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