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Cowboy Boots are High Heels for Men

(originally posted 10-23-12 at The Post Apoc)

Torc-in-Boots

 

Cowboy boots are high heels for men.  By that, I mean that they are extremely impractical for daily wear, and yet, are worn in order to make a statement about the wearer.  Sure, there are lots of examples of this: skinny jeans, fedoras, “fashion” eyeglasses with clear non-prescription lenses, most jewelry, neck ties, etc.  However, I have a particular loathing for impractical footwear because it actually hinders your interaction with the world – and cowboy boots, especially, because people tend to believe the opposite.

Women would argue that high heels look sexy because they extend the body, accentuate the calves, and tighten the butt.  I concede those points.  Most women would also concede that high heels are bad for their feet, can potentially cause ankle injuries, prevent them from walking across soft ground, and make it difficult to run or navigate difficult terrain (yeah yeah, I’ve heard it before, ladies – “I can run in my heels!” – sure you can, ma’am, and you look absolutely ridiculous trying to do it, and you’d actually move faster if you took the damn things off). For all their faults, high heels have unfortunately become an expected part of both professional and formal attire.  That said, so were powdered wigs a couple hundred years ago, and we retired those.

Ah, cowboy boots.  They were originally designed hundreds of years ago for military cavalry – that is, for riding horses.  The treadless sole and pointed toe made it easy to slip the boot in and out of the stirrup, and the high leather ankle added saddle support and protected the inside of the leg from the long term friction of riding.  The heel was added to give the stirrup a place to “lock in” under the foot.  In effect, these boots were purpose designed, and perfectly so, for the riding of horses.  Over the years, the military style riding boot evolved into the western style riding boot we see today, which is slightly shorter and lacks the straps and buckles of the cavalry boot.

Cowboys were a practical group of men, obviously not concerned with fashion, but rather, with making a living to support their families in the often inhospitable “old west”.  They wore stiff and durable fabrics that protected their skin from abrasion and lasted under strenuous conditions, wide brimmed hats that blocked the sun and channeled rainwater, and boots that were perfectly adapted to their primary mode of transportation – the horse.

With very few exceptions (I’m looking at you, rodeo and casual riders), most modern cowboys do not ride horses.  In fact, even the ones that DO ride horses, usually wear their boots even when they aren’t.  Why?  Because it makes a statement.  It says, “This is my lifestyle.  This is how I define myself. “  Whether  they’d like to believe it or not, it’s a fashion – just like fake glasses, skinny jeans, and men wearing scarves with their t-shirts.  Yes, cowboys, you are slaves of fashion.

“But I can walk and run just fine in my boots.” says the Cowboy.  True, you can, just like I could walk or run in flip flops, bowling shoes, dress shoes, and even ski boots.  That doesn’t mean I should.  I don’t stomp around in ski boots to let everyone know I love the sport (which I do).  A snorkeling devotee wouldn’t walk around town in goggles and a snorkel to let people know they identified as such – it’s just not practical.

“I wear them because they’re durable, and I work outdoors a lot.” says the Cowboy.  Whether or not the cowboy actually does work outside, and isn’t just living the farm fantasy perpetuated by his country/western music (much the way wannabe gangsters are living a fantasy perpetuated by hip-hop), the fact remains that a boot with a treadless sole and a heel is NOT ideal for work.  A work boot is designed for work.  A work boot, while also leather, has a wide, flat sole for stability, extra cushion in the sole for comfort while standing for long periods, deep tread for traction, laces so it can be tightened to fit snugly around the foot and ankle of the wearer, and often features a steel toe cap for protection.

“I wear them because I like them, and because they look good.”  Says the Cowboy.

“Yes,” I reply, “That is absolutely correct.”  So, admit that.  Don’t try to spin the fact that you’re engaging in a fashion.  Hell, there’s nothing wrong with fashion – after all, how much starch did you put in that two-tone denim shirt?

Why don’t I pick on bikers that walk around in leathers and motorcycle boots?  Because, most likely, the biker showed up on a motorcycle.  The cowboy, most likely, showed up in an automobile.

A friend of mine pointed out the other day, “But Eric, you often wear hiking boots…”  Partly true – I wear hiking shoes, not hiking boots, because the shoes are more flexible, breathable, and lighter weight.

