What to Look for in a Pair of Cowboy Boots

by Janet Brown
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What to Look for in a Pair of Cowboy Boots

Buying a pair of cowboy boots can be a truly complex endeavor. You have to know what style you want, what kind of exotic (or not so exotic) leather you prefer, how high of a shaft you’re ready to tackle, what style of sole you need, and so much more. You even need to consider toe shape!

It helps a lot to know what to look for, but in order to know that, you have to know how you’re planning to use your new boots. Will they be for dancing, or roping calves? Let’s take a closer look at how to choose cowboy boots for function and fit.

Get the Style Right

Western boots come in a few different styles: 

  • Cowboy
  • Roper
  • Stockman
  • Western work boot
  • Buckaroo

The classic cowboy style has a 12-inch shaft, a Cuban heel of 0.5 to 1.5 inches, and pull straps to help you put the boot on. Some new boot designs these days place a zipper in the side of the shaft which, while not traditional, could help you rock the style if you have trouble pulling a tall boot on. Cowboy boots are designed for riding, hence the narrow toe and relatively high heel that allow the boot to go easily into a stirrup and stay there. Ropers, stockmans, and Western work boots are all designed for rodeo work or the kind of ranch hand work that doesn’t take place in the saddle. As a result, these styles have wider, shorter heels and rounder toes.

Buckaroo-style cowboy boots are designed for the cowboy who spends a lot of time in the saddle, riding in the backcountry. The shafts are taller – typically 14 inches or more – to protect more of the rider’s leg from bushes and brambles. The buckaroo style also features a taller heel that a spur can attach to. 

Toe Shape Is Important

If you’re going to be living in Texas, you need to make sure that you know what the toe shape you choose says to the locals about your personality. Round toes are read as more conservative, at least in terms of fashion sensibilities. They’re a safe bet if you’re buying your first pair of cowboy boots. Square toes are also getting popular, but might scream “oil tycoon” or “frat boy.” Pointy and snipped toe styles are seen as ultra-stylish, if somewhat rakish.

Exotic vs. Conventional Leathers

The choice of leathers for your cowboy boots can be one of the most daunting, especially if you’re in the market for some exotic leathers. Cow leather is durable and cheap, and is by far the most common material for cowboy boots. Goat leather is another popular choice that’s a step up from cow, but not quite a luxury leather (although it probably is too soft for a true work boot).

Exotic boot leathers come from a range of animals, including caimans, pythons, rattlesnakes, anacondas, sharks, elephants, ostriches, and stingray. Reptile leathers are popular for more formal occasions, but they do need to be cleaned and conditioned regularly so the leather doesn’t dry out and crack. Other leathers, like ostrich, are more supple on their own. Exotic leathers will offer various levels of comfort, flexibility, and durability. Some of the more popular exotic leathers, like ostrich, are tough, soft, and comfortable, with the flexibility to move when you walk and the elasticity to conform to the shape of your foot.

Choose an Appropriate Sole Type

Some boots, like men’s and women’s ropers, Western work boots, and stockman boots come with rubber soles, while the more traditional styles come with leather soles. Rubber soles offer more traction and are great for a work boot. Leather soles will scuff up with time and eventually offer more traction over time. Leather soles are best for dancing, while rubber soles are best for working and walking in.

Fit Is Crucial

A cowboy boot should fit snugly over your foot, with one-quarter to one-half an inch of slippage in the heel. The slippage will go away as the shoe molds itself to your foot. Your toes should be able to lie flat in the boot with room to wiggle. 

Different brands of cowboy boots will fit differently, so it’s helpful to try them on in person before you make a decision.

The right pair of cowboy boots can go with any outfit – and Western wear never goes out of fashion. Choose your new boots carefully, because you’ll likely be wearing them for years.

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