Sartorial Love/Hate: Cowboy Boots

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“Yee hah!” I think to myself when I see a pair of them, clicking around London’s cobbled streets; the pointed toes, robust and upturned, kicking into the cold English air. The wearer’s jeans conceal all except the foot but even then, their distinctive shape and unmistakable click give the game away; some look on in admiration, some hide chuckling faces of mockery and derision: the cowboy boot has admirers, but it also has enemies.

In the right environment, it would be daft to wear anything else; cowboy boots, I have been informed, are perfect for their required purpose. The attractive image of a rancher in a Stetson, checked shirt, blue denim and cowboy boots is timeless; and an image contemporary designers, such as DSquared, have partly plagiarised for their collections. Admittedly, this look owes a lot to Hollywood, particularly the popularity of personalities such as James Dean and Gary Cooper, who blazed across the broad cinema screen in dusty, cowboy clothing; the cowboy boots on their feet transformed from hick, Lonesville USA essentials into fashion items desired by many. Were it not for the motion picture Western, I doubt cowboy boots would be worn in the cold concrete towns of Eastern Europe; a tribute to the immense wonder of cinema.

I once tried a pair of cowboy boots in Texas, a state that seemed to me the home of the particular item, for they were worn everywhere; in the steak houses by smiling ol’ Texans in gingham shirts, by smartly dressed businessmen in downtown Dallas and by the ‘ladies who brunched’ at the glitziest hotels. Though the influence of European fashion is discernible in such a place, the stoic resistance and great Lone Star pride of their ranching past is more overt.

However, it is precisely this connection that has negative influence for those not Texan by birth. The cowboy boot is as alien to some Americans as the hot dog to a Moroccan; it’s part of a culture and a way of life that is somehow not their own.

The cowboy boot, with the distinctive angled heel, the pointed toes that make one’s feet seem trowel-like, and the rigid upturned profile, is to some a practical, even stylish item of footwear that recalls the glory of onscreen Westerns, the magic of the Wild West and the tough, unshaven masculinity of a bygone age. To others, the boot is graceless and entirely inappropriate for metropolitan wear.

When I walked around in the brightly lit emporium in Dallas that sold the pair, a large warehouse building that reeked of leather, testing my cowboy credentials in a very cowboy state, I realised that I was touching a fantasy; I could never have proper use for such footwear. I lack the languorous manliness essential to look appropriate. Even then, I would question the purchase for one such as myself. I don’t harbour hatred for them as some do, nor do I question their appropriateness and practicality in certain environments. It merely seems to me that the cowboy boot, rather like the state of Texas – delightful as it was – ‘‘ain’t for everyone.’’


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. Nicola Linza says:

    Winston,

    The issue of cowboy boots (boots in general) is a very important topic. It opens the door wide open to what is simply footwear, and what is really fashion. This issue translates across the fashion spectrum examining what real style is all about.

    I say, owning a number of pair of black boots myself including Lucchese cowboy boots (as well as a pairs of riding boots, military style boots, and biker boots,) well fitting jeans, a simple white tee shirt, and dark cowboy boots is a very raw, masculine, sexy look. It works for me. The suggestion that cowboy boots potentially do not work outside of such a conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception of a Texas setting is so mentally limiting and non-fashion minded. In a fashioh sense it is an allusion to something that is startling enough to make me jump back in surprise.

    On the right man, boots, cowboy or otherwise, can be very stylish for shopping, an underground nightclub, a trendy bar, Fashion Week, etc. They are worn in Texas with fine suits. Yes, that is not my personal style yet I have seen men in bespoke suits in Dallas wearing hats and cowboy boots, and frankly, they looked fantastic.

    It must be clear that these types of items are stylish items only when worn with style. Does that make sense? If worn the right, way by the right man, they can be iconic, ironic, and witty – that is the whole idea – for the cowboy boot outside of Texas (or even California and Florida – yes, Florida has cowboys, and is the place I bought my first pair out at the fields in Wellington.) Any reference if some may have, any “negative” connotation, as you allude to outside of Texas says more about the individual’s taste, style and sophistication level. The insecurity of some men is often exposed under such circumstances; especially from men who do not know how to take an item out of context and wear it successfully (which again is the basis of real fashion anyway.) There are many edgy high style looks and items in fashion that are criticized yet worn with panache by stylish men in London, Paris, Milan and New York, yet some may consider some of it untouchable, which is a personal point of view. Boots including cowboy boots can certainly be taken out of context, with great success and taste because true high style is daring taste taken out of context with great sophistication.

