It sounds simple: leather underneath and on top of your foot. For something so simple, a cowboy boot can be pretty complicated.
A sole with a heel. A toe shape. An upper to join them together. An insole or cushioning on the footbed. A shaft that joins the upper and goes up, up, up the calves. That’s it.
Right? Well, not so fast, and not so simple. The master crafters at bootmaker Lucchese made their list of parts of cowboy boots, right here, and they counted 15 cowboy boot parts!
Yep, cowboy and cowgirl boots just got more complicated. That’s why a superior quality cowboy boot maker considers all these functional factors deserves your hard-earned dollar.
But cowboy boots are not just about functional technology. They’re fashion and style, too. All that surface space just waiting to be tanned, embroidered, dyed, polished. Cowboy boots are the place where function and style meet–on your feet!
So, let’s dive in and learn more about the function and style considerations of the main parts of cowboy boots.
Cowboy Boot / Cowgirl Boot Fit
When putting on your cowboy boots for the first time, you'll feel a little bit of resistance on the instep (the top of your foot). This is normal, since the boot is intended to fit snugly.
The boot should not be tight, but should not be loose either - it should be snug. Boots have to fit snugly to keep out dirt and mud that are part of the cowboy's daily existence. Over time, the boot moulds to your foot's unique shape.
Some folks with high arched feet have more trouble putting boots, and may need a wider shaft, larger size or wider boot to fit. If the instep is too tight, try a wider width. If the instep is too loose, try a narrower width.
Do not press down at the end of the boot to feel where your toes end, as this could damage the boot. Instead, you should be able to wiggle your toes.
Cowboy Boot Shaft: Function
Starting from the top, the leather shaft surrounds your calves. Shafts are functional–they protect your feet from sagebrush, snakes, and low-biting dogs. Plus, they protect you from puddles.
Shafts are made with quarters–that’s leather pieces stitched together with piping, a sturdy connector holding the pieces together.
Almost from the beginning, increasing the ease of foot entry and exit became a fixation. Pull straps at the side allowed for adjustment. Small strategic cuts in the leather at the top of the shaft allowed the calf to breathe a little. Pull tabs and pull holes were added as a more active assist to get those darned high boots on.
200 years later, the ever-innovative Ariat, who has 150 patents, took a page from clothing design, and installed a gusset in the shaft of a cowboy boot.
You know the gusset–it’s that extra piece of material in between two others. A gusset creates space. That space is very welcome if your calves are a little bigger. Let’s face it, wouldn’t it be nice if some cowboy boots were just a little bit easier to put on?
Ariat says its “patent-pending U-Turn Entry System™ with flexible gore panel in the back of the shaft allows boots to be pulled on and off easily…”
Cowboy Boot Shaft: Design
While shaft functionality is important, it’s also a big surface that invites big designs. Inlays of 2 or more leather layers were often used but due to labour and material costs, embroidery is a lot easier on your western boot budget. Wei’s loves stocking boots with embroidery with intricate, swooshing, graceful designs in rows of colourful threads.
Heel Down, Boy!
The traditional heel was designed for getting on your horse quickly, staying on once you’re there, and getting off quickly. The cowboy heel had a slant, and often a spur to help the horse ‘giddy up’.
With a height of about 2 inches, the traditional cowboy boot heel helped prevent the rider’s foot from slipping through the stirrups. Safety–that’s what a cowboy boot is all about.
But we don’t all ride all the time, and people still like western boots, so different heel types were created for specific applications.
Take a look at the heels made by Boulet boots, based in Quebec:
Roper heels were created for the cowboy who, often in a rodeo competition, needed to ride after an escaping animal, then dismount and rope it. The low height (around 1 inch) and larger flat surface area made it more stable. It’s also better for walking and some folks call it a “walking heel”. But Ropers are not ideal riding boots, because your feet could go through the stirrups!
Wei’s stocks cowboy and cowgirl boots with cowboy heels, dogger heels, Roper heels and more. Search on Wei’s website for the style you want.
You’ll notice the big red X on the image of a Roper heel. While Boulet may not make Roper heels for their different boot styles, Wei’s has custom-ordered a Roper-heeled “500” style for decades. Roper heels and walking heels are also available in styles from several manufacturers.
If you’re planning on spurs, you want a cowboy heel with a spur ridge that supports the spur installation. Olathe goes one step further by including a tough rawhide heel counter directly above the heel. The heel counter protects the boot–and your foot–from the spur. Rawhide is tough but it does have one drawback–it can discolour.
The heel is usually covered with a heel cap which provides stability, grip and durability. If the rest of the sole is smooth leather, you want a grippy heel cap to keep from slipping. Heel caps are usually made with a rubber compound. When it wears down, it can easily be replaced without tinkering with the integrity of the heel itself.
