As any Texan will tell you, cowboy boots aren’t a shoe. They’re a lifestyle.
That’s truer than most people realize. In fact, cowboy boots are a direct result of the functional demands of the cowboy lifestyle.
Want to learn more about this fashion statement? Here’s a quick history of your favorite boots.
The Riding Boot, the Early Cowboy Boot
The riding boot (as in, footwear designed for use while on a horse’s back) is nothing new. Equestrian boots of some kind have been around for hundreds of years, with each culture carrying their own unique version. The European tradition, for example, takes its tall boots from military uniforms.
That said, most riding boots (including cowboy boots) have a few features in common.
Riding boots are designed to help the rider’s foot stay in position in the saddle. As such, most riding boots have a heel of at least an inch. Traditional cowboy boots have a rounded and angled heel for this purpose, though modern boots often have squared heels that make it easier to walk and run.
Cowboy boots, unlike European riding boots, don’t have laces. Western saddles are designed in such a way that laces would have caught.
The difference between cowboy boots and European riding boots is functional. Cowboys, unlike military horsemen, had to sit comfortably in the saddle for an entire day at a time, which meant they needed a boot that would provide comfort for hours.
This brings us to the contested beginnings of the cowboy boot.
The history of cowboy boots is tricky for historians to pin down, mostly because no one can quite agree where they began. Some say they started in Texas, while others say they started in Kansas. Some attribute the style to Charles Hyer, who designed a custom pointed-toe boot for a Colorado cowboy.
The trick of that argument, of course, is that pointed toes didn’t become widely popular until the 40s and 50s when manufacturing took the lead. For cowboys working on their feet, a square toe was more functional.
Either way, early styles of cowboy boots were influenced by European riding boots, particularly two styles of boots: Wellingtons and Hessians.
The Wellington (as in Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington) was an English boot of brown or black leather with side seams and a one-inch heel. Hessian boots are also originally English, but they were introduced by Germans and feature a distinct v-cut in the front, with the boot falling below the knee.
Cowboy boots are also influenced by the vaquero tradition. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, landowners taught Native Mexicans to ride well-trained horses and wrangle cattle, calling them vaqueros (from the Spanish word for cow).
Later, when these cattle herders traveled into the U.S. in the 1600s, they brought various vaquero traditions with them, including clothing and, yes, boots.
Industrial Revolution and Rising Popularity
During the Industrial Revolution, there was a major turning point in manufacturing. Fortunately for cowboys, this coincided with the golden era of cowboys (from 1866 to 1886).
The Industrial Revolution ushered in the mass production of cowboy boots, and soon enough, fashion magazines began featuring boots with decorative embellishments.
Modern cowboy boots began once Hollywood took over and popularized cowboys as a cultural icon. Hollywood took the traditional, functional cowboy boot and made it fit for the big screen, with colorful stitching designs, decorations, and nontraditional boot materials.
So if you’re looking in history for a moment that brings us to the best cowboy boots of today, turn to Hollywood’s tradition of western films.
Cowboy Boots and Other Fashion Trends
Cowboy boots have come a long way since the early days, and that’s to the benefit of everyone who loves them today.
Want to learn more about the latest lifestyle trends and where they come from? Check out our blog for more awesome posts like this one.