    I will prove it to you. The image of Gianni Agnelli wearing black heavy high boots with a fine suit, or his watch above his cuff, examples unconventional style at its highest level. A given item may simply not be part of one’s personal style but it does not mean it cannot work. A man may harbor deep-seated desires to wear something, yet know that he lacks the physical look or confidence to pull it off in or out of its original context. But, that does not negate the fact that taking an item out of context and making it work is at the core of what fashion is truly about – otherwise all we have is footwear and clothing no matter how well made.

    The idea of the average man’s negative associations are often altered, and thrown out the window, by truly fashionable people. That is how real fashion is created with ease, and often leaves those who cannot detach from those average chains trying too hard to be fashionable and only looking like cartoon characters in the process.

    I believe in style rules that work for an individual not those imposed in the conventional sense. I believe that some of these conventional rules sometimes are too pedestrian, and have to be tossed. How many times can we view the same boring things, done repeatedly, worn the same way, time in and time out, at the same places without falling into complete delirium? That is not fashion.

    There are innovative designers of great taste and intelligence doing terrific boots, even black military inspired boots, that are great outside of military settings, check the shop Atelier, New York for many fine examples.

    As you have stated cowboy boots, ‘‘ain’t for everyone,” I do agree on principle. Would any of these types of boots work on a prissy shellacked Hercule Poirot type? Please, no. Nevertheless, I can tell you that one will see many pairs of these types on very edgy and highly fashionable men, both designers and models at Fashion Week coming up in New York.

    It boils down to the issue of personality and practicality, having the style and confidence, to wear what works on oneself. Yet, it is essential, in terms of proportion, that a man is well built, tall and long-legged to pull off any high boot, especially cowboy boots, in a non-cowboy setting. There is nothing more ridiculous than a short-legged and fat man in a pair of high dark boots outside of context, which is one urban aesthetic I can do without.

    Boy is that enough rattle and hum for one morning from me!

    Nicola

  2. Im a huge fan of the cowboy boots. Would it not be great to see these out in nightclubs?

    Mind you knowing the English it will be seen as a weapon

  3. C.S. says:

    Wow! What a perfect opportunity to post the lyrics to one of the great underappreciated country songs of all time — London Homesick Blues by Gary P. Nunn! Particularly for the last verse, which includes the cowboy-boots-in-London lines “And them Limey eyes, they were eyein’ a prize/That some people call manly footwear.”

    Ahem . . .

    London Homesick Blues
    by Gary P. Nunn

    Well, when you’re down on your luck,
    and you ain’t got a buck,
    in London you’re a goner.
    Even London Bridge has fallen down,
    and moved to Arizona,
    now I know why.
    And I’ll substantiate the rumor
    that the English sense of humor
    is drier than the Texas sand.
    You can put up your dukes,
    and you can bet your boots,
    that I’m leavin’ just as fast as I can.

    Chorus;
    I wanna go home with the armadillo.
    Good country music from Amarillo and Abilene.
    The friendliest people and the prettiest women
    you’ve ever seen.

    Well it’s cold over here, and I swear,
    I wish they’d turn the heat on.
    And where in the world is that English girl,
    I promised I would meet on the third floor.
    And of the whole damn lot, the only friend I got,
    is a smoke and a cheap guitar.
    My mind keeps roamin’, my heart keeps longin’
    to be home in a Texas bar.

    Chorus

    Well, I decided that, I’d get my cowboy hat
    and go down to Marble Arch Station.
    ‘Cause when a Texan fancies, he’ll take his chances,
    and chances will be takin, now that’s for sure.
    And them Limey eyes, they were eyein’ a prize,
    that some people call manly footwear.
    And they said you’re from down South,
    and when you open your mouth,
    you always seem to put your foot there.

  4. Jeff Cole says:

    Cowboy boots are very popular here in America. So is country music. Texas is not the only place where they are acceptible. In live in California and wear them 3 times a weekmto the office.