A Brief History of the Western Cowboy Boot
by Jakki Francis
Historically horsemen have always needed protective footwear as well as preferring boots with a higher heel. The origin of the cowboy boot that we know today comes from various boot styles including the Wellington boot, which originated from Britain's Duke of Wellington. At the time it was a straight plain leather boot with one-inch heels and straight tops. Cowboys also wore the Hessian boot, which had a V-cut in the front, and some of these had a silk or leather tassel hanging down in the V.
The Coffeyville-style cowboy boots originated in Coffeyville, Kansas around 1870 and were normally black leather with a low Cuban heel. The front of the boot, known as the "graft", was higher than the back and was usually a different color. Texas cowboys were known to have a lone star inlaid in the graft.
Cowboy boots continued to evolve through the late 1800s and the designs were influenced by the European cavalier style of boot, which were characterized by higher heels and better-quality leather.
The toes of cowboy boots were square or rounded and this did not change to pointed until the 1950s.
The straight lines of stitches across the top of the toe of the cowboy boot are called a toe wrinkle. Boot makers in the early 1900s started to add decorative stitching on the toes in addition to the wrinkle and these designs became and have remained to this day the personalized signature of custom-made boots.
In the 1920s and 1930s cowboy boots became a fashion item as a result of the movies and radio shows about the Wild West.
After 1940 boot designs became more colorful and intricate incorporating images of the west such as cacti, eagles, horses and horseshoes.
In the 1950s when rodeos became a popular form of entertainment and country music started being heard, the popularity of cowboy boots skyrocketed and millions of pairs were reportedly being made in all shapes, colors and styles.
After this the designs of cowboy boots followed the fashions and styles popularized in the movies - if John Travolta or Tom Cruise wore cowboy boots then those styles were immediately in demand.
Since the early 1990s boot makers have become even more adventurous and we are now seeing styles incorporating studs, conchos, rhinestones and precious stones, no doubt partly as a result of the interest in line dancing. Of course it is still possible to buy an attractive plain leather boot.
Part of the enduring appeal of the cowboy boot is that they can be worn by anyone.