are squared off and rest perpendicular to the boot sole to form a 90-degree angle. On top of having a heel that is one of the lowest amongst western boots, ropers also have a shaft that rests slightly above your ankle.
In regards to its toe shape, a majority of roper boots feature a round toe shape as well as a flexible sole that guarantees an extremely comfortable fit. Keep in mind that some roper boots feature a lace-up design that promotes a conforming fit and proper ankle support, which makes walking around with them on an easy endeavor.
Similar to the style of the classic cowboy boot, the Stockman contains a hybrid boot design that's ideal for individuals who won't be getting in and out of a saddle anytime soon.
The short and wide heel specific to Stockman boots measure less than the heel of classic western boots, so it's perfect for cowboys who won't be spending a majority of time sitting in their saddle. If you're constantly on your feet for hours on end, the short yet wide heel provides enough support and balance, so you don't feel any pain.
Stockman boot’s scallops have a noticeably deeper dip than any other cowboy boots. For those who don’t know what a scallop means, it is the top of the boot in which the shaft ends.
Also, the wide toe box and rubber sole particular to Stockman boots share similarities in regards to function with the cowboy work boot.
When you're talking about style, Stockman boots feature detailed and colorful stitching that mimics the look of the Classic Western boot. Ultimately, the fundamental difference between Stockman boots and other cowboy boots is its deeper scallop.
Since Western work boots are primarily used for practical purposes, it’ll cost less when compared to other cowboy boots. The low price is due to the cheap cowhide leather used as well as the small amount of artistry applied to the overall design of this cowboy boot.
Western work boots predominately feature roper-style heels that measure 1¾ inches or less, which means that they're ideal for walking than riding boots that feature heels measuring 2 inches.
The material of the soles vary, but more than half the time they're made with tread and traction rubber. Some Western work boots may have midsoles that are cushioned for effective shock absorption.
Western work boots come with shafts that mostly rest on the mid-calf portion of your leg, but some models may include shafts that rest lower on your leg. In general, the shaft on a Western work boot will measure about 9 inches to 12 inches in height.
In regards to toe shape, Western work boots have toe boxes that are either rounded or slightly tapered, which provide a comfortable fit that makes walking around a pain-free experience.
The Buckaroo cowboy boot comes with the most flair in regards to design when compared to all the other cowboy boots. If you want to draw everyone’s attention to your feet, Buckaroo cowboy boots should be your go-to model.
Evidently, the Buckaroo boot style is perfect for rodeo shows and entertainment purposes.
Buckaroo’s primary distinctive feature would be its elongated shaft that measures more than 14 inches in height. Some shafts are so high that they will reach your knees, which ensures your legs are protected during a rodeo show.
The shafts also contain intricate and detailed stitches that are not commonly seen on other cowboy boot models. These boots come with high heels that measure more than 2 inches in height, which makes them ineffective for walking around but excellent for riding.
Buckaroos are similar in style to Stockmans since they both include deep scallops, but that is where the similarities end.
Nowadays both men and women love to wear cowboy boots, so boots unique to each gender are produced to provide the best fit possible.
Most cowboy boot manufacturers produce models that vary in heel height and toe shape that can be either worn by both genders or by just women. One brand features a fashion heel that measures 2 inches in height that is only available for women, while shorter heels are available for both males and females.
Most brands offer more toe shape variety for women than men, so women have more toe shape options to choose from that guarantees an excellent fit.
A significant difference between women's and men's cowboy boots would be the sizing charts. Women cowboy boots have smaller sized widths than the widths on men's boot models.
Manufacturers typically have size charts specific to women sizes and men sizes that cover everything from foot size conversion to calf measurements.
In regards to color and fit, you’ll want to wear dark and close-fitted jeans rather than light blue work jeans. The boot-cut style provides the necessary room for your cowboy boots to go underneath.
Unless you're performing field work on horseback, you'll want to avoid tucking your jeans into your cowboy boots. Signature western denim brands that you should consider should include Wrangler or Cinch since they offer a multitude of style options.
Keep in mind that fit is more important than style, so the fit you want to go for shouldn’t be skin tight or too loose and should be long enough to cover your boots. Since you need to accommodate for your cowboy boots, the jeans inseam length should measure two inches more than your standard size.
If you’re going for a stylish look, a collared shirt would best complement your cowboy boots. In fact, the typical “cowboy shirt” that would be a great starting point consists of a simple button down that is either long sleeved or short sleeved.
To avoid looking tacky and in costume, you should avoid wearing western t-shirts, and opt out to wear button down collared shirts to give you a more put-together appearance.
If you’re going for a full-blown cowboy look, a cowboy hat is a must-have accessory. You’ll have to consider two main hat characteristics that include shape and material.
Two common hat materials consist of either straw or felt, with felt being the more expensive material. You don't want to be cheap if you decide on a felt hat, so you should buy one from a reputable hat manufacturer.
For those who want their felt hat to last long and maintain its appearance, a rabbit or beaver blend will prove to be a more worthy investment than a wool felt hat. Keep in mind that felt hats will maintain heat, which makes them unpractical for the summer.
