It’s official! Cowboy boots are this season’s hottest footwear. On the runways, the pages of Vogue, and, maybe most importantly of all, on the Instagram pages of the celebrities known as fashion icons – these boots are showing up in all the right places.
Why is that?
Well, for one thing, cowboy boots are utilitarian. They really do what they were designed to do, which is protect your feet under all conditions, no matter how rough. This may be why, in tough times – recessions; times of high unemployment, political unrest, war, pandemics – we see a resurgence in their popularity.
People may find their extreme toughness reassuring, and a symbol of strength in the face of challenge. It may be that, when times are turbulent, we relate more to the cowboy – as a symbol of a time in America’s history when life was really hard, perhaps, but, even more so, as an example of the kind of person who’s tough enough to handle it, to prevail even.
There’s also no arguing with the fact that cowboy boots represent a certain classic style. There are fads – and cowboy boots can certainly be trendy – but there’s something about them that always telegraphs that the wearer has a certain amount of taste. As much as timeless pieces like the Burberry scarf, the Chanel suit, Converse All-Stars, or Levi’s 501 jeans, cowboy boots are always a good wardrobe investment.
Cowboy boots are also extremely versatile. They’re gender-flexible and can be dressed up or down. Anyone can wear them with anything. Jeans are a no-fail pairing with cowboy boots, for everyone, and any cut of jeans will work (boot cut, skinny, tapered, or simply straight-leg). For men, a T-shirt and jeans are effortlessly cool and, dare I say it, manly. Swap the T-shirt for a button-up and make sure your boots are polished (or at least not scuffed), and you’ve got an office- or even dinner-ready look.
For women, dresses and skirts, long or short, look great with cowboy boots. The ruggedness of the boot cuts the sweetness of the dress or skirt, giving your outfit dimension. Cowboy boots also look cute with denim shorts and leggings. For both men and women, nice cowboy boots look unexpectedly great with some suits.
These are just ideas. Cowboy boots are so versatile, I suggest you follow your heart, make a pit stop at your mirror and, if you like the way your ensemble looks, wear it with pride. If no one’s worn it with cowboy boots before, you’ll look cutting edge and might just start a new trend.
If you’re interested in buying yourself a pair of cowboy boots but aren’t sure where to start, this article’s for you. Though the uninitiated may think there’s just one type of boot called “cowboy boots,” you’re reading this article because you know better.
Before you shop, it’s good to have an idea of what kind (or, if your budget allows, kinds) of cowboy boots you’re going to get. You may be surprised by just how many types of cowboy boots there are to choose from, and you will certainly have a better idea of which types suit you best. Let’s get started.
First off, what makes a boot a cowboy boot?
Though there are several distinct types of cowboy boots to choose from, most (though not all) cowboy boots have the following things in common:
Stitching: The defining feature of cowboy boots – that is, what makes a cowboy boot a cowboy boot, to most people – is decorative stitching on the shaft. This stitching originated as a way to hold together the layers of leather that made up the boot. Today, glue usually does that job.
Scallop: Cowboy boots are distinctly different from other types of horse riding boots, like traditional English riding boots, in that they have a more pronounced dip at the top of the shaft in both the front and the back, giving the top of the boot a curved, or scalloped, look.
Leather: Traditionally, at least, all cowboy boots are made of leather. This has changed, as most styles can now be found in a variety of different materials. But, if you’re going for a classic, you may want to find a leather – or at least a “leather-look” boot.
What are the different types of cowboy boots?
The main categories are riding boots, work boots, and fashion or dress boots. We’ll start with riding boots.
The Western-style riding boot is probably what most people think of when they hear “cowboy boots.” This may be because Western boots are the original cowboy boot, the ones that came before all the other styles emerged. Features of this traditional cowboy boot include a one and a half-inch angled heel, also called a “Cuban heel” or a “riding heel.”
