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  • Elizabeth Little

Giddy Up, Cowboy Boots are Back

Calvin Klein Menswear, Fall 2017. Images via Shutterstock.

When I was four years old, my family and I moved to Montana. Before its new-found popularity, the small town where we lived was the epitome of old school charm with horses commonly seen in town and ranch supply shops abundant. Shortly after starting school, I wanted to be like everybody else and set my eyes on the one clothing item that would do it: cowboy boots. Specifically red cowboy boots. Every time we’d go to the store I’d see and admire them, but sadly they never came to fruition. Still, I lived my elementary school years as a happy little cowgirl (even if I didn’t actually live on a ranch) with lots of denim, bandanas, and even the occasional cowboy hat. But by the time I entered my tweens, I wished for nothing more than to shed my western image. Why would I want to look like a cowgirl when Avril Lavigne was now all the rage? For the next 15 years, I worked hard to make sure my personal style was as opposite as country as I could get, which was hard considering I was from Montana. “No, we don’t ride horses to school.” “No, not everyone in Montana knows each other,” were phrases I let out constantly.

Just when I thought the country days were finally behind me, cowboy boots made their comeback. From runways to Instagram, now everyone – regardless if they are city gals or rural folks – is desperate for a pair of these classic boots. Even just the other day, I found myself trying on a dress and my immediate thought was, “you know what this would look cute with?” As I perused eBay and Etsy for a pair, I began to wonder: when did these once practical, work boots become a fashion statement?

(From left to right) 19th Century Hessian Boots, Metropolitan Museum of Art; 1840s English Wellington Boots, LACMA.

What we think of as cowboy boots today isn’t always what they looked like. The divide in appearance can be separated into two categories: pre-Hollywood and post-Hollywood. Though the cowboy boot has no official creation date, the pre-Hollywood era of these boots saw their emergence in the 1800s in North America. During the mid 19th century, following the American Civil War and as the country continued its westward expansion, men working on the land needed a boot that was practical against the rugged terrain but could still be used in stirrups when riding horses and herding cattle. The cowboy boot came together from three pre-existing boots: the Wellington, the Hessian, and the Vaqueros. Wellington and Hessian boots were both European military boots, with the difference between the two being that Hessian boots are curved at the top, whereas Wellingtons are cut straight across. Sleek and classic, these boots were better suited to war than the rough landscape of the American West. The Vaqueros boot hails from Mexico. They were also a heeled riding boot, and appearance wise were most similar to the cowboy boot. Together, these three boots created the iconic work boot that are still functional – and used – today.

1940s era Cowgirl. Image via Shutterstock.

The post-Hollywood era saw the change in the cowboy boot’s appearance, which happened in the 1940s due to the rising popularity of Western movies. The boots became a bit more stylised with a more pointed toe and patterns on the exterior. (Fun fact: famous western movie actor Gary Cooper was born in Montana and went to high school in the same town that I grew up in, so it’s no wonder that the western aesthetic is still so strong there.) Western movies hit their highest popularity in the 1960s with “spaghetti” westerns abundant and the genre even making its way into television – Gunsmoke was one of the longest running TV shows ever running from 1955 to 1975. The 1970s saw the decline of the genre, and the death of John Wayne in 1979 also saw the death of the western movie, thus killing the cowboy aesthetic.

Britney Spears at the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards, 2003. Image via Shutterstock.

The 2000s saw a brief comeback of this sturdy boot and was their first time being worn as a true fashion item. Rather than wearing them in their classic aesthetic, the noughties revamped the style to glitz and glam. Adorned with studs and covered in glitter, you’d never see a boot in just plain brown during these years. They were a fixture on the red carpet among young stars, from Britney Spears to Sienna Miller alike.

However, the boots’ 2000s comeback was nothing compared to the resurgence that’s happening currently. Thanks to Calvin Klein’s Fall 2017 collection which showcased cowboy boots in various colours, they are now thriving. Calvin Klein continued featuring the boots in numerous collections, up until the closure of the brand's Ready-to-Wear line in 2019. Still, the closure couldn’t stop the trend’s continued rise in popularity. Other fashion houses began adopting the fad, like cult Scandinavian favourite Ganni and even couture houses such as Christian Dior. From red carpets to social media influencers to your local high street shop, cowboy boots cannot be stopped.

Timothée Chalamet at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival. Image via Shutterstock.

While these boots may be everywhere, I’m not sure if I’m yet ready to reclaim the image of cowgirl. Still, as I mull over making the plunge to finally add the boots to my online shopping basket, here are some of my favourite everyday people on Instagram wearing them, who may just inspire you too.


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