Cowboy boot heels have their own list of popular styles, from the height and slant of a traditional cowboy heel to a low shoe, Roper, or ‘walking’ heel, and all the heels in between.
Best Toe Forward
Pointed toe styles such as a cowboy toe or snip toe are often the choice for dressier occasions, and of course still work best at getting into those stirrups without a snag.
A lot of people prefer round toes or “R” toes, both available on traditional boots.
Look at all the toe shapes available in cowboy boots!
These days, square toes are probably the most popular style. Why? Well, the shape mimics the shape of your foot a lot better. Less “wasted space” in the toe box. Often these square toes are paired with a Roper heel.
A Sole to Stand On
The cowboy boot sole you choose should reflect how you use the boot. Will you be walking on the sidewalks, or dancing on the floor?
You could choose a traditional leather sole that’s smooth but can also slide when dancing. Leather soles break in quickly. They are slim and look great, but offer very little cushioning.
Will you be working the farm, riding, or taking walks on gravel roads? You want a good-gripping new technology TPU rubber made from a blend of rubber and plastic with properties of elasticity, and resistance to oil, grease, and abrasion.
These high-tech soles target support for different areas of the foot, based on user experience. If you’re making a boot for riders, you need to know what riders think.
Some soles such as Ariat’s Duratread are treated against “barnyard acid” for longer life. Or, you can’t go wrong when choosing a Vibram sole for your Western boot. Almost all major brands have a few styles with Vibram soles.
Add comfort with high quality insole from Wei’s, specifically made for square toe or round toe footwear or running shoes made by brands like Ariat, Red Wing, and Superfeet. These after-market insoles are usually a higher quality compared to the original boot insole.
Leather Types for Western Boots
Cow leather is amazing–it’s tough, waterproof, and can usually be repaired, the ideal material for boots. Read Wei’s Leather FAQ to learn more.
Calfskin has a smooth, flexible appearance due to its tighter pores. It is durable, and is more expensive due to its production process. Lanoline based polish is recommended for calfskin.
Bullhide is stiff and most suitable for the shaft of a boot, since the foot of a boot should provide some flexibility.
Also known as steer leather, this is a stiffer leather more suitable for the shaft than the foot portion of a cowboy boot.
Since the beginning of time, humans have used animal skins to clothe themselves. Exotic cowboy and cowgirl boots continued this tradition but as demand grew, animal populations diminished and restrictions are now in place against the sale of exotic leathers across international borders.
Wei’s exotic boots have been stocked in adherence to all applicable laws in Canada. They are for sale only in Canada and cannot be shipped to any other country.
If you’re looking for men’s cowboy or women’s cowgirl boots in Canada, check out Wei’s selection of caiman, lizard, ostrich, and other exotic leather cowboy and cowgirl boots.
Exotic leathers are typically used for the boot portion that covers your foot, and is always seen even when you’re wearing boot cut jeans. The shaft has a larger surface area and is typically covered by pants, so it’s cost-effective to use cow leather on the shaft.
- Lizard skin scales are smaller than caiman, alligator or crocodile skins. The smaller pattern produces a very fine-looking dress boot. The Justin men’s 3112 and women’s L3112 are fine-looking dress boots with black lizard.
- Caiman is part of the alligator family. Their scales or tiles can take and hold a high shine. The smaller the tile the more flexible the boot and the less likely to crack.
Problems can occur when caiman leather dries or deteriorates between the scales and for this reason, some care must be taken to wiping or brushing the boots after use, removing dust from between the scales. Exotic leather conditioners with specific formulas for these leathers are recommended.
- Ostrich is a very popular leather, Ostrich has tell-tale points where a “full quill” bird’s feathers were located. Ostrich can be sensitive to conditioners, so test on a small patch prior to use. Wei’s stocks ostrich boots from Ariat, Boulet, Justin, Lucchese and other brands.
Care for Exotic Leathers
Only 2 steps are needed for exotic boot care–just dust your exotic men’s cowboy or women’s cowgirl boots after wear, and condition them monthly depending on frequency of use.
First, after you wear them, use a soft brush to get the dust out from between the scales.
Second, on a monthly basis when you’re wearing western boots in Summer, use an exotic or reptile conditioner that has the right amount of oils for exotic leathers. Use a brush or your hands to wipe a thin layer on all parts of the leather, then let dry completely before brush buffing.
When Winter comes and you store your exotic cowboy or cowgirl boots, condition them once more, let dry, and put them back in the box to avoid light and avoid them getting bumped around. Keep the shape by stuffing the boots with old newspapers.
With a bit of care, you'll enjoy your cowboy or cowgirl boots for many years.