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.
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.
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.
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.