Walk This Way
Cowboy Boots Raise Your Stature With Style
From the Print Edition:
Rush Limbaugh, Spring 94
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The major boot companies can all accommodate the custom-boot wearer. The big companies, like Tony Lama and Justin Boots, the not-quite-so-big boot companies like Lucchese and Rios of Mercedes, and the individual boot-making operations like Dave Little and Jack Reed and James Leddy, are all located in Texas. Custom boots can be ordered through many Western-wear shops. Billy Martin's in New York City, the epicenter of urban-cowboy fashion, sells a full line of conventional boots by top makers and also fills custom orders.
Gary Van der Meer is the vice president of Billy Martin's, in charge of the boot department, where he sells and designs boots and takes care of custom orders. Van der Meer loves boots and is a collector. "They are an expression of nostalgia for an era when it was every man for himself," says Van der Meer. "They are wearable art, and they make you taller."
Being an individualist himself, Van der Meer wouldn't tell you which kind of boot to buy, but he does offer these tips on what to look for in a quality boot. One, make sure the side stitching on the shaft is straight; it's an indication that the leather has been stretched evenly. Two, make sure the steel shank inside the arch of the shoe has been pegged to keep it from sliding around. Three, the sole stitching should be buried; that is, a groove should be cut into the sole, and the stitching should be insidethe groove.
In Billy Martin's you can find the Lucchese line, which includes the sharp and sophisticated black-cherry alligator. You can find Martin's own line of boots made by Eddie Kimmel of Comanche, Texas. You can find the outrageous boots by Rocketbuster of El Paso, Texas, which include the commemorative Roy Rogers and Dale Evans boots. Only 50 pairs of each were made; they are autographed on the inside by their namesakes. The Roy Rogers boot is $5,000, the Dale Evans, $3,500.
Martin's also sells vintage boots, which is a euphemistic way of saying they are used. Vintage cowboy boots are probably the only upscale used-shoe market in the world, with buyers paying more than $5,000 for boots with elaborate inlay and tool work in good condition. From his store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, Mark Fox does a big business with the Hollywood crowd in vintage boots for both wearing and collecting.
Of course, you could go to Texas. On further consideration, maybe you should go to Texas. This is where the heart of the boot-making industry is, and it is quite possible to lose your heart to a custom pair of boots.
Want a pair with flaming dragons on the shaft? Want elaborate, saddle-work tooling from the toe to the collar? Want a likeness of your sweetheart on the toe? It can all be done, with money and patience. Elaborately inlaid boots can cost as much as the most exotic leather. Remember that inlays have to be duplicated for two boots, and a pair of boots with flamboyant and complicated inlays can take a boot maker more than 200 hours. Your cost: at least $5,000. And the wait could be more than a year.
Ah, but what price patience when it comes to affairs of the feet, or is it really the heart? While the first-time wearer almost always finds the boots difficult to walk in the first few days, he also finds that his feet adapt to this new angle of walking, and in turn his psyche also adapts. Cowboy boots have a way of breaking you in.
Paul Newman still has a pair of boots that he wore in the movie Hud. He buys low-heeled ropers today. Wayne Gretzky and his wife Janet Jones bought matching alligator boots from the Alberta Boot Co., one of Canada's finest. Malcolm Forbes was a cowboy-boot wearer. Mickey Mantle, a native Oklahoman, loves them. They are standard attire for Robert Redford. And that paragon of American style, Ralph Lauren, loves to be seen in them.
Whatever style you choose, whatever the leather, whatever the embellishment, cowboy boots are for those who set themselves apart--or wish to. These boots are made for walking and much, much more.
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