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  • Notes From The Frontier

Cowboy Boots: From Shit-kickers to Chic

They’re an American original. A product of the frontier, standard equipment for the American Cowboy. A high shaft to protect the leg while in the saddle riding among cattle with long, sharp horns and through rough country, narrow toes to slip into the stirrup easily, and high heels to keep the foot in the stirrup.

But how did the cowboy boot make the leap from rough-and-ready shit-kickers to high falutin’ chic? From cowboy to couture? Let’s just take a little mosey down memory lane. The cowboy boot shuffle from ranch to runway is an interesting tale. And it has a lot to do with the romance of the West, the disappearing frontier and Americans’ desire to capture what was left.

At the turn of the century through the 1920s, Americans were worried that the frontier was disappearing. And they were hungry to experience it before it was gone. Tourism to the national parks began to explode. And Americans, especially Easterners and city slickers, flocked to dude ranches out West to experience the cowboy life. While there, they purchased blue jeans and cowboy boots to look—and feel—like cowboys. And the boots went back to the city with them.

Add to this cultural phenomenon the birth of American Westerns that reigned as America’s favorite entertainment from the 1920s through the 1950s. Cowboy boots were standard dress for Westerns and, in the 1940s, Hollywood celebrities began to adopt the cowboy boot as a fashion statement--the fancier, the better. The American public followed suit.

Then, in the 60s, with young people identifying with the counterculture, Native Americans, and the wilderness, cowboy boots got another kick. (Ironically, Native Americans, too, began to wear cowboy boots.) This movement also led to a huge crop of Western-themed and Native American-themed movies in the 60s. (Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, The Wild Bunch, Once Upon a Time in the West, Little Big Man, Cat Ballou, Liberty Valance, True Grit....well...on and on!) And fashion went toe-to-toe with the trend in cinema.

By the 1970s, cowboy boots had become a fashion standard and a favorite of high fashion designers. Chanel, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Dolci Gibbana, all designers started their own lines of cowboy boots. Today, the entire world is in love with cowboy boots. They are the ultimate statement in individualism and “cool.”

Such fancy-schmancy footwear is a long, long way from the cowboy boot’s humble, hardworking origin more than a century and a half ago. The vestigial symbol of the Old West do-si-doed right into modern times, pretty as you please. Cowboys of the 1800s would be addlepated indeed to see what their boots look like today. And that the frontier mystique lives on, standing tall in the 21st century.

Just for fun, I thought I'd show y'all my favorite cowboy boots with my saddle from childhood. As a horse lover and former rodeo queen (see me on my childhood horse, Sundance), I’ve had cowboy boots all my life. And every time I put them on, I’m transported to a magical place, ready to ride.

You may also like these posts:

-Moccasins: Walk a Mile in Native Shoes

-Ride 'Em Cowgirl!

-Native American War Shirts


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