So, why do I wear them? Well, what is hiking?  It’s walking.  What do I do every day in my hiking shoes?  I walk around.  Walking is my primary mode of transportation.  I walk around my house, I walk around the office, and even when I drive somewhere, I walk to my car, and then I walk around the place that I drive to.  My hiking shoes are light, supportive, breathable, and comfortable.  Perhaps I should wear a walking or running shoe, but my hiking shoes are made of slightly heavier materials that often last much longer (a pair can easily last me two years of daily wear) and many pairs have water resistant linings that allow me to stomp around in puddles when the weather gets bad without fear of getting my feet wet.  There you have it – my justification.  Do I like the way my shoes look, and do I like what they say about me?  You’re damn right I do.  They say, “Practicality is important to me.”

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19 Responses to Cowboy Boots are High Heels for Men

  1. Amber says:

    Interesting that you would spend so much time writing about why you hate cowboy boots. I think you’re really in love with them are are jealous of guys who can live in cowboy boots. You probably have a few pairs with the heels raised to 5 or 6 inches and wear them with short shorts, running around and trying to keep your friends away from your backside.

  2. joshana First says:

    but……but……Chuck Norris wears them! And he is certanly no slave to fasion with his tight jeans with a snakeskin belt and western buckle and denim shirt with the sleeves turned back and black leather gloves and an uzi in each hand…….

  3. Hank says:

    A fool talking of which he knows nothing. I can agree with the urban cowboys, but not COWBOYS who go from horse to ground and walk easily in western boots whether on the dance floor or working his horse. I don’t carry two pair of footwear and only an idiot would. The western boot is equally at home on a horse or the ground to a real cowboy. So shut up and wear your yuppie hiking boots because cowboys could not care less.

    • Eric Dean says:

      Hey Cowboy! Thanks for reading the blog! I appreciate you taking the time away from your cattle drive to swing by and share your opinions. We agree on one thing – the cowboy boot was purpose-designed for use in riding a horse. Specifically, for sliding into and locking into the stirrup. Does that mean you can’t also walk around and work in it? Of course not. You could walk around and work in flip flops too. The thing is, cowboy boots were not designed for working or walking, and thus, are not the BEST option for doing so. If you actually ride a horse, by all means wear a cowboy boot designed for riding horses, and if you then step off to do some work, you’re right, it would be silly to change shoes first. However, outside of the context of a rodeo, horse show, or casual riding, how often to “real cowboys” ride horses? My family owns a cattle ranch, and they drive pickups and ride ATVs to get around the land. Therefore, they have no purpose for a cowboy boot. Instead, they wear footwear which was purpose-designed for work – a work boot. Again, you can do whatever you want in your cowboy boots, Hank, my argument is that they aren’t the BEST design for anything other than riding horses (or fitting into “Cowboy” fashion). Happy Trails!

  4. mike smith says:

    Found your site while looking for a more easy walking cowboy boot. You are only sort of right(like everyone is on every subject). I was almost killed on a horse years ago because I wasn’t wearing cowboy boots. Because of sports and horses my knees are very painful when I walk tennis shoes, but the pain is not there in boots. So it is far more easy for me to walk and work in boots, plus move about on horseback. When I was younger I could run the 100 in boots. I think you don’t realize that everything is a statement about who you are, even NOT wearing cowboy boots, or , like yourself I assume, being totally invisible to anyone lest you be defined. Lighten up fashionista.

    • Eric Dean says:

      So, what you’re saying is that you agree that western style boots are designed for riding, and have experienced proof of such. However, in your subjective opinion and experience, you prefer walking in boots and were once able to run in boots… so that makes them objectively better? What exactly is your argument?

      I could learn to run in high heels if I worked at it, but are they the BEST option for running? You seem to be confused by the difference between being able to do something despite the conditions and being able to do something while optimizing the conditions.

      And yes, you’re right – everything IS a statement. Like I said in the piece, I’m a practical person, so I wear practical footwear. Your assumption of my wishing to be invisible isn’t correct either, but bravo for taking a shot – my social visibility is irrelevant to my choice in clothing and accessories. I wear what’s practical and comfortable, and tend to avoid anything that might incite immediate judgement or classification by potentially antagonistic people, i.e. controversial political/religious slogans or team affiliations, or overtly antagonistic anti-whatever messages. If high-visibility is your thing, great, but my entire point was that wearing western boots in a social setting in which they aren’t the most practical footwear means you’ve chosen to do so for fashion reasons, and all you seem to be doing is confirming my point.

      Most importantly, thanks for reading and commenting, Mike! I understand that critical thinking isn’t always easy, but I appreciate your effort.

  5. Cory Lejeune says:

    You’ve never lived in New Mexico or West Texas, have you? Believe it or not, they are functional as is the hat. The kind of boot you’re describing is a fashion thing-dress boots. I don’t have a single pair of boots without treads.

    I’ll cut to the chase. Not everybody who lives in one part of the country thinks like everyone else.

