The cowboy boot is distinctly American, embodying the spirit of a man facing the vastness of nature with little other than the humble garments on his body, a few tools on his saddle, and the steed beneath him. Developed to perform a variety of tasks in a multitude of scenarios, in any weather, this boot is an enduring icon of the West, the Cattleman, and the American Dream. Truly, the cowboy boot was a critical part of the American cattleman’s progress in ranching the West, and many other places in the world. If you want to feel like you are here to run the day, rather than have the day run you, pull on a pair. There’s no footwear like the cowboy boot.
Guide to Buying Vintage Cowboy Boots
Ode to the Cowboy Boot
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It is a matter of function first and foremost. Even the most fashionable of well-made cowboy boots remain sturdy, weather resistant, walkable, and protective. While of course, the heel gives the wearer extra height and often an attractive stride, it is designed to prevent the foot from sliding dangerously through the saddle’s stirrup while riding. The toe can give a horse a nudge and can squash the proverbial cockroach in the corner if pointed enough. The shaft, in ever more epic heights, protects the leg from injury and the elements.
To the uninitiated, it might come as a surprise that there is a whole subculture devoted to the cowboy boot. Boots crafted by hand from hides of animals from several species of animal including reptiles and birds are enhanced with tooling, inlays, and gorgeous stitching. For many, forget splurging on designer jeans: blowing your paycheck on a pair of custom boots is the ultimate indulgence. The epitome of such custom boots is the Rocket Buster brand from – you guessed it- Texas. It seems that if you can dream it, they can craft it.
If you haven’t a whole (or several) paycheck(s) to spare, buying vintage might be the hot ticket for you. My personal collection of cowboy boots boasts a majority of vintage gems that I scored from yard sales, one barn sale, my Grandma, and now some from Instagram. Isn’t it awesome how we can buy cool, old stuff in such a new way?
I have long been an admirer of the Instagram account of GoodBuyGirls in Nashville, TN owned by the lovely and talented musician Tanya Montana Coe. This boutique has a brick and mortar location that I haven’t had the pleasure of perusing in person but I often drool over their selection of turquoise jewelry, retro rhinestone cowgirl duds, and most of all, their vintage cowboy boots.
When I reached out to Goodbuy Girls, Tanya shared with me her expert tips for what to look for when shopping for vintage cowboy boots so you Wildflowers will know just what to keep an eye out for.
When shopping for vintage (and as well as for new) cowboy boots, seek out high quality, made in America, leather boots. Higher quality leather will yield a more comfortable boot that will last much longer than a cheaper and/or manmade material. An advantage to seeking out vintage rather than new is that most vintage boots were made in the USA while many new boots, even from companies you’d expect American-made, are made in China and are thus likely of lower quality. Furthermore, many newer boots made on foreign soil have manmade soles (as opposed to the desireable leather soles) which are less comfortable and wear out faster. High-quality boots can last decades if well cared for so shop smart, Wildflowers.
How can you tell? Well if you are in person, high-quality leather feels softer and more supple to the hand while man-made leather feels more like paper, or has a smooth, paper-like surface. Usually, the materials are stamped inside the shaft of the boot (next to your shin or calf) and/or on the sole near the heel. If you are shopping online, ask the seller specifically if the boot is real leather or not.
Boots that are handmade are often the very best and if you see that term, you could safely bet that they are well made. Brands that a girl could count on to have high-quality vintage potential include (but are not limited to) Larry Mahan, Miss Capezio, Justin, Nocona, (their new red Legacy boots have me drooling!) Dan Post and Tony Lama. They are desirable not only for their high quality but for their classic look.
As far as finding boots that fit, it is, of course, best to try them on in person and walk around in them. But, for those of us buying online, here are some things to keep in mind.
Leather stretches as it is worn (another reason to buy real leather!). It is often easier to deal with boots that are a bit big (with insoles and thicker socks) than too tight. That said, order a half size up if you are in doubt. I know I have a pair of Frye’s I scored on eBay for 40 bucks (I know, deal of the century!) that I have to wear with super thick wool socks. They are gorgeous and thick socks are a practical solution. I have another pair of boots that are a bit snug and combined with the tragic post pregnancy foot growth spurt, are wearable with nylons only. Nylons help your foot and ankle slide in and out and minimize blister-causing friction so that also is a good workaround. So before you ship a pair back to the sender or down the road to your smaller sized bestie, try them out with different socks.
Nocona and Justin tend to run a bit bigger as well, so bear that in mind when choosing a size. Men’s boots tend to be wider than women’s and follow the standard 2 sizes down the rule of thumb: A size 7 men’s fits about a 9 in women’s.
Before clicking “Buy”, be sure to ask, ask, ask the seller anything you need to know about the boots include size, fit, etcetera. A knowledgeable seller will be able to help you decide if the boots are likely to fit your foot, style, and budget and would be deserving of your business if they take the time to answer your query.
When you find a pair that you absolutely adore, you will want to take good care of them. Avoid water on suede, hair on leather, and brushed leather as it can stain and discolor in short order. Clean other leather styles with a little warm water and a rag if need be and keep it simple; a little elbow grease and maybe a bit of unscented lotion (yeah, like the kind for your legs) to the condition when the leather seems dry can go a long way.
One person you should get to know is your local shoe repairman. A pair of boots can be rebuilt, re-soled, cleaned, and otherwise spiffed up to give them a whole new life for a relatively low cost. I had one pair of boots resoled with excellent quality soles that were actually way less slippery than the originals for 40 bucks, for example. I also would take boots to a repairman if they were a color (like blue or red, my faves) and were scuffed or dry and needed some touching up.
Here’s to scoring ever more pairs of my very favorite footwear, Wildflowers!