There's no doubt that the cowboy boot is a classic American style. There may be doubts, however, when it comes to pulling them off and wearing them right. After all, not all of us are as at home on the range as others. Luckily, our man in Texas, Paul Stinson, has given some serious thought to the matter. Here's what he's learned about the most Western of footwear, along with a few tips on how to choose and break in your very first pair. And don't worry—you don't have to sport a Stetson or be handy with a lasso to wear yours with authority.
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m no cowboy. I’ve ridden a horse, seen my fair share of spaghetti westerns, and once tried an Italian joint in Amarillo called Western Spaghetti, but I’m no cowboy. And because you’re reading this instead of driving a herd of cattle, my guess is neither are you. Chalk it up to dreams deferred and roads not taken. The good news? Even if your job is more dealing with bullsh*t than actual bulls, you can still embrace the rugged spirit of the American west and put some Rooster Cogburn in your step by sporting a pair of genuine hell–for–leather cowboy boots. A few tips, if it’s your first rodeo.
Take a quick bootorial.
Cowboy boot form follows function, and while there are many stylistic variations, there are but two basic types of boots: traditional western style and ropers. The tall tops of traditional western boots protect your legs from brambles and rattlesnakes along the trail, the pointed toes slide your feet easily into the stirrups, and the distinctive high, underslung heels (a.k.a. “Cuban heels”) help you maintain your grip without slipping forward. Incidentally, they also provide terrific percussion accompaniment to my—I mean your—Mick Jagger rooster strut.
Ropers, on the other hand—or foot, as it were—are a shorter Wellington-style boot with rounded toes and low, squared-off heels. Thank rodeos for this one: the calf-roping event requires a cowboy to ride horseback, lasso a calf, dismount his horse, chase down said calf, and tie up its legs. A fresh pair of Air Jordans might make the process a bit flashier, but rest assured it all goes down easier in ropers.
Do some sole searching.
Well-made cowboy boots will have leather soles and stacked leather heels (you’ll be able to see the stripes). Handmade boots in particular will have rows of little dots on the instep marking the wooden pegs that attach the soles. When it comes to the tops of the boots, the possibilities are endless—it’s the cost that might be the limiting factor. A good pair of leather boots with minimal frills will set you back a couple hundred bucks, while a hand-sewn pair of alligator, ostrich, or stingray—yep, stingray—boots from the legendary house of Lucchese, for example, will add another zero to the price tag. If you’re ready to start browsing, it’s tough to beat the wares at Austin’s venerable Allens Boots on South Congress Avenue, or the handcrafted stunners at Heritage Boot just down the street. And if you want the genuine article without spending a fistful of dollars, don’t be shy about walking in another man’s footsteps. A used pair of boots will be cheaper and likely broken-in as well.
Learn how to walk. Then learn how to dance.
Cowboy boots won’t fit like your other shoes, but don’t get a hitch in your get-a-long—they’re not supposed to. They should be snug over your foot with enough room in the toe and just a little slip in the heel. At first you might feel like you’re skating, but when the leather gets roughed up you’ll have plenty of traction. That’s when it’s time to mosey into the nearest honky-tonk and learn how to dance. Cowboy boots make for one hell of a moonwalk, but traditionalists might suggest the Texas two-step. It’s simple: slow…slow…quick-quick, slow…slow…quick-quick. Repeat until someone starts a fight.
Go western, young man. Or don’t.
By all means, break out your turquoise-snap shirt and ten-gallon hat if you’re feeling frisky, but don’t think you have to western-up the rest of your outfit just to match your feet. Cowboy boots can be dressed up or down and matched with anything from your favorite khakis to a pair of crisp blue Wranglers. You’ll want to stick with straight leg or boot-cut trousers, though, as slim pants might not fit over boots. Two final style suggestions, take ‘em or leave ‘em: unless you’re Daisy Duke, skip the shorts, and unless you’ve got a part in Urban Cowboy 2: Disco Vaquero, leave the rhinestones at home.
Name that dude.
Don’t be surprised if your new footwear has you feeling like a new man. And as long as you’re embracing your inner cowboy, you might as well name him too. After all, John Wayne was first Marion Morrison. Butch and Sundance were born Bob and Harry. As for me, I still can’t decide between “Chet Palomino” and “The Tumbleweed Kid.” Until I do, I’ll let my boots make the introductions.