Cowboy boots. Just the words alone make my heart skip a beat! Jeff Foxworthy may know a thing or two about rednecks, but I know a thing or two about Westerners. And I’m here to tell you that you might well be a Westerner if you think Dorothy would have made it back to Kansas a whole heckuva lot sooner if she had been given cowboy boots instead of those impractical ruby slippers. Or, how about this one? You might be a Westerner if you think cowboy boots are perfectly appropriate footwear for everything from a pair of jeans to a wedding dress. Yep, Westerners have had a long love affair with cowboy boots and, today, I want to explore that a bit.
These Boots are Made for Walking (and So Much More!)
Early cowboy boots were plain, simple and utilitarian. They were made for working, and working hard. But in 1866, when the idea of driving cattle to developing markets along the Loving-Goodnight Trail between Texas and Colorado was developed, all that changed.
A new era in social opportunities arose for range cowboys. Imagine working the range for months, seeing only the same men and the same cattle . . . and then finally arriving in a large urban city like Denver, with several days off and a paycheck in hand! YEEHAW! The cowboys who drove the cattle suddenly wanted more than just a working boot; they also wanted a fancier pair of boots for going to the big city and painting the town red!
Western boot makers responded to this need by adding embellishments, some so fancy that they occasionally defied description. There were cutouts, overlays, underlays, appliqués, buck stitching, flame stitching, embroidery, bright colors, silver adornments . . . there was simply no limit! You might say that cowboy boots really were the first designer footwear. Take that Jimmy Choo!
You Bet Your Boots!
I have often wondered if the embellishment of a cowboy’s boots mirrored the embellishment of his stories. Storytelling was one of the most treasured of the cowboy arts, right along with hitching horsehair, braiding rawhide, carving leather, singing songs and composing poetry. A cowboy’s life – – out working cattle on the range for weeks at a time – – was a life of boredom, punctuated by moments of extreme excitement if not downright terror. It would seem that the long periods of boredom would be a likely opportunity for the embellishment of those more exciting moments, in a cowboy’s mind. . .spinning out into some of the most wonderful stories in our American heritage.
With few people around to tell those stories to, it’s likely that the trips to town for socializing at the saloon after the cattle drive would be times that were greatly anticipated by every cowboy. And, certainly, they were occasions for dressing up—not just the stories, but the man. Yep, it was a time to bathe in the creek, slick down those cowlicks and mosey on into town. So a cowboy’s town boots began to take on a life all their own, to convey to the world the power of the man, just as a cowboy’s stories did.
In the ’20′s and ‘30’s, cowboy boots rose to a fashion high as a by-product of the entertainment industry’s success with cowboy heroes like William S. Hart, Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones and Tom Mix. In fact, these Hollywood idols were the springboard for the fashion vs. function “anything goes” cowboy boot styles of the next three decades. Boot designs at this time were derived from these popular Western icons as well as from natural themes: florals, vines and leaves, tulips, scrolls, roses, stars, and curlicue patterns were incorporated in ever-increasing colors, materials and variations. The more exotic, the more they were loved!
And for sure, it was the toes of those boots that offered the best opportunity to make a statement. Toes tell folks a little about who you are, where you have been, and where you are going. Toes can suggest what artistic masterwork resides above the ankle. Some toes simply point . . . some pout or shout . . . others are boisterous, braggy, and boastful. But no matter what they say, or who they are saying it about, toes are the most treasured part of a cowboy’s boot.
But let’s not forget the shaft, or the heel! Tall or short, angled and sharp, low and rounded . . . there’s something for everyone. Classic boots have a fairly tall shaft (The better to avoid rattlesnakes, my Dear!) and a standard 1½-inch heel. The heels were wide enough to be practical. Lower shafts and lower heels were designed to meet the needs of calf ropers. Those boots are made for running! Higher heel boots have long been available for people who want a little height enhancement, or to make a more fashionable statement.
Why We Give Em’ the Boot
More than anything, I love that a good pair of boots never goes out of style. Nope, never. They’re classics, just like the people who love them! No matter how many pairs of boots someone owns, they don’t just toss the old ones. In a day and age where precious little is repaired, there are still boot repair shops aplenty. It’s always nice to hear men bragging about how many times they’ve had to have the heels replaced on their favorite pair of boots.
Here at Stargazer Mercantile, we look to many of the treasures of Western boot craftsmanship for design inspiration. We honor the legacy of the great historic craftsmen: Charles Hyer, H.J. “Big Daddy Joe” Justin, Rios Boots, Jesse’s Boots, the Blucher Boot Company. . .and to those great craftsmen of today: Chava Guevara, Lisa Sorrell, Ray Pojha, Liberty Boot, Rocketbuster, Falconhead, Tres Outlaws, Lucchese, and Old Gringo. It is a matter of respect, respect for history.
And we strive, to the best of our ability, to follow the traditions of Western leather crafting, and to build a connection to the history of the West in the objects that we make . . . to give us all a sense that we were there, and are joined to history forever . . . to confirm our American identity, and our commitment to it . . . and to define who we are as individuals.
Have a little look-see at some of our Western pillows. . .our inspirations (below, on the left) and our interpretation of their ideals (to the right!)
We hope that you’ll stop by our website to see the other items we create, stargazermercantile.com! And, as always, we’d love to hear from you, so drop us a line to let us know what kind of items you’d like to see us produce . . . more accessories, dining and tabletop, bedroom. . .or something completely new? And what colors, shapes sizes, textures, leathers, furs? Some of our best-loved items have come about because of customer requests, and we aim to please!
Happy Trails, y’all!