Saddle up, pardner — it's time for an important lesson in Cowboying 101: the storied history of cowboy boots.
Seamlessly combining form and function, we all know about the many reasons why cowboy boots have stood the test of time. But have you ever pondered their history? Whether you wear yours every day or only occasionally pull them on, the origin of cowboy boots is a fascinating one.
Come with us as we journey through the Wild, Wild West, learning where and how these iconic boots came to be.
Who Invented Cowboy Boots?
The answer to that question is, unfortunately, not a straightforward one.
While several people and places have influenced their design throughout history, the true origin of cowboy boots is simply unknown. Mongolian soldiers were known to wear red wooden-heeled boots back in the 13th century. They were also commonplace for equestrians throughout England in the early 1600s, and soldiers worldwide began wearing variations of stacked-heel boots in the 1800s.
One thing we do know? Civil War era military boots were pivotal in inspiring the design of modern-day western cowboy boots. Still, they didn't start taking on the distinctive look we recognize today until later that century.
In the late 1800s, cattle ranching was a big industry in North America. Cowboys and their Mexican and Spanish counterparts, vaqueros, roamed the land daily, herding cattle, riding from before dawn until dusk, and facing off against outlaws. While the Wellington-style military boots ("wellies") that were popular during this time were durable and rugged, they simply weren't designed for cowboyin'.
Back then, there were no department stores or boot shops, so cowboys had to make their own footwear or have it custom-made by a cordwainer.
Fun fact: Although the term cobbler is much more widely used than cordwainer, they are not actually interchangeable. A cobbler repairs shoes, whereas a cordwainer makes new shoes, specifically from leather. The more you know! Now, back to the origin of cowboy boots:
They needed to be durable enough to withstand harsh terrain, inclement weather, and long hours in the saddle. Unsurprisingly, the first cowboy boots were made with only practicality in mind.
Boots around this time were made from super-tough cowhide leather and had a high shaft to protect the cowboys' legs from brush, snakes, and everything else the harsh western landscape threw at them (sometimes literally!). The heels were also high — substantially higher than they are today — and angled to prevent the cowboys' feet from slipping through their stirrups while riding.
The first American store selling cowboy boots to the public was in Coffeyville, Kansas, in the 1870s. These boots had higher-than-average heels and sharply pointed toes and sold for $12-20 per pair — a substantial chunk of change at the time. With such a strong ranching culture in Kansas, the boots' designs quickly evolved, becoming easier to put on and take off, and overall even more practical.
Hollywood's Role in the History of Cowboy Boots
As time passed, cowboy boots evolved from purely practical footwear to practical footwear that also happened to make a fashion statement. In the 1930s, Hollywood started glamorizing the cowboy lifestyle with Western films.
It wasn't long before people wanted to emulate the classic, ruggedly handsome look, and donning a pair of cowboy boots was an easy, approachable way to start. Plus, there's that coveted feeling when you put on a pair of boots. You're almost instantly more confident, and you certainly feel more capable.
As Western style became more mainstream, the boots became increasingly more elaborate. Decorative stitching, inlays, and exotic leathers like alligator, snakeskin, and ostrich boots all became more of the norm.
Modern-Day Cowboy Boots
Today, cowboy and cowgirl boots are still very much a staple of Western fashion. You'll see them on everyone's feet, from rodeo cowboys to country music stars to city slickers who want to add a touch of Western flair to their getup.
Whoever's wearing them, and for whatever reason, cowboy boots may have started as strictly practical, but they've become synonymous with the American West, a true testament to the rugged, unrelenting spirit of the cowboy.
Find a Timeless Pair of Cowboy Boots at Tecovas
So there you have it, folks, a brief journey through time to explore the origin of cowboy boots. Whether you're a seasoned cowboy, a fan of western fashion, or you fall somewhere in between, we hope you gained a little more appreciation for these iconic boots.
Now that you know more about the history of cowboy boots, you'll be pleased to hear that Tecovas honors that history. Each and every pair of our boots are made by hand in León, Mexico, using a 200-plus-step process. We do things this way because our company was founded on a genuine love for cowboy boots, and around here, we believe the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Speaking of broke, Tecovas boots don't need to be broken in — they're ready to wear right out of the box. Shop our entire collection, full of timeless styles that will look just as good in 50 years as they do today.
Before you go out there and kick up some dust, stop by the Boot Camp to learn more about Western culture and get some fashion inspiration.