This brief history lesson will explain how the cowgirl boot came about throughout the years and what forms it took on. While we examine that, we will need to consider why this evolution took place to understand how design and fashion played a role in formulating the modern western boot. Check out the stories that make up the rich background of women’s western boots throughout history.
The Wellington Boot
These boots made their mark sometime in the 1800s. The Duke of Wellington was gifted a pair of boots from a Hessian soldier and was so taken by them that he wanted to create a new pair for himself, fashioned to his needs.
As he wore these new boots, he started to attract the attention of other upper-class aristocrats, who began to refer to the style as “the Wellington boot.” It was very similar to the Hessian boot, with a long shaft that came up the leg but without the accoutrements, straps, and tassels that came with the traditional Germain flair. The duke’s boot was more utilitarian and functional.
The Rain Boot
The Wellington boot would be later taken under the creative wing of American industrialist Hiram Hutchinson, who had the idea to bring rubber into the design. The purpose behind this design would be to protect the wearer by making the boots waterproof to repel the rain during inclement weather.
This caught the eye and interest of French farmers throughout the settled territories and became popular with them, as this would be the first time they could work in the fields without getting wet and muddy as they farmed. Fast forward into the 1900s, and these same boots caught on like wildfire in the United States and became known stateside as the “rain boot,” as they still are today.
We can see the Wellington influence with the solid black color and the long shaft that covers the lower leg almost up to the knee for added protection against the elements and riding on horseback, as that was the primary means of travel during their inception.
Around 1650, heels came into vogue. Boot makers began adding higher heels to their boots originally for men who rode horseback and men in the calvary. Not long after, high-heeled footwear became a status symbol for European aristocratic society. High heels were embraced as a dress item worn by the elite European class of male aristocrats, and this style was soon adopted by their spouses. Higher heels were commonly requested on boots as a fashion statement for both men and women. This carried on through the 1800s, when Victorian women sported boots featuring buttoned closures and embroidery.
This is one of the first instances of women making headway with boots in history. So even though men wore high-heeled boots long before women, it was women who really took the style and ran with it (not easy to do in heels).
These same styles and trends would carry on through the decades, and as time went on, high-heeled shoes and boots began to be associated primarily with women’s fashion.
“Booties,” also known as ankle boots, have been popular with both the masses and the fashion elite . Booties are a fusion of heeled boots and ankle-high shoes, only with the shape and build of a boot that sits right at or above the ankle.
This trend originated in the 1800s and has carried on as a tradition since, making another great rise in the 1960s when they were then renamed the “Chelsea boot,” and then in the 1990s as ankle boots. One thing to note that has also carried on with this particular style is that since their inception, they have always included a stretchy siding, now elastic, as an option for comfort and ease of fitting.
Many bootie styles offer zippers in the place of the elastic, but overall, the majority of these boots can be found with elastic siding to this day. In the 18th century, this footwear was highly embellished with jewels and craftsmanship, from etching and engravements to embroidery and sewn applique designs.
Depending on the item, the bootie can present either humble utilitarianism or haute couture design. Booties grew in popularity during the twentieth century to serve a more practical purpose. They featured rubber soles and wool inner linings to prevent slipping and keep feet warm and comfortable during the cold winters, and they are still popular today for this purpose.
Going as far back as the 10th century, horseback riders have worn riding boots to protect their lower legs and to enhance the signals given to the horse during rides. Riding boots make horseback riding more comfortable, as the shaft is raised to protect the shins and calves from rubbing up against the saddle and girth when riding.
The toe is also somewhat protected if a horse steps on the rider’s toes. And the heels were about an inch high to help the rider maintain form in the stirrups. These were some of the earliest boots attributed to the evolution of cowboy and ladies’ country boots today.
These were adapted from the original cowboy riding boot and the Wellington boot to help drive cattle down range from Texas to Kansas in the 1800s, when cattle trading was significant. They were constructed of pure cowhide that would ride up the knee and paired with underslung heels that would protect the rider’s legs and lock the feet down in the stirrups for a snugger fit than previous boot styles did.
Traditional cowboy boots were widely known and made in the early 1900s, and then sometime later made headway with Hollywood filmmakers who featured them in western films. They grew in popularity exponentially because who doesn’t want to be a cowboy or a cowgirl? Cowboy and cowgirl boots are beloved by men, women, and kids of all ages. You’ll see them paired casually and formally with everything from jeans to dresses everywhere you go.
With all that said, you should have a firm grasp on women’s western boots throughout history now that we have covered everything from start to finish. Western boots complement a wide range of tastes and provide the wearer with both utility and great looks that never go out of style.