This type of heel was originally designed as a safety feature, to help horseback riders stay in the saddle. Even if you’re not riding, you may like the look of the Western boot’s high heel the same way you may prefer a stiletto-heeled shoe to a flat with certain outfits.
A classic Western boot has a high boot shaft. That is, it goes pretty far up the calf. Today’s Western boot has evolved to one that’s available in a variety of heights – from very short, almost ankle boots, to ones that reach almost to the knee.
The traditional fabric for Western boots is cowhide leather, but this too has evolved. Western boots are now made of leather; alligator, snake, ostrich, or other exotic animal skin; vinyl, and more. Though decorative stitching is a hallmark of almost all cowboy boots, Western boots are known for sometimes being stitched with particularly elaborate, embellished, and aesthetically pleasing patterns.
Traditionally, the toe style of the Western boot is pointed. Why? A couple of reasons. One, the pointy toes make hooking one’s foot into a stirrup a bit easier. And two, this toe box shape is the best protection for a cowboy’s little piggies in case a moody horse decides to stomp on his foot!
The Roper boot was developed especially for rodeo cowboys who participated in the rodeo sport of calf roping. It has a lower heel than a Western boot, and the heel is square rather than angled. This heel design is important for calf ropers for several reasons. One, it helps them run faster (an important feature, as calves, don’t like being roped and often have to be chased down).
Two, it helps protect the cowboy’s ankle during hurried dismounts. The heel of the roper cowboy boot is often known as a “walking heel” because it’s more comfortable for walking than the Western boot’s angled heel. This is something to consider if you are not a cowboy and tend to do more walking than riding. In terms of shaft height, ropers have a tighter, shorter shaft than Western boots. And their toe shape is rounded.
Among true cowboy boots – that is, cowboy boots worn by actual cowboys and not just fashion icons – Buckaroo riding boots are known as the flashiest. They have a very tall shaft (more than 14 inches high); a “saddle,” which is an extra piece of leather across the vamp; and, often, holes in the scallop that help the wearer pull them on.
One reason the Buckaroo boot is so fancy is that it has a higher heel than even the Western boot (upwards of 2 inches). Buckaroos are also known for intricate stitching and color. They come with round toe, square toe, and wide square toe styles.
How did Buckaroos get their name? Apparently, the word “buckaroo” originates from the Spanish word “vaquero,” which means cowboy. Buckaroos are known as Buckaroos because they’re associated with the vaqueros, who were the original cowboys of the Great Basin, which extends from Mexico Oregon, and California to Wyoming. This part of the country is known for its tall brush, and the tall shaft of the Buckaroo is good for protecting the cowboy’s legs from getting scraped and poked.
The main difference between Stockman riding boots and other types is that they have a deeper scallop. (The scallop is the dip at the top of the shaft of the boot.) Otherwise, the Stockman boot is similar to the Roper in that it has a comfortable low heel. Like the Western Work Boot, its heel is often made of rubber. Like Western boots, Stockmans are known for their gorgeously stitched, sometimes colorful, patterns. The toe box of the Stockman is wider than some other cowboy boot styles, like Western and Roper.
Source: Boot Barn
If you’re looking for both comfort and cost-efficiency, and aren’t so concerned about fancy stitching or other purely aesthetic elements, the Western Work Boot may be your best choice. The heel of these boots tends to be low enough to be comfortable for walking, and the sole and heel are often made of rubber – which, again, is a bonus when it comes to comfort and cost.
Other unique features of the Work Boot are tread on the soles for greater traction and a cushioned midsole for extra comfort. As for shaft height, it can be mid-calf or slightly shorter. And toe shape is usually rounded or subtly tapered.
The Packer is a lace-up boot with a higher heel designed for riding. A lace-up cowboy boot? If you’ve never heard of such a thing, you’re not alone. Packers are named for, and worn by, cowboys who ride pack mules and horses in mountainous terrain.
The boot’s laces hold it firmly in place, giving the wearer’s ankle additional support – which comes in handy when you’re frequently jumping on and off your horse in uneven terrain. Packers look a lot like other lace-up work boots (but cooler). Their high heel is the striking difference between these work boots and any others.
