6/12/2012

Cowboy Boots for the Uninitiated

Continuing my quest to explain various aspects of Texas to furriners, Yankees, and the clue-less city folk out there living in Plano (often recently relocated from California, Ohio, Illinois, China, India, Vietnam, or  shudder ! New York City ! (to which the only acceptable response is always "get a rope!"- taken from an old commercial for Pace Picante sauce- see my post on salsa vs pico de gallo), I will now attempt to explain cowboy boots to those who have no idea how and when to wear them, and what kind to wear, and when, and where to buy them. Caveat: I am not a cowgirl ! I'm just a sixth generation Texan who has friends and family who own ranches, spent considerable time in my youth riding horses (western style), but I do not claim to be a rancher myself. I've always been a city gal, but I am quite observant and have lots of folk around me making various fashion statements that I can use to help you steer clear of embarrassing (and expensive) fashion faux pas.

First: Any native Texan can tell you that cowboy boots evolved back in the wild wild west as a practical form of footwear for riding the range. They had a tall, thick leather shaft (the part that goes up your leg) to protect your ankles and lower legs, when riding horses, from mesquite trees (which have thorns) and various other brush out there on the range with stickers and scraggly branches. (English riding boots do the same but are not as tough or thick.) Riders know that horses love to try to brush the inexperienced rider off by gliding through a thorn bush and hoping it makes the rider miserable or throws him off completely. Old cowboy boots are more utilitarian than decorative, and only came in two colors: dark brown or black. Even today, no self respecting man would ever be caught dead in any other color. Both girls and guys have every day/utilitarian models, and dress models. Girls can get away with wild colors for dress boots, but men need to stick to dark brown or black. (I made hubster, a Yankee, get rid of a pair some well-meaning but clueless family member bought him when he moved here because they were a light brown, almost beige color. Homo! And not even good homo. A gay man, being fashionable, would not have worn them. Even Carson on "QE4TSG" would advise against them.) That's why you truly want to steer clear of anything you find on a "sale" rack......that just means no one else wanted them. There's a reason! Notice the shaft is fairly wide, to accommodate muscled legs to fit in to them.

You can do a search on the internet for old cowboy photos, the history of cowboys, etc and turn up a variety of pictures from this era, some with the boots worn inside/under the pants leg, some worn with the pants leg tucked in. (To tuck or not to tuck the pants material into the boot is a matter of personal preference, and often depends on circumstance. Sometimes you are protecting the fabric of your pants, sometimes you are protecting the boot. Depends on what you are doing. Generally speaking, it is OK to tuck the pants fabric into the boot while riding the range, but an affectation to do so in town. People will laugh at you if you are a man and walk around in the city with your pants leg tucked in to your boot like a Cossack or in the style of English riding boots. There's a reason cowboy jeans are flared! To fit over your boots! Girls can sometimes get away with it if they are cute, and their whole ensemble is "cowboy chic".) Because these boots evolved initially for riding horses, they had a pointy toe (easier to get into the stirrup in a hurry) and a 2-3 inch heel that was slanted or cantilevered under (helped you hook your heel, and keep it, into the stirrup, and did not bruise your horse's ribs). An old pair of boots, well worn and loved, will show wear marks on the toes and the heels, from actual use as originally intended. Thick leather soles could be replaced if that part of the boot wore out before the top did. The loops and holes at the top are designed for you to put your fingers in and pull them on. Utilitarian, all around.

A new pair of cowboy boots, like many kinds of boots, will be stiff when you first put them on but mold to your feet and soften up some as you wear them. They should be comfortable, however, from the beginning, because if they don't fit you just right, they never will. The best thing to do is to try on different pairs/brands, and find one that works for the shape of your foot. (I have an unusually high arch, and have to select shoes/boots that accommodate it. Hubster has wide feet, like a hobbit.) You don't want them to pinch , rub, or for your heel to slip while trying them on in a store.You definitely wear socks, crew or knee-high, with boots.




Looking at archives of old cowboy photos, you can tell a lot about the person in the photo from the boots on his /her feet. Dusty banged-up boots reveal someone who truly worked in them, and maybe could not afford a second pair. Fancy showy boots, with the pants leg hiked up so you can see them, reveal a dandy. In many old photos, I noticed, the cowboy has on a soft moccasin type boot with fringe around the top of the shaft, which brings me to my next point: wearing cowboy boots, as they were originally styled, all day in the city on concrete and other hard surfaces, isn't really that comfortable. Wearing them indoors with spurs attached was a no-no. That's why cowboy boots evolved into what are called ropers. (Originally after the brand that invented them, but now applied to all items in that category, much as Southerners call any soda pop or soft drink "coke".)


As the twentieth century progressed, people rode around their ranches less on horseback and shifted to using trucks to oversee the cattle. There arose a need for a still tough and practical cowboy boot that was comfortable to walk around in . Ropers keep the original features of a riding boot- the tough leather shaft and a vestigial heel, pull-on tabs at the top, but replaced the hard leather sole with a still tough but softer on your feet rubber sole. The toe is rounded for comfort. The heel is barely there. Originally purely practical, ropers were often simple, without all that fancy stitching (which, back in the day of a hand-made boot, held all the layers together, and was a maker's way of expressing his own unique brand.). Today you can buy a simple, working man's (or gal's) roper (often in tough thick suede, I don't know why), or a fancy one in various leathers/styles/colors. The shafts are not as tall as on original cowboy boots, because these are not used when riding horses. Wide shafts to fit real people. I myself have a pair in ostrich leather, and they are truly beautiful, comfortable, durable, and make great winter rainy-muddy-snow day boots.The same rules apply, in terms of colors, as before: men wear dark brown or black. Ladies wear dark colors for work, and fancy ones for dress. A popular ladies style roper for rodeos and other fun occasions has faux laces up the front, like granny's 1890's lace-up shoes. This past year, I have noticed my students (guys and gals) who are involved in the Ag program on campus wearing a squared-toe roper, called a snip-toe, that seems to be the rage of the moment.

