The origin of the cowboy boot is a bit of a mystery with no definitive point of origin, though many believe the first pair to be made in either Kansas or Texas. The cowboy boot takes inspiration from the Vaquero traditions in Mexico, European cavalry, the Wellington boot, and even Hollywood celebrities. Over time, various iterations and incarnations have led us to the iconic boot that we recognize today.
Cowboy boots can be identified by their pointed or rounded toe, Cuban heel, scalloped edge, high shaft, and, of course, no laces! Each feature of the cowboy boot has a purpose, contributing to its practicality and popularity. The pointed or rounded toe helps the wearer maneuver a stirrup. A Cuban heel allows a firmer hold in a stirrup. Its scalloped shape makes them easy to pull on. The high shaft means more protection higher up on the leg. Finally, laces often come untied and get caught which can harm the wearer; removing the laces creates a safer streamlined shoe.
The cowboy boot was crafted with care and intention, a precise tool to aid and protect the wearer. Originally, they were always handmade by a skilled craftsman and custom tailored to the owner’s foot. While a custom fit remains the most enviable (albeit more expensive) choice, mail order boots makes them more affordable and accessible to more people.
The functionality of the boots combined with their durability and affordable price sparked their initial popularity amongst farmers and cowboys. However, in the late ’30s and early ’40s, the boots gained mainstream popularity as Hollywood became enamored with them. Bing Crosby was one of the first celebrities to adopt the style followed by actors such as John Wayne and Gregory Peck; their bootmaker of choice was Sam Lucchese.
Hollywood’s love of the cowboy boot coincided with the emergence of Western movies and together demanded flashier and fancier versions of the traditional boot. The “John Wayne Toe” is a prime example of this. The standard round or pointed toe was swapped out with a square toe for added style and flair.
Nowadays the cowboy boot remains a must-have item. It is as stylish as it is practical and can be found in countless colors and materials with intricate stitching and designs embroidered onto them. In recent years, innovations such as zippers and rubber soles have been added for comfort or ease, allowing more people to enjoy the cowboy boot. Each improvement is a testament to the history and enduring nature and popularity of the cowboy boot.