Cowboy boots designed especially for women come in women’s sizes, and, in some cases, styles and colors deemed “feminine.” Other than that, there’s no difference between cowgirl boots and cowboy boots. Cowgirl boots come in all the same variations: Western, Roper, Packer, etc.
Fashion or Dress Boots
Fashion or dress boots are cowboy boots designed to be worn more for their looks than their functionality, and, when it comes to looks, all I can say is wow! There are no rules when it comes to colors, designs, materials involved, shaft height, heel type, or toe shape. And, because there are no rules, there are no limits to the variations you’ll find.
Among cowboy boot connoisseurs, there is no comparison between handmade and machine-made cowboy boots. And, unlike other types of footwear and clothing, cowboy boots are still handmade by lots of producers. Interestingly, boot and shoemaking were one of the last industries in the U.S. to be industrialized.
And in the case of cowboy boots, a remarkable number of craftspeople still haven’t succumbed. Though you can pay a lot for handmade cowboy boots, you can also buy some handmade boots for less than machine-made ones. And there are a wide variety of handcrafted – meaning made partially by machine and partially by hand – boots available too. It really pays to shop around.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the most popular cowboy boot?
According to Amazon, the most popular type of cowboy boot, in terms of sales, is the Western, which held 8 of the top 10 spots as of this writing. Interestingly, a particular wide square toe Western Work Boot holds the #1 spot on both Amazon’s best-selling and its “most wished for” lists.
Which type of cowboy boots is the most comfortable?
There is no one type that is objectively more comfortable than the others. Everyone’s feet are different and what feels good to one person may not be ideal for someone else. To find a comfortable boot, the most important thing to do is try them on in person. Next, according to Lone Star Boot Reviews, there are three elements to pay attention to heel height, toe shape, and insole type.
If your foot is fairly flat, a higher heel might be uncomfortable for you, and a difference of even a quarter inch in height can be significant. Which toe shape is most comfortable? This depends on many factors. Again, as every foot is slightly different, there are no hard and fast rules. One thing that does seem to be true is that the wide square toe is the one that fits the most different foot sizes, shapes, and widths comfortably.
In quality boots, you will find two main types of insoles: built-in leather insoles and removable foam insoles. Both have their advantages. Over time, the leather insole molds to your foot, becoming almost like a second skin – and what could be more comfortable than that? Removable gel insoles, on the other hand, feel almost like a running shoe and can be periodically replaced for renewed comfort.
What are the different cowboy boot toe types?
There are 5 basic cowboy boot toe types of shapes. The good news is that most kinds of boots come in all 5 types.
J or S: Also known as needle toes, roach killers, or roach stompers, these sharply pointed toes are considered by some to be the most traditional, or authentic, type. S is more pointy than J.
D: A pointed toe that is squared off just at the point, as though cleanly snipped with a sharp pair of scissors, is also known as Snip or Snipped toe.
R: Tapered, with a Rounded tip, this is the most common shape of toe found in cowboy boots today.
W or U: Also known as a Roper toe, this shape is more fully round than the R.
Square: This wide, angular toe shape also comes in Broad or Wide varieties. This shape is considered the least traditional, but it also fits the most sizes and shapes of feet.
What are the different parts of cowboy boots called?
The basic parts of all cowboy boots are the same, though they will look different depending on the style of the boot:
Shaft: This is the part of the boot that encases the calf.
Piping: Stitching (not decorative) that runs along the side of the shaft, holding the front and the back together.
Vamp: The part of the boot that covers the top of the foot, it is sometimes decorated with a curlicue design called a toe bug.
Toe Box: This is a stiff piece that encases the boot wearer’s toes. Toe boxes come in several distinct shapes.
Pulls: Most, though not all, cowboy boots have either straps or holes designed to help you pull the boot on. These are located at the top and on either side of the boot shaft.