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What Are Real Cowboy Boots? A Comprehensive Guide

Last updated: November 15, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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Real cowboy boots, essential for any horse rider, are distinct from other equestrian footwear. Characterized by high shafts, they offer protection against brush and saddle chafing, while their heels prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrups.

Often adorned with unique embroidery on the shaft, these boots have evolved since the 12th century. From their origins with Genghis Khan’s riders to modern cowboys, cowboy boots symbolize durability and style in equestrian gear. This guide examines what makes a boot a “real” cowboy boot, exploring its design, function, and cultural significance.

Picture of real cowboy boots with spurs
Real Cowboy Boot.

What is a Real Cowboy Boot?

A real cowboy boot has a medium to high heel and a tall shaft with traditional embroidery. It hugs the calf and protects the legs and feet from dangers encountered while riding. The boot’s angled heel sits in the stirrups to prevent the rider from falling.

A genuine cowboy boot has a silhouette recognized anywhere in the world. It is the world’s most significant fashion symbol. In fact, the cowboy boot has become an American icon.

Authentic cowboy boots are made in the USA from high-quality leather. They exude sexuality, style, and confidence. They are a must-have accessory in every fashion-forward individual’s wardrobe.

Picture of my Tecovas cowboy boots
Tecovas “The Doc”

Best Real Cowboy Boots

Cowboy boots are a staple of Western fashion, and there are many different brands and styles. While some cowboy boots are designed for function, others are purely for fashion. The best cowboy boots combine both. One of the most popular brands of cowboy boots today is Ariat, which offers a wide range of classic and modern styles.

Another popular brand is Tecovas, which specializes in comfortable cowboy boots that retain the Western bootmaking tradition. Whatever your personal style, there will surely be a pair of cowboy boots that is perfect for you.

#1. Best Overall: Abilene Cowboy Boots

Abilene cowboy boots check all the boxes needed to define real cowboy boots; they’re made from genuine leather, are durable, and have a suitable shaft and heel for riding.

Plus, unlike many brands that outsource their boot manufacturing out of the United States, Abilene still makes genuine leather cowboy boots in the good ole USA.


  • Genuine bison leather 
  • Suitable for temperatures as low as -40 F
  • Breathable patented Dri-Lex lining system resists sweat and absorbs shocks
  • 1 ½ inch cowboy boot riding heel
  • Round toe


  • Attractive 
  • Perfect for riding
  • Well-made
  • Durable


  • Tend to be a little stiff at first. Need some breaking in.
Lucchese Boots

#2. Best Material Variety: Lucchese Genuine Leather Cowboy Boots

The Lucchese brand (pronounced as loo-kay-zay) makes cowboy boots using genuine leather, but they also incorporate more exotic skins, such as alligator skin, lizard skin, and many others. These hand-made cowboy boots are in great demand. 

Lucchese’s final products also undergo stringent testing processes to ensure durability and the highest level of strength. Most of the Lucchese boots available in the USA are made in Mexico, although they also have a manufacturing plant in Texas.


  • Durable single-stitch welt construction
  • High-quality, 100% genuine full-grain leather


  • Hand-stitched authentic cowboy boots
  • High-quality materials
  • Strict testing


  • Very expensive but worth the price.

#3. Best Women’s Cowboy Boots: Old Gringo Cactus Cowboy Boots

Old Gringo has been around since 2000 with one aim: to create genuine western wear with the highest levels of craftsmanship. Their products are top-rated due to exclusive detailing like intricate cacti designs, distressed, pliable leather, and good fitting.


  • Hand-made genuine cowboy boots made in Mexico


  • Durable
  • A lot of colorful piping options
  • Very soft and pliable
  • Fit like a glove


  • High price
Picture of my Chisos cowboy boots.
Chisos Boots

Cowboy Boots – Facts and History

Author Tyler Beard, who has researched cowboy boots for nearly two decades, declares in his book (appropriately titled ‘Cowboy Boots’) that there was no ‘first pair’ of cowboy boots. For ages, horse riders have used high-heeled (or well-heeled boots) either to represent nobility or as a career on horseback. So, how did the cowboy boot come to be?

Brief History of Cowboy Boots

Before, during, and after the Civil War, cowboys wore whatever boots they could afford. The concept of cowboy boots only came to be around the latter half of the 19th century.

In fact, the earliest cowboy boot style can be traced back or compared to the Coffeyville style boot developed around 1850. This boot did not have designated right and left sides – you could wear each boot on either foot.

The color of these boots was usually black, and they were constructed from unlined-waxed, flesh-side-out leather. It had a low Cuban heel, fully-pegged sole, and graft considerably higher than the back. The toes were slightly rounded and squared.

European influence

By the 1880s, the Coffeyville boot began seeing European influences. The European style of bootmaking used higher heels and finer leather. Their toes were also wider – as wide as 3 inches. 

By the end of the 1880s, the cowboy boot started seeing ‘stovepipe design’ (where the back and front of the boot were the same height).

The emergence of American cowboy bootmakers

By the early 1900s, many top American bootmakers like Charles Hyer and Justin Boots started making cowboy boots. Their creations showed the heavy influence of German and British bootmaking styles.

