If you’ve ever been to Texas, you’ve probably noticed the state’s nearly universal love for cowboy boots. It’s just a shoe, right? Wrong.
From its invention to today, the cowboy boot has been a part of Texas history. For a look into why, here is a brief history of the official footwear of Texas.
The Era of Cattle Drives: 1866-1890
What many people think of as the Wild West began after the Civil War ended, during Reconstruction in the South. Cowboys were crucial to moving cattle across long distances. The Southern states, especially Texas, supplied the beef for the entire nation.
Because of the demand for beef in the northern US and the lack of railroad tracks in the South, cowboys moved the cattle themselves in cattle drives. The most famous cattle drive route was the Chisholm Trail, which stretched from Texas all the way to Abilene, Kansas.
While the cowboys were on the road for weeks at a time, traveling in rough conditions, they needed shoes that would hold up to the tough labor. Cowboys began requesting boots from cobblers with higher heels and a sturdier instep.
The higher heel, now an iconic feature of the cowboy boot, was essential because it stayed in the stirrup better. The sturdier instep meant the boot could stand up to more wear and tear. The boots featured a tall shaft—at least 12 inches— to protect the leg from chafing against the saddle or brushing against cacti while riding.
The lack of laces on the boots was intentional—instead of lacing up, cowboy boots pull on and fit snugly around the foot. If a rider fell, laces could catch on the stirrup and prevent him from kicking free, potentially putting his life at risk.
The First Cowboy Boot Suppliers: ~1870-1880s
The very first cowboy boot supplier we know of today was a bootmaker in Coffeyville, Kansas. He set up shop near the Chisolm Trail and supplied cowboys who used the route.
In 1879, H. J. Justin, founder of Justin boots, set up shop. In 1883, Sam Lucchese of Lucchese Boots followed suit.
In addition to producing quality boots in larger quantities than before, historians credit Justin with introducing the decorative stitching that is so popular on cowboy boots today. This technique prevented the boots from folding down by stiffening the leather along the boot’s shaft. Today, many of the stitching designs modern boot designers use stem from Justin’s.
The Rise of the Western: 1930s-1960s
As railroads and barbed wire spread across the country, cowboys were no longer necessary to move and herd cattle. Instead, the image of the Wild West cowboy became romanticized in books, radio shows, and movies.
Westerns became Hollywood’s most popular genre, and actors like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers were national sensations.
The Rise of Cowboy Boots in Fashion: 1960s-1980s
Gradually, cowboy boots grew in popularity among non-cowboys. These boots featured more elaborate designs and brighter colors than their predecessors. The 1980s saw the first cowboy boots featured on runways.
With media like Dallas and Urban Cowboy hitting theaters, more and more people began incorporating cowboy boots into their daily style.
A Boot Revolution: 1993
In 1993, Ariat boots came on the scene. Founded by two women who adored all things horses, Beth Cross and Pam Parker, Ariat revolutionized the process of constructing cowboy boots. By incorporating athletic shoe technology into the boot design, they were able to make cowboy boots more comfortable than ever before.
Ariat worked with a team of equestrians, bull riders, and horse enthusiasts to design the most comfortable, durable boot possible. Today, they still work with and sponsor many professional bull riders and equestrians.
The State Footwear of Texas: 2007
Though it may surprise you, the cowboy boot hasn’t been an official Texas symbol for long. In 2007, Kay Pechacek, a middle school teacher at Bleyl Middle School in Houston, reached out to her state representative.
Her middle school students had pointed out that the cowboy boot should be the official state footwear of Texas. They researched the rich history of the cowboy boot, and Pechacek put together the petition.
In 2007, the resolution passed, and the cowboy boot officially joined the ranks of the mockingbird and the bluebonnet as an official symbol of Texas.
Texans and Their Cowboy Boots: Present Day
It’s only logical that this brief history of Texas’ official footwear ends with its citizens’ deep love for the shoe. It’s common knowledge that Texans love their cowboy boots. What you might not know is just how much. Many Texans wear work boots on ranches and farms, as riding boots, and on a casual night out.
Country western music thrives in the great state of Texas, so naturally, country western dancing does as well. There is enough of a country scene that western-themed bars and dance halls thrive here, and a staple of the dress code is a solid pair of cowboy boots. The diehard dancers often have a dedicated pair of cowboy boots just for dancing!
Cowboy boots often feature in formal attire as well; it’s not uncommon to see someone wearing a suit with a cowboy hat and boots at a wedding. At some weddings, the entire wedding party wears cowboy boots on the big day!
In fact, Texans love their cowboy boots so much they’ll even wear them to court—and protest people who say they can’t. When a municipal judge instilled a dress code in his courtroom, Texas attorneys and judges alike were up in arms. The judge has since reversed the ban, leaving Texans free to wear their cowboy boots to court once again.
A key feature of the iconic Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders’ uniforms is their cowboy boots. The ladies wear white cowboy boots with a silver star on them. Texas bootmaker Lucchese designed these iconic goat-leather boots.
In short, cowboy boots are a beloved shoe with many different styling options and a rich history. If you’d like a pair of these boots yourself, check out Country View Western Store, which carries many of the boot brands mentioned in this article. Their selection of men’s country western boots has options for everyone to enjoy, no matter your personal style.