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What are Cowboy Boots?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Cowboy boots have a long history. The first Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, designed a calf-high boot with a low heel. Constructed from four separate pieces, the boot was easy to make in large quantities and became the boot of choice for soldiers in the U.S. Army. When those soldiers began settling the American West following the Civil War, they took their boots with them. Modern cowboy boots have a similar construction to these 19th century Wellingtons.

As their name suggests, cowboy boots were developed for men driving cattle across the range. The high tops of the boots protected the cattlehands’ legs as they passed through rough terrain, and the slight heel helped keep their feet in the stirrup as they rode their horses. Using thick leather or hide made the boots more durable. Decoration of the boots was limited to stitching.

A cowboy hat.
A cowboy hat.

Nowadays, boots are made from a variety of animal skins and dyed in every imaginable color. In addition to creative stitching, leather may be tooled to create beautiful boot decorations. Some boots, especially those made of exotic skins, such as alligator or snake, may come with silver or metal tips on the toes. Those who wear cowboy boots for work, and not just as a fashion statement, may also a shiny set of spurs to the heel of their boots.

Some cowboy boots are made from alligator skin.
Some cowboy boots are made from alligator skin.

Cowboy boots have had several spikes of popularity in American fashion. In the 1950s when Hollywood Westerns were the rage, cowboy boots became broadly popular. Today, it is possible to find these vintage cowboy boots in specialty shops and through online retailers. At the turn of the millennium, Madonna popularized Western wear with her album, Music.

Many people pair a Western belt buckle with cowboy boots.
Many people pair a Western belt buckle with cowboy boots.

Cowboy boots have been consistently popular in certain regions of the United States, notably centers of country-western music, such as Nashville, and areas where cattle or sheep ranching is still common. As a nod to their Western roots, square dancers and line dancers may use cowboy boots when they perform.

Men’s and women’s cowboy boots look very similar, although they may have slightly different decorative flourishes. To get a good fit in a cowboy boot, the foot should fit comfortably within the width of the boot. The heel should not be jammed against the heel of the boot. Rather, it should be possible for the heel to have a very slight vertical movement inside the boot. Over time, the cowboy boot will stretch and become roomier.

Discussion Comments


I've always wondered why boots for men are called cowboy boots and the same name is used for women's boots. Girl "cowboys" were called cowgirls, so why not call their boots "cowgirl" boots?

Not all cowgirls were the tough, scruffy looking ones, there were some very feminine ones such as Dale Evans, Annie Oakley, and of course, Nancy Sinatra with her song, "these boots were made for walkin of these days, these boots are gonna walk all over you." And they wore "cowboy boots!"


When I was a young girl in the fifties, cowboy boots and cowboy attire, songs and everything "cowboy" were very popular among kids - both girls and boys. Our fashion and behavior was an imitation of what we saw on TV - cowboy shows were all the rage with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry,the Lone Ranger, and Gunsmoke.

We thought we were so cool all decked out in our cowboy boots and cowboy attire. The cowboy boots were usually cheap and didn't fit well. They often fell apart, but by then our feet had grown and we needed a new pair anyway.

I see very few kids wearing cowboy boots or playing cowboys today. Cowboy attire is just not the "in" thing, except in a few regions in the US.


I have loved the increase in cowboy boot wearing, but mine is for nostalgic reasons.

When I was a girl, I had these girl cowboy boots that went with my straight-out-of-a-western cowgirl outfit with red skirt and plaid red and white top. I wore that outfit every chance I could!

Now my friends are all having babies and I can't wait to buy them little girl and boy cowboy boots that they can roam around in and pretend they are cowboy and cowgirls just as I did when I was kid!


@Sinbad - I know where you can get some discount boots year around! There is a store in Nashville Tennessee and I can't for the life of me remember the name of it, but it is on or very near the main drag in downtown Nashville.

It is easy to find the main drag though, because it is the street with all of the famous bars such as Tootsie's (which I also highly suggest going to in your new cowboy boots as you will fit right in *and* they in true Nashville-style have live music from amazing bands playing all day).

But I digress, this store offers "buy one get one free" all year round on their cowboy boots and they have an amazing selection!

I realize there is a good chance you live far from Nashville, but I live in North Carolina and have made the trek several times to visit and enjoy Nashville and it has never disappointed!


I think fashion cowboy boots are making cowboy boots a little more of a nationwide phenomenon. I have even found them at my local retail chain! And the skinny jean trend helped as I think women were looking for ladies cowboy boots as a casual boot to wear over their skinny jeans.

Another outfit I have seen cowboy boots with that I love is sundresses and cowboy boots. It is always fun to put different touches on outfits and it adds a rustic edge to a very feminine edged outfit, and I love the end result - comfy, casual, yet statement made!

Does anyone know where to get discount cowboy boots? I think I am finally ready to purchase my cowboy boots! I had been waiting because they are expensive (though I have been told they last forever)!


@indemnifyme - That's funny you can identify people from different areas of the country based on the way they dress. But I think it's totally true. For example, I've noticed that people from New York City definitely have a distinctive style.

I actually wore cowboy boots as part of a costume for Halloween one year. They were extremely comfortable! Unfortunately, they aren't very popular where I live for every day wear either. I wish I had some kind of excuse to wear them, but I think I would just stick out like a sore thumb!


I think cowboy boots definitely enjoy regional popularity. I live on the east coast, and I rarely see anyone around here wearing cowboy boots, unless it's for a costume.

However, I used to work in a bar that was near a convention center. We would get all kinds of travelers, mostly from around the United States. One thing I've noticed is if a man is wearing cowboy boots, he's probably from Texas! Apparently cowboy boots are quite popular among Texans. However, I did also meet someone from Montana who was wearing a pair of cowboy boots too.

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    • A cowboy hat.
      By: Michael Flippo
      A cowboy hat.
    • Some cowboy boots are made from alligator skin.
      By: eastmanphoto
      Some cowboy boots are made from alligator skin.
    • Many people pair a Western belt buckle with cowboy boots.
      By: Nejron Photo
      Many people pair a Western belt buckle with cowboy boots.
    • Cowboy boots were traditionally worn by men who drove cattle.
      By: Sascha Burkard
      Cowboy boots were traditionally worn by men who drove cattle.