A word about fancy dress cowboy boots: Attend a rodeo, livestock show, or Texas A&M University sometime and look at what real people are actually wearing. The men/boys will have on western style shirts in subdued plaids, stripes or solids. Dark western cut (boot cut or slightly flared) jeans, always pressed. (This is key: shirts and jeans are always starched and pressed. Never ever straight from the dryer or, god forbid, wrinkled or faded.) Dark roper boots under their pants leg. Older men often sport a dress shirt, an a outdoors-y sporting style, canvas or quilted hunting coat if it is cold, sometimes khaki type pants if not denim. UT frat boys will wear cowboy boots with baggy plaid shorts and matching solid color polo shirts, but this is a look that is hard to pull off if you are older than 22 because it is ridiculous. Cowboy hats are felt for winter, straw for summer, worn outdoors only, only by real ranchers. They are proportional to one's head size and do not have gigantic brims like the buffoons you see on TV (those are caricatures created to make people laugh !) Ladies will be wearing tight dark flared jeans, wild fancy colored boots (most often ropers) under those jeans, a cute top that is probably short sleeved or semi-revealing in some way, and long hair (often with bangs). The only folk wearing belts with big fancy buckles are the folks who won those belts riding bulls or performing some other rodeo talent.

Contrast those real life cowboy looks with the cowboy chic wanna-be's: these folk turn up in C&W bars in Austin or Dallas, or at fancy resorts in Colorado, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, often apres ski, strolling around restaurants and bars, shopping. They are wealthy city folk who indulge a fantasy of being a cowboy/cowgirl while on vacation, and they shop at tres expensive boutiques that sell trendy expensive western-themed fashion ensembles. This is where folk buy and wear the truly crazy patterns/styles/colors of (lately, retro styled with pointy curved toes and distressed to appear old and worn) old-fashioned high shaft cowboy boots. They have a narrow shaft bc the model thin rich people who can afford these boots don't want their legs to look fat. Folk want to show off what they just bought, so they wear them with the pants leg tucked in, (or in the case of ladies, with skirts) so you can see the boot designs. They are beautiful to look at but hideously uncomfortable, so no one wears them for long stretches- just out to dinner. Definitely not to dance in. (I went recently with some friends to a west Texas C&W dance hall that drew folk from a 5 county radius, and all the people there wore ropers to dance in.) Now I confess to owning a pair of these fashionable boots, too, (because I am a fashion maven) but I don't wear them in a heads-to-toe western outfit. That look spells "t-o-u-r-i-s-t" ! The Texas chic look is to mix in a little bit o' western wear with other items: some modern stuff. southwestern jewelry, lots of black, south American clothes or colors, and lately just a little bit of bling and /or animal print into the mix. The trick, as with any fashion ensemble, is to not overdo it: You are allowed only one "statement" piece at a time. That means only the cool boots, or the handbag, or one piece of big jewelry. Anything more is a fashion nightmare. By all means, avoid the white-trash version of this look: tacky over the top rhinestone encrusted, feather trimmed, zebra or cheetah print, cross embellished:  jeans, rubber thong sandals, handbag, earrings, t-shirts, necklaces, watches, strollers, baby outfits, sneakers, headbands for your baby, Bible bags, cars, home decor......you get the idea. To put this on your dog, however, is retro hip amusing in a mocking sort of way and is totally acceptable.

Shopping resources:

http://www.sheplers.com/

 http://pinkswesternwear.com/

Local fave, high end:
http://www.weldonswestern.com/

Fashionista:
http://clothing.crowsnesttrading.com/decor/Old%20Gringo%20Boots




5 comments:

  1. Well said, I'm from South Texas and i just cant stand people who wear those crazy patterns on the boots...kill me. Hmm...and those ankle "western" boots...yep, well said. hope everybody reads this! :)

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  2. So I am from Texas, Decatur Texas to be precise. I've owned boots my whole life for fire and and stinging nettle protection mostly. I live in Colorado now and holy crap the whole world isn't trying to eat my feet! All jokes aside, I haven't worn my boots out of necessity in years. They are cute though, part of me just wants to throw them on over a pair pf skinnies with a slouchy sweater, mainly because I don't want to buy a pair of those fake English riders. Every time I try, it looks cute but I feel like a tool.

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  3. just what I needed, thanks! I wont be wearing them in Texas but those patterns still felt weird to me. Are flower boots acceptable for girls like the Old Gringo Sora boots?

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  4. any tips on what TROUSERS NOT to wear with cowboy boots? I'm not a lover by any means of tight fitting trousers. I do tend to like loose fitting dress trousers. Maybe even slacks.
    I have not worn a pair of jeans since the 70s.

    ReplyDelete
  5. any tips on what TROUSERS NOT to wear with cowboy boots? I'm not a lover by any means of tight fitting trousers. I do tend to like loose fitting dress trousers. Maybe even slacks.
    I have not worn a pair of jeans since the 70s.

    ReplyDelete