Around this time, the American cowboy started being viewed as a heroic and national symbol who worked far away from the town roads and city streets in dusty cattle pens and cow trails. His only friends were the horse, rope, cowboy hat, and an indispensable pair of cowboy boots. 

Changes in the cowboy boot in the 1900s

By 1910, the cowboy’s work and style began influencing the boot’s design. Bootmakers started experimenting with varying toe widths, soles, and colored leathers. 

The Hyer brothers also made their famous ‘wrinkled toe’ design, consisting of curved or straight stitched lines across the top of the foot. By this period, the toe decor of cowboy boots came to be known by different names: fleur-de-lis, bug, flower, etc.

By the 1920s and 1930s, the cowboy boot was no longer just a part of a cowboy’s attire; movie stars and Hollywood personalities started wearing them. At this time, bootmakers added Western influences and designs to their boots: floral images, vines, tulips, color variations, etc.

After World War II (1940-1965)

The top five American bootmakers from 1940 to 1965 were Acme, Hyer brothers, Justin Boots, Tony Lama, and Nocona. These brands started churning out cowboy boots by the millions to satisfy the heavy demand. (Tyler Beard refers to this era as the Golden Era of Bootmaking in the United States.)

For the ladies

We can credit Enid Justin – the sister of the Justin brothers – for making cowboy boots popular among ladies. Her Company – Nocona Boot Company – employed women bootmakers. By her death in 1990, many other great boot-making women like Deanna McGuffin, Heather Joy, etc., were thriving in the field.

Cowboy Boots today

Today, you get cowboy boots with numerous embellishments in various colors, skins, and patterns. You can also customize them to include milestone dates, photos of pets or loved ones, pictures of favorite cars, etc., embellished, hand-painted, and stained in attractive colors.

Three of my favorite modern cowboy bootmakers are Tecovas, Ariat, and Chisos. They put a lot of research and technology into their boots to deliver the best protective, functional, and good-looking boots on the market.

You can even get embellished cowboy boots with rhinestone jewelry, multi-colored rivets, ornate stitching, and even gold coins, diamonds, precious stones, etc.

Picture of a pair of roper cowboy boots.

What Are Roper Boots?

Roper boots are not precisely cowboy boots but more of a western style of boots specially designed for cattle/ranch-working people who spend more time on the ground and less on horseback. At the same time, they have all the features that allow their use on the ground and for riding.

The main distinguishing features between roper and cowboy boots are:

  • Most ropers have rounded toes, while traditional cowboy boots have square or pointy toes.
  • Traditional cowboy boots have a higher heel than ropers.
  • Ropers also have a shorter shaft compared to that of standard cowboy boots.

How to Recognize Fake Leather Cowboy Boots?

If you are in the market for authentic leather cowboy boots, then use the following tips to distinguish between the real and fake ones:

Label and brand name

Cowboy boots from top brands are primarily genuine leather. Some manufacturers even add their signature marks/logos/stamps on the soles of the boots, along with a tiny label that shows the materials used. 

Top boot makers stitch the vamp and the boot’s soles instead of gluing them (gluing is a technique seen in fake boots). They also double-stitch the seams for reinforcement and durability.

So, always buy your cowboy boots from a trusted retail site, a Western boot store, or the manufacturers’ website.

Touch test

You can touch the boots to get a ‘feel of the leather. If it feels soft and supple, then it is pure leather. Synthetic leather has a ‘plasticky’ feel to it. Genuine leather stretches easily and will feel warm to the touch. Faux leather will feel cool.

Odor test

Genuine leather tends to have a strong odor. Odor is one of the first signs that your cowboy boots are genuine.

Visible pores and creases

Genuine leather cowboy boots will have creases and pores that let your feet breathe. If your boots are smooth and flawless, then they are probably fake.

Key Takeaways & Final Recommendations

Genuine cowboy boots are a must-have accessory for riders and non-riders. They exude style and confidence and enhance your wardrobe. They are versatile and can be paired with skirts, shorts, jeans, or formal pants. You can get cowboy boots in various colors, materials, and embellishments.

The top brands for genuine cowboy boots are Abilene Boot Company, Lucchese, Caboots, Anderson Bean, and Chisos. For affordable cowboy boots, you can go in for brands like Ariat and Roper. We hope this guide helps you find the best pair of cowboy boots.

Below is a YouTube video about classic cowboy boots.

YouTube video


What are considered real cowboy boots?

Real cowboy boots use genuine leather from cows, bison, or other animals. They have a characteristic heel that sits comfortably in stirrups, along with a tall shaft. They also have embroidery or other embellishments. You can have classic western cowboy boots or roper boots. Genuine cowboy boots are typically made in Texas or Mexico.

Which are the most expensive cowboy boots?

Brands like Stallion Black, Lucchese, and Phillip Plein are known for expensive cowboy boots from $3000 to $5000.

How do you tell the quality of good cowboy boots?

High-quality cowboy boots are made of genuine soft leather. They fit snugly and are not too tight or stiff. The leather should have creases and pores. It should also have that natural leathery smell.