Yep. Don’t mind me. I’m just boot scootin’ through life, having fun wherever I can. My definition of a good time? History nuggets – I love them. Evidence? A recent rainy Saturday when my online surfing and scrolling session about the origin of cowboy boots became a crusade. Sheesh. What started as a few minutes of mindless digging became a mini obsession. Where are the empirical studies and deep dive research articles about the origin of cowboy boots and why they’re beloved? Priorities, people! 😉
Reflecting on my footwear fascination, I realized how little I knew – other than my cursory knowledge of cave dwellers and the emergence of “shoes” made from animal hides – millennia ago. I knew that but my only other tidbit of trivia was the historical and shoe-y phrase ‘well heeled’ equating heel height and wealth…and hey there, stature (wink!) for both men and women. I love a good etymology nugget, don’t you?
I was disappointed and mystified but kept noodling as I searched for facts. Most of what I found? Fluffy fashion articles about the latest super model or twenty-something DISCOVERING western boots. Young ins, amIright? Not wanting to trudge through endless starlet stories and tik-tok-y photo shoots, I struggled to keep spelunking. Trying to avoid yet another pic of Kendall Jenner. Just sayin’.
Why the motivation? I’m so glad you asked! I’ve had my own wardrobe of western boots for years, going all the way back to my first pair, gifted to me by my papa and worn to death. A memory so compelling and sweet. BUT – I made a whopper of a mistake when I tried to wear them, right out of the box, for two months when I was a young, dimwitted traveler. Those were the first, those sweet, cowboy-wannabe-Frye-boots, but they were soon followed by Justin boots, then my favorite Tony Lamas. A well-fitting pair of boots will nestle into your soul. They just do. But I’m digressing…
Still frustrated by the paltry results as I searched, I decided to click into one resource that looked like it MIGHT be promising. My patience was poofing…I wasn’t searching to BUY boots. Everything I ran across was a convoluted ‘story’ masked as a promo pitch to buy, buy, buy.
Giving it a one or two click try, I checked out a country music lifestyle site that promised some nifty facts. Dubious, I thought, but let’s see. I was pleasantly surprised! In a short article by Karen Corday, I picked up the trail…about the history of cowboy boots. Woo and hoo!
Here’s the scoop: Influenced by both European immigrants and Mexican vaqueros (cowboys), one popular origin story is traced to a Mr. Charles Hyer who hit pay dirt in 1880, founding his namesake company due to the popularity of a one-off boot order. Yep. Seems an ingenious cowboy, focusing on form and function, approached Mr. Hyer about crafting a boot with a more pointed toe…all the better to slip into stirrups. Oh – “And give me (I imagine him saying) a bit of a heel – slanted-like for more security in those stirrups”. Add a more generous, higher vamp and there you have it – the boots that became a cowboy sensation. I wonder how trends ‘went viral’ in the old west? Pony express and stagecoach gossip? Saloon envy while bellied up to the bar? 😉
Hard to say, but here’s what I think. The style has endured because of the design, coupled with the realization that the boot shaft = blank canvas. No closures needed other than a couple of pull tabs, so the cobblers like Mr. Hyer could go to town with fancy stitching and cool details. All the better to customize to your liking, friend. Cowboy boots became a form of creative self-expression.
Still, I recognize that well-crafted boots were essential gear. Even so, I believe a dash of individuality and fashion were mixed in. Lucky cowpokes had one good pair of boots – not multiples – thus a man’s boots became a signature item – reflecting the taste and style of the wearer. Individuality, personality, creativity – in footwear form!
THIS is an origin story I can get behind. Whether my findings are historically accurate or not, I don’t much care. Poking around fed my need to know and summoned a bit of old west romanticism and fun.
Here’s to you, whether you’re boot scootin’ with me or not.