Nothing says "Wild West" more than a cowboy hat and a pair of cowboy boots. You see handsome working cowboys and cowgirls wearing them, you see the silver screen "cowboys" wearing them, and you even see a would-be-cowboys and cowgirls on the runways and streets across the world wearing them. But do you know how a cowboy boot came to be?
Despite claims by two famous boot makers, one in Kansas and one in Texas, that they were the very first ones to come up with the cowboy boot style, nobody really knows who invented this western wardrobe staple. What we do know is that, after the Civil War was over in 1865, the cowboys driving cattle across the country discovered that the military style boots they were wearing were not completely suited to the job. It is said that, around 1870, some ingenious cowboy took his military style boots to a shoemaker and requested that he rework them. The said cowboy asked for a pointed toe so that he could get his foot into the stirrup easier, and a higher, thicker, underslung heel so that his foot wouldn't come out of the stirrup during the rough rides across rugged terrain. He also asked for a longer shaft to protect his legs from thorns, snakes, barbed wire, mesquite trees, and other dangers one could encounter on a trail.
The first known pairs of cowboy boots had very little style and were intended for utilitarian, working purposes only, but they did the job they were made to do and this style of boot quickly spread among the cowboy population.
Mind you, at first, all cowboy boots had to be custom made. A cowboy would have to go to a cobbler, have his feet measured, and have a pair of boots made just for him. Of course, it didn't take long until an enterprising cobbler started a mail order business. Getting a pair of boots this way was a much humbler affair, but it allowed an opportunity for cowboys all over the wide, wild West to get a pair of their own without having to travel miles and miles to the nearest cobbler.
Needless to say, once the business took off, demand for a better style arose and, instead of plain black or brown stitching on the boot, stitching in different colors and patterns appeared followed by inlays and overlays, embroidery, sequins and studs, and any Western style trend you could possibly think of. Cowboy boot was no longer an utilitarian piece of footwear but a highly coveted, fashionable style statement. Just look at the selection of women's boots below! A 19th century cowboy or cowgirl would probably not know what to make out of them.
Should you (mistakenly) surmise that the American cowboy invented the style of cowboy boots, we've got to give you some unexpected background information. The pointed toe and stacked, underslung heel were not the 19th century invention. As a matter of fact, way, way before that (think approximately between the 1st and 7th centuries), a nomadic warrior people named the Huns wore a similar style boot to help them stay in the saddle for a long time during their conquest raids. Atilla the Great and his band of marauding, nomadic warriors might not have been the very first to use stirrups, but historical research so far points to them as definitely the first horsemen to use them.
The Huns wore boots with pointed toes and 2 inch heels to help their feet stay in the stirrups easier. If a Hun rider was particularly wealthy, he would wear red boots. Their expert horsemanship allowed the Huns to expand their empire all the way to today's Western Europe (France, Switzerland, Northern Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands). So, for all we know, maybe that first cowboy who requested that his military style boots be altered to better suit long hours spent in the saddle, maybe, just maybe he had some Hun blood in him.
Regardless of who first invented them, cowboy boots are here to stay. Each season, major designers such as Lucchese, Toni Lama, Old Gringo, Corral and others come up with new, more exciting and many times more outlandish designs for their boots. Do an online search for cowboy boots, and you will find a plethora of styles and colors. We are sure you'll find at least one pair that you like. Our problem is that we want most of them. Oh, the champagne taste on a moonshine budget!
Note: The choices shown above are our personal choices from a wide selection of styles available on and sponsored by Amazon.com
Tell us what brand of cowgirl boots is your favorite. Please share in the comments below.
the mind and hands behind hART Sense Design. I am a designer and hand-maker of one-of-a-kind and limited edition jewelry and accessories for artistic, chic cowgirls, boho babes, and lovers of all things western.
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