    The first time I visited NYC I wondered why everyone wore black. It’s simply because light colors show dirt easy.

    If you live around rattle snakes and or mud constantly, you wear boots.

    My point? You’re being ethnocentric in the sense of footwear, for lack of a better word.

    PS: I hate country music. I like hard rock and metal. 🙂

    • Eric Dean says:

      I’ve been to both New Mexico AND West Texas, and the point that you, and others, keep missing is that if you are one of the people using the boots as intended, then this article is obviously not directed at you. I’m speaking solely to those who both use them as a fashion statement yet claim to be doing so for practicality. Also, this is one of many articles, and definitely not anything close to my heart, lol. For some reason, though, this article gets pretty much the second most attention of anything on the site – the western boot mafia is strong, I do declare. Try reading my article about the missing Hanjo Masamune. That debacle could use a few more “boots on the grounds” so to speak.

  6. Cory Lejeune says:

    Dear god. Just read your last response. You’re a snob bubba, and right now you’re feeling better about yourself by picking on us poor rubes in flyover country who wear boots. Critical thinking is hard? You seriously said that to that guy.

    You gotta find some joy in life, man.

    • Eric Dean says:

      “God” is a bit much, but I’ll take Bubba. That’s what my ex called me, so it’s endearing. You forget, I’m a rube from flyover country too, and as far as my joy in life, you’re there, bud. This site. The writing on it. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and share your honest thoughts 🙂

      ps – the tone of my response to that other guy was flavored by his initial tone. Serve and be served in kind.

  7. Rob Wood says:

    Eric,
    I enjoyed your boot essay, and you raised some good points. Cowboy boots can certainly be a fashion statement. The cool thing about that is they haven’t gone out of style in over a hundred years. How many kinds of footwear can lay claim to that?

    I have found them to be enormously practical. I can go from the house to the barn, to the saddle, to the truck, to the store, out to dinner at a restaurant, and back to the house without changing shoes. I can even shine them up and wear them to a wedding! Not only that, but the pair I had made for me by the Stewart Boot Company in 1989 are still going strong (after several re-soles). That one pair of boots has outlasted dozens of sneakers, and I have not been kind to them. You get your money’s worth from a good pair of boots (not the $100 dance hall boots you see in most of the stores).

    I wore boots for so long that anything else feels weird. Still, you rightly point out some weaknesses in the average boot design when it comes to traction and ankle support. That’s why many working cowboys have gone to the packer style cowboy boot. They have laces for ankle support, enough tread for traction, but not so much that they catch in a stirrup. There is a good riding heel with a spur shelf, and a narrow toe. It’s a good option.

    When I was younger, I had a pair of boots and a pair of sneakers. The sneakers were for exercising, the boots did everything else. I couldn’t afford to have a closet full of footwear for different occasions. Boots work equally well with old jeans or dress pants; now that’s versatile! The boot can do the job of the dress shoe, but the dress shoe cannot do the job of the boot. I guess the fashion statement I was making was “can only afford two pairs of footwear.”

    These days, I have all manner of shoes. Dress shoes, running shoes, tactical boots, hiking boots, sandals, and flip-flops. Still, for casual everyday wear, nothing is as comfortable as my custom-made Stewart boots. They’re molded to my feet, they breathe well (at worst, my feet will smell like leather), and they go with most of my clothes; not so much with shorts, you know. Sure, there’s a fashion element involved, but that’s not all there is to it, at least for me. They feel good, they look good, and they last a very long time. I wouldn’t go on a long hike (like I did in my younger days) or a jog in them, but they’re good for most anything else. Sure, they’re best for riding. My truck is best for hauling and towing, not for parking in town or getting great gas mileage. But if I can only have one vehicle, I’m going to go with what’s most practical for my needs. I could save a lot on gas with a Honda Civic, but I surely couldn’t bring in a cord of firewood with it.

    p.s.~ So what if your piece on boots brings in the lion’s share of attention? You’ve put your thoughts in writing, and people are reading it. You may feel you have more important things to say, but people are finding your words (like the cowboy boot, after all these years) relevent. Good job.

  8. Unknown says:

    I’ll bite and comment since I was looking for boot care tips to hopefully salvage a pair, which someone lead to this coming up in my search.
    Everything you have said is correct, maybe I can clarify from what I summarized. You are speaking about the bro country crowd that lifts their truck to go to the mall, wears a John deer cap yet goes to Starbucks every morning. Without touching any john deer other than a lawnmower.
    I don’t see why people are being upset for summarizing what I know they hate if they truely use the boots as intended. I honestly have a pair of Justin’s that I wear at work for the simple fact that they are amazing work boots with a rubber sole and are comfortable as hell. I ride rarely at this point, however they’ve seen 5 winters working outdoors and have never failed me when it comes to stopping water or leaving wetblisters. Ignore the naysayers. They are simply looking for reasons to complain.