A decent looking straw hat will go a long way if you don't want to spend a lot of money and expect to make use of it during the summertime. Straw hats come with high breathability, so they tend to stay cool on your head regardless of the outside temperature.
When choosing a hat shape, you'll realize how you have infinite options to chose from. Thankfully there are standard shapes to refer to that are an excellent starting point to the cowboy hat industry.
The most famous hat shape available today would be the cattleman, so you can't go wrong with that model choice. If you're going for an authentic Old West vibe, the derpy and the gus shape would be the most common hat seen on the head of a cowboy.
If you want to wear cowboy boots every day whether it's a business environment or a social setting, you'll need to move to Texas where it is socially acceptable to wear cowboy boots anytime, anywhere.
For those who don't live in Texas, you shouldn't limit your boot choices because you don't need to be a cowboy to appreciate and wear Western cowboy boots. Everyone from actors to presidents has worn cowboy boots, so you can easily wear a pair as well.
You'll get the most use out of your cowboy boots if you attend a rodeo or take up western dancing lessons, but you can even pull off cowboy boots in some of America's fashion-forward cities that extend past the South.
Some things to consider before buying boots:
Unfortunately, each cowboy boot manufacturer utilizes unique foot-shaped molds that are often kept secret from the general public, so you can’t expect to find a standard boot size. This means a boot size from a certain brand will fit just right while the same size from another brand will run too small.
If you’re buying cowboy shoes online, you should refer to the manufacturer's size chart, width measurements as well as calf measurements to ensure the best possible boot fit. You can even go to a retail store to try on several pairs of cowboy boots, and use that as a guide to ordering online.
Recent cowboy boot design innovations feature an extremely narrow toe section, which is a development that wasn't common amongst some of the first cowboy boots. Unfortunately, this stylistic change is not of practical use and is something to keep in mind if you have broad feet.
For those with wide feet, you’ll want to search for boots that taper near your toes and don’t narrow off to form a sharp v-shape. While you walk, a tight toe section will cause the cowboy boot to chafe and will put additional pressure on your bones that will cause immense aching.
To properly break in a pair of cowboy boots, you first need to ensure that heel feels a bit loose because as the side begins to break in, the heel responds by sliding further back to fill the loose section.
Buyers commonly make the mistake of purchasing cowboy boots that are too tight around the heel area, so during the break in process, the heel will pinch and cause blisters and aches to emerge.
Out of all the parts of a cowboy boot, its shafts and sides take the longest to break in.
Several approaches can quicken the standard break in time required for cowboy boots, but people often take the long route and walk around wearing their cowboy boots till they conform to their feet. Keep in mind that the leather used to make cowboy boots won't stretch much, so they shouldn't hurt the moment you try them on.
Another method people use to break in their cowboy boots is through heating the boots up. You’ll have to expose your cowboy boots to hot steam, and they’ll be ready for your feet when the boots feel flexible yet soft to the touch.
The flexible nature of the boots forces the leather to conform to your feet at a faster pace, which as a result speeds up the overall break in process. You should keep the cowboy boots on your feet until the leather cools to room temperature.
Some tips to keep your cowboy boots shining:
If you disregard conditioning your cowboy boots, both dust and dirt will seep into the leather and continue to dry out the fibers that are responsible for your cowboy boot’s durable quality.
After cleaning and drying your cowboy boots, the next step would be to apply conditioner because only then can the conditioner effectively pierce through the boot's pores, so the leather maintains its soft and flexible nature.
You don’t want the color on your boots to fade over time, so it’s recommended to use leather specific conditioners that are lanolin-based since it can prevent your boots from changing colors.
There are also oil based conditioners that come in handy for those who have dark cowboy boots since each time you apply this conditioner; it will further darken your boot.
All you have to do is pour a dollop of conditioner onto a soft cloth and continue to massage it into the boot. Extremely dry boots typically absorb the conditioner at fast rates, so you may need to apply more than one coat.
Keep in mind that you want to avoid applying one thick coat of conditioner and should apply two thin coats for a deep cleaning.
Specifically for leather cowboy boots, you’ll need to use either a soft brush or a damp cloth to clean off excess dirt and dust buildup that will damage your boots otherwise.
For those who have mud caked all over their boots and the damp cloth isn’t doing the trick, you should consider using a toothbrush since it is an effective way to remove the hard to remove dirt piled around the welt and the sole of your cowboy boots.
If the toothbrush isn’t strong enough, shoe cleaner is your next best hope.
Polishing your cowboy boots isn’t a necessary part of the cleaning process, but it will convert a pair of old boots to looking new and shiny, which comes in handy if you’re going to a formal event that requires you to wear your cowboy boots.
You can also remove deep scratches and scuffs when you apply leather shoe polish that matches the boots texture and color. Make sure to apply the polish in thin layers and don't forget to buff in between each layer until your boots exhibit the finish you want.
Hopefully, you now have a thorough understanding of cowboy boots, so you can expertly buy yourself a pair without having to worry about it fitting your feet.
For those who want a bit more guidance, you should check out our buying guide since it’ll contain detailed reviews of expert recommended cowboy boots.