FAQ - Cowboy Boots
How Can You Tell if a Western Boot Fits?
When trying the boot for the first time, you should feel the top of the instep. 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.
What Are the Parts of a Cowboy Boot?
Image courtesy of Lucchese
Get to Know the Anatomy of a Cowboy or Western boot to help you assess how the boot fits you.
Instep or Vamp
The instep on a Western boot covers the top of your foot and helps determine whether or not the boot fits. If the instep is too tight, try a wider width. If the instep is too loose, try a narrower width.
The ball of your foot is where it bends at the widest section. When a boot is too short, the ball of the foot will sit too far forward, causing discomfort. The ball of your foot should fit securely within the widest part of the Cowboy boot.
A Cowboy boot will initially slip slightly in the heel (around 1/4 to 1/2 inch). This seemingly extra room is necessary for a proper fit. Over time, the boot's leather will form to the shape of your foot and the slippage will lessen.
The toe box on a Western or Cowboy boot surrounds the toes and the front part of the foot. Pressing this area to see where the toes end may work for athletic shoes — but not for boots. This type of pressure could cause permanent damage. To test the toe box area for fit, wiggle your toes — they should be able to move easily inside the boot.
What's So Special About Cowboy Boots?
Cowboy boots are purpose-built footwear that are part of the heritage of American West. They have several characteristics that are designed for the working cowboy, including the shape of the toe and heel, the height of the boot, the fit of the boot, and the look of the boot.
Think about the traditional lifestyle of a cowboy - every day on a horse, herding cattle from one grazing ground to another, sometimes hundreds of miles away. Your boots have to be long-lasting and comfortable.
Plus, getting on and off the horse dozens of times a day, sometimes in a hurry, to chase down cattle that have a mind of their own. Your cowboy boots have to fit easily into the horse stirrups.
Always riding on open plains, into brush and brambles, across streams and rivers when needed, not always aware of dangers like snakes. Your western boots have to be tall enough, fit close, be able to withstand water and hold their shape, and have a thick enough leather to provide some protection.
Where Did Cowboy Boots Originate?
Believe it or not, German, English and Italian leatherwork heritage helped influence military boots to create the American cowboy boot:
- Higher-ranking18th century German horse-riding soldiers were issued Hessian boots, which were knee-high and had ornamental tassels.
- Hessians were adapted by shortening them to calf-length for the Duke of Wellington when he became an English celebrity after defeating Napoleon at Waterloo.
- "Wellingtons" or "Wellies" influenced all boot design, including military boots issued to soldiers in the American Civil War, which ended in 1865.
- Civil War soldiers returning home helped spread the military boot style during the classic cowboy period of the American West.
- In 1872, C. H. Hyer taught leatherworking to students at a school for the deaf in Olathe, Kansas. Hyer was the son of a German immigrant who came to the US in 1850, and taught leather boot-making to his son, who would supplement his teaching by starting his own boot-making company in 1875. The company is now named Olathe.
- In 1877, Herman Joseph Justin moved from Indiana to Texas to become an apprentice cobbler. Justin boots were being manufactured by 1879.
- In 1883, Salvatore Lucchese, son of an Italian shoemaker, opened a boot-making shop at a U.S. Calvary school in San Antonio, Texas .
- In 1887, Tony Lama was born in New York City to Italian immigrants. By 1903 at the age of 16, he was making boots for the U.S. military.
- Olathe, Justin, Lucchese, and Tony Lama are 4 of the famous western boot brands stocked by Wei's.
Why Are Cowboy Boots Pointed?
Military boots made for soldiers who rode horses often had rounded toes to help entry into horse stirrups. The Olathe boot company tells about a nameless cowboy who requested pointed cowboy boots in 1876, and the pointed toe style, while arguably less comfortable than rounded toe styles, caught on.
You might say western boots and cowboy boots have always been a blend of function and fashion.
Why Do Many Cowboy Boots Have a Tapered Heel?
If a cowboy ever gets in trouble while on a horse, he/she does not want to get dragged by a running horse. The heel is tapered (slimmer at the back) to let it slip out of a stirrup easily if needed, so the cowboy is disentangled.
Why Are Cowboy Boots Tall?
The height helps protect feet, ankles and shins from scratchy brambles and other hazards. Ankle boots do not offer the same protection.
Why Do Cowboy Boots Fit So Close?
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). 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 molds to your foot's unique shape. It should be more and more comfortable and provide long service.
What's the Best Material for Cowboy Boots?
Most cowboy boots are made with cow leather. It's dense and strong, water resistant, and with proper care it can last for decades.
Other animal skins such as goat skin or pig skin are sometimes used, and produce softer boots, but they are do not wear as long.
Skins of other animals such as crocodile or camian, snake, ostrich, often called exotic leathers, have been used to enhance the look of the boot. Several restrictions are now in place in many countries to limit the manufacture of exotic boots. Lucchese is one of the most famous makers of exotic boots, but other boot makers also offer s. Wei's traditionally stocked several styles of these boots and still has some exotic cowboy boots in stock. Contact us to check current availability.
Exotic leather and scale patterns are imitated by stamping, and the design expertise gets better and better. Most boot manufacturers offer styles of imitation snake, imitation crocodile and others. Wei's has several styles western boots with imitation patterns by brands such as Ariat, Justin and Canada West Boots (Brahma).
Is It Better to have Cowboy Boots with Leather Soles, Or Neoprene Soles?
Leather soles are the traditional cowboy boot soles. The material is consistent with the rest of the boot, looks good when new. However, a leather sole will not last as long if you're wearing them in the barnyard.
"Barnyard acid" is leached from animal urines and feces. These acids will lessen the life of a leather sole, and of course the leather sole is more slippery on this kind of surface.
So, if your boots are "working boots" for the farm, you should take a look at neoprene soles. Ariat, Boulet, Olathe and other brands have styles with neoprene soles.