  9. Ross says:

    The Chukka boot was made for desert soldiers in North Africa during WWII; Not for style or to function as comfortable footwear. Does this mean chukka boots should never be worn outside the desert or outside combat zones?

    Of course not. People wear shoes because they themselves like them or they want to impress other people. I don’t ride horses, but cowboy boots look awesome and are comfortable to wear so I wear them just about daily.

    I also find that people who berate others are generally self conscious (I used to be this way too) and will dissuade others from bettering themselves for personal “gain.” Keep talking other people’s style down if you want everyone to know you aren’t confident. Confident people really don’t care about your opinion and will continue to wear cowboy boots regardless (myself included).

    • Eric Dean says:

      lol, Thanks Ross. Excellent thoughts. I will point out that you, yourself, said that you wear them because they look awesome and are comfortable, NOT because they’re the most practical footwear for your daily life, so in a way, you’re agreeing with me. Btw, I also love that you pointed out, knowingly, your own self-consciousness and how it drove your need to respond to my post in the way that you did, despite not caring about my opinion (it must have been difficult). I agree with you that self-awareness is extremely important, and I appreciate your honesty and sincerity.

  10. Ozzie says:

    Eric, Great writing, and I agree with you totally. Cowboy boots are meant for riding a horse and not much else. I have a new pair with pointy toes and 7 inch heels (made by a friend of mine). I can walk in them but I sure can’t run. I wear these boots with very short cutoff jeans and a big western belt when partying with my other gay buddies and going to gay bars, where I bartend in these duds. By the way, your writings are excellent, great writing skills.

  11. Milo Laycraft says:

    I wear cowboy boots almost every day. I am a cowboy, and I ride horses on a regular basis, so the boots are absolutely practical for me to have. But, I’m at university right now, so for the foreseeable future my boots are less about being the best for riding horses, and more a fashion statement, telling people who I am and what I stand for. I am part of a dying breed, and in this increasingly urbanized world I dream of wide open spaces and the “open range”, and wearing cowboy boots is one way to try to hold on to the way things used to be. So, wearing cowboy boots when not riding a horse is about fashion, but it’s not just about fashion, it is about trying to hold on to how things used to be.
    Now, about whether or not cowboy boots are practical for everyday use, I would say yes. Cowboy boots wear out fast if you are walking on pavement every day (which, yes, if you live in the city and pretend to be a cowboy and all you use your cowboy boots for is walking to your car, then maybe you should consider different footwear that is better on concrete), but otherwise if you take proper care of your boots they should last for many years.Also, cowboy boots are tough and durable, and they make cowboy boots with steel toes if you want the extra protection. Once, while wearing running shoes, I stepped on a long thorn, and the thorn went through the shoe’s sole and into my foot. With a leather or thick rubber sole, that doesn’t happen, and with my boots I could step on all the thorns and nails I wanted and not have to worry. Leather boots protect your feet better than your average fabric or rubber shoes because the material is tougher. Also, the boot shaft provides protection for your lower leg. The shaft on a boot keeps your leg from being rubbed raw while riding, but it also protects from general scrapes and scratches. All of this is also true for leather work boots, but it is my personal opinion that cowboy boots are better. Not having laces, you never have to worry about your bootlaces coming undone, nor do you have to worry about the laces getting caught on things. Not to mention that it is faster and easier to put on a pair of cowboy boots compared to work boots because you don’t have to sit there and tie and untie your boots. This is good for me because I often have to be out the door at a moment’s notice to pull a calf, doctor a cow, shoot at a coyote that is too close to the calves, or various other things. And for anyone that says cowboy boots have bad traction, they make cowboy boots with rubber soles for grip. I wear cowboy boots with traditional smooth leather soles, though, and I have never had issues with traction. I have never slipped and fallen on ice wearing cowboy boots, but I have in both running shoes and work boots, which is bad because it’s not like the cowboy boots get put away in the winter. You also have to consider that cowboy boots weigh less, and in my experience, are much more comfortable no matter what you are doing, whether riding, working, or walking.

    I suppose what I’m saying is that yes, cowboy boots are a fashion item, and there are certain people who wear them exclusively for fashion, but they are also extremely functional, and I believe that fashion and practicality can exist in the same space. Even if you’re not riding a horse , cowboy boots are still a really good option.

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