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What Are Real Cowboy Boots? A complete guide

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Equestrian boots have been essential equipment for horse riders since the 12th century. From Genghis Khan to modern cowboys, riders relied on sturdy well-heeled footwear to help them stay in the saddle and control their mounts. But what type of boots are considered real cowboy boots?

Real cowboy boots are designed to protect a rider’s legs and feet. They have high shafts to protect against brush and saddle chafing. The heels on these boots also prevent your foot from slipping through the stirrup, and lastly, they have embroidery on the shaft.

There’s much more to learn about real cowboy boots, and I get into the details. Here are some of the topics covered:

  • Cowboy Boots – Facts and History
  • What is a real cowboy boot?
  • What are roper boots?
  • How to tell real cowboy boots from the fake ones?
  • Best real cowboy boots on the market.
Picture of real cowboy boots with spurs

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 a specific right and left sides – you could wear each boot on either leg.

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 of the same height).

The emergence of American cowboy boot makers

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 that 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 toes of varying widths, soles of varying thickness, and different colored leathers. 

The Hyer brothers also made their famous ‘wrinkled toe’ design – it consisted 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 also started adding western influences and designs to their boots: floral images, vines, tulips, with color variations, etc.

Picture of real cowboy boots.

After World War II (1940-1965)

The top five American bootmakers from 1940-1965 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 the time of 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.

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

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 that is recognized anywhere in the world. It is the world’s greatest 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 real cowboy boots with a cowboy hat

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 cowboy boots have square or round 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 directly from 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.

Best Real Cowboy Boots

#1. Best Overall: Abilene Cowboy Boots

Abilene cowboy boots’ checks 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 their genuine leather cowboy boots in the good ole USA.

Features

  • 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

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

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

#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 some 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 go through 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.

Features

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

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

  • 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.

Features

  • Hand-made genuine cowboy boots made in Mexico

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

  • High price

FAQs

What is considered real cowboy boots?

Real cowboy boots are made using 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 in the range of $3000 to $5000.

How to 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.