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Walk This Way

Cowboy Boots Raise Your Stature With Style
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Rush Limbaugh, Spring 94

(continued from page 1)

Today, it is even more a part of Americana, with flourishing boot companies from coast to coast providing nourishment for both the sole and the soul. Millions of pairs of cowboy boots are purchased in the United States and Canada every year, some to the rich and famous, though mostly to those who are neither rich nor famous.

How unlikely it is that today's cowboy-boot wearer would have associated with yesterday's cowboy. The cowboy of myth, essentially the cowboy of Westerns, was an upstanding, though individualistic, member of society who upheld certain principles of civility and rode to the rescue of maidens while wearing a white hat--and his boots, of course. In truth, he was a member of an untrustworthy, uncivil lot, a drifter not unlike the tumbleweed that blew around him.

Still, we choose to believe the myth, for our own sake rather than history's. We choose to believe that the cowboys were like Tom Mix and Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers. And in contemporary life we take from both myth and reality the cowboy boot as a symbol of our pride, of our stature, of our individuality.

My, how individual cowboy boots can be. From cowhide to lizard, from kangaroo to python, cowboy boots can be made for every taste and every wallet. They can be made with grandiose stitching and inlay work, with any sort of toe from pointed to square, or with high heels or low heels, though there are those who would argue that the arrogance factor is greatly diminished with a lower heel. Most of all, they can be made to fit both the person and the personality.

The common cowboy boot is made of cowhide with minimal decorative stitching, a heel of 1 7/8 inches and in a shade of brown or black. Its wearer is looking for something that is both comfortable and fits with the Western image of denim jeans, a plaid shirt and a broad-brimmed hat.

There is far more to cowboy boots than cowhide, and even far more to cowhide than the conventional, off-the-shelf boot. First, however, you ought to know a little about the boot itself. Simply put, a cowboy boot is divided between the vamp, or shoe part, and the shaft, that part which protects the leg usually to a point above the bend of the calf muscle. The vamp and shaft are made separately and can often be of two different leathers.

A popular way to get the look of very exotic and expensive leathers is to use the exotic for making the vamp and a less expensive leather for the shaft. Putting together an alligator vamp with a cowhide or kangaroo shaft could cut the cost of a full alligator boot by half or more.

All sorts of leather can be used. A light, surprisingly tough and naturally distinctive leather is full-quill ostrich, with all those little bumps where the feathers were pulled out. Absolutely waterproof and tough-as-nails leather includes Norwegian ox and stingray, if you can find a boot maker willing to work with these needle-bending exotics. Python is probably the loudest of the leathers. You can get eel, shark, bullfrog and camel. A lovely and less costly substitute for full alligator is anteater.

Some people like to let the leather do the talking, preferring that there be little or no ornamentation other than the natural grain of the beast itself. Others want to do the talking themselves, and through the skill and magic of the boot maker, they can accomplish this with elaborate stitching and leather inlays in the shaft or with overlaid leathers on the vamp called foxing.

This is where the boot maker really comes to the fore. The custom boot is the ultimate expression of its wearer's personality and its maker's expertise. And while there are a number of boot companies that produce store-bought boots with sufficient personality to satisfy most boot wearers, getting a custom pair is a real kick.

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