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A History of Cowboy Boots in Pop Culture

“Don’t need to change a thing. Hey Ya’ll. I’m going out with my boots on.” Randy Houser Boots On

Custom Cowboy BootsCowboy boots originated as riding boots for horse riding. Boots served a functional purpose for riders and were custom designed to make riding as easy and safe as possible.

Military men morphed riding boots into functional footwear allowing them to ride and fight on the ground effectively.

In the US, cowboys in the US started using riding boots and morphed them into the style of cowboy boot most are accustomed to today.

Today’s cowboys, ranchers, and rodeo cowboys still use cowboy boots for both function and pleasure. Cowboy boots have also gone through various stages of popularity with the general public. There was the bolo tie and cowboy boot phase in the early ’90s that kind of saw its peak with Billy Ray Cyrus around 1993. Back in the ’70s there was a phase of cowboy popularity including the attire of Burt Reynolds in Smokey And The Bandit. Going even further back to the ’50s and ’60s there was perhaps the peak in cowboy boot popularity as western TV and movies were popular with the general public. Seemingly every little kid had a cowboy hat, boots, and toy gun at that time.

Today boots remain popular. It seems most people wear boots as everyday footwear down in places like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In the big cities you’ll find people wearing different kids of cowboy boots as accessories to outfits. Cowboy boots just look cool with a pair of jeans. Old, scratched up boots with a pair of vintage jeans is a look that will never go out of style. It’s been around for decades and hasn’t lost much appeal.

Cowboy Boot History

Cowboy boots originated from riding boots, which have been around for centuries in many parts of the world including Europe. Calvary boots were another version of the riding boot, which cowboys in the US during the 1860s took a liking to and took on as function footwear.

There are some functional features on the boot that made for the look we recognize today.

Classic Cowboy BootsThe heels on boots are about an inch high. This is not meant to make the person wearing them appear taller although that has served as a nice aside. The higher heel is designed to keep the boot from sliding through the stirrup. In the event that a riding should fall of the horse (quite common) a boot getting stuck could spell danger for the rider as the horse could drag the rider threatening injury or even death.

The rounded down of the boot was meant to make it easier for riders to slide into the stirrup during mount. The pointed toe became common alter on in movies and TV, but only offers a slight advantage if any at all for the purpose of inserting into stirrups.

The loose upper shaft of the boot is designed to protect the rider’s legs while going through difficult terrain. The upper shafts are meant to wear loose to make it easier for the rider to slide the boot off if they do fall off their horse and the boot gets caught in the stirrup.

Roping boots or Ropers became popular for rodeo cowboys as they needed a lower, squared off heel so they could mount and dismount easy while being able to quickly run and tie up a calf. Ropers also have a lower upper shaft to allow for easier running.

Decorations for cowboy boots have been common due to the nature of individuals to want individual style for their boots. Different threading, colors, leathers, and other treatments serve well to make boots individualistic. Over the years a few styles have taken turns as the popular trend.

Best Cowboy Boots

Most cowboy boots are made of cowhide leather. Kangaroo and buffalo leather also make for durable and appealing material for boots. Some of the most expensive boots are made with leather from lizard, alligator, crocodile, ostrich, and other exotic materials.

The best cowboy boots are often custom made by any number of custom boot designers and manufacturers. Justin Boots and other more mainstream manufacturers are regarded as trustworthy bootmakers that have been trusted for more than a century for quality boots.

Cowboy Boots in the Movies

Robert Redford BootsRobert Redford played the Sundance Kid in the cowboy classic Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. The movie was a huge hit at theaters and remains popular today. Redford turned the success of the character into an independent film showcase – The Sundance Film Festival. Throughout the years Redford has remained a figure of classic fashion. Cowboy boots have been a favorite of his when appearing in public and on screen. He’s been seen representing some of the more classic cowboy boot looks.

Kevin Costner CowboyKevin Costner has been keeping the cowboy genre alive in movies since the ’80s. He’s directed some old west classic including Dances With WolvesWyatt Earp and the more recent Open Range. The latter was a great flick with one of the best shootouts in the history of cinema. Costner has a ranch in Colorado. He’s given interviews where he can be seen wearing his boots for functional purposes. He also seems comfortable in them for casual wear. The best though is when he’s playing the actual part of a cowboy with a great pair of boots.

Clint Eastwood BootsClint Eastwood is legendary for his portrayal of classic western characters. He’s been a staple in the western business for more than fifty years and continues playing the great parts of western heroes. Over the years Eastwood has been known to have some of the coolest cowboy and cowboy boot looks. Almost everybody around the world recognizes the look of the Man With No Name. Talk about cool and collected. The look of a cowboy oozes confidence and appeal.

John Wayne was a pioneer in the western movie genre. Nobody played the part better and his iconic cowboy images will live forever.

We already mentioned good old Burt Reynolds from his Smokey and the Bandit Days. It’s a classic movie. The ’70s were an interesting time for many things including a slight resurgence in the popularity of boots and cowboy boots. Burt played the part of the southern guy well in the flick and made it cool to wear cowboy attire while driving one of the all time greatest cars.

Smokey Bandit Boots

Cowboy Boots in Music

Hank Williams BootsCountry music and cowboy boots have gone together for as long as both have been around. Country music came out of the south where cowboy boots have always been most popular. Hank Williams was probably the first big iconic figure in country music and he always had on his pair of cowboy boots. Hank Williams is probably most responsible for inspiring country artists to wear boots. Even though boots are a part of the culture it was Hank Williams that laid the foundation for the way country artists need to dress, act, and perform. His boots were a big part of his stage presence.

George Strait BootsGeorge Strait is one of the most legit cowboy boot wearing country stars. In his off time George can usually be found on his ranch in Texas roping and riding with his family. George and his son are talented ropers and cowboys in the true sense of the word. George is known well for his classic blue jeans and button down shirt. He always has on his cowboy hat and he always has a sharp pair of boots on.

Alan Jackson BootsAlan Jackson is another traditional country star that always has his boots on. While AJ isn’t out on the range roping cattle and riding horses, he’s well known for his classic look – button up shirt, cowboy hat, ripped jeans, and boots. In most of Alan’s videos you’ll see him tapping his boot to the rhythm of the song. It’s as iconic of a scene in country music as you’ll ever see.

There are plenty of other examples, but these are a few of the most iconic boot wearing folks in music. Find country singers singing sad country songs and you’ll be sure to see cowboy boots as part of the attire.

Cowboy Boots for Men

Palomino Men's Western BootMen’s cowboy boots vary a little depending on functional needs and various tastes for style.

Toe styles vary depending on preference. There are varying leathers depending on the function, feel, and look a person wants. Leathers can also have a worn or stressed look to a shiny gloss look depending on how casual or dressy a person wants to get with his boots.

The heels vary in height and shape depending on the purpose of the boot and the ease someone needs to walk in them. Hells can also be made of rubber for more traction if you live in colder climates.

A classic style that seemingly will never go out of fashion is a button down shirt, blue jeans, and a nice pair of boots with a little wear to them. It’s a look as American as processed cheese.

Cowboy Boots for Women

Ariat Women's Shada BootWomen’s cowboy boots don’t vary much from the basic styling of men’s boots.

Women wear boots with all kinds of outfits. There are even cowboy boots that look great with a summer dress. There is of course the classic style of wearing a good vintage pair of boots with some blue jeans.

Cowboy boots just have a way to add a little extra something to any outfit.

Boots On – Randy Houser


Custom Cowboy Boot image courtesy of chaunceydavis818

Classic Cowboy Boot image courtesy of Northampton Museum