How to Buy Cowboy Boots

Ever since I touched down in this great state, I’ve been scoping the wide Texas horizon and every boot store and western-wear depot to replace that which was taken away from me so long ago. And while I failed in my mission to find cowboy boots (from Amarillo to El Paso) I finally struck gold in the boot-shaking capital of Austin when I stumbled upon Allens.

Allens Boots is the largest individual retailer of cowboy boots in Texas, selling around 6,000 pairs a year. At first I was daunted by the selection, but luckily, store manager Ryan Stathos offered me some great advice on how to buy cowboy boots:

1)    Pick The Pair That Jumps At You. The right pair of cowboy boots will shout out to you from the rack. It’s common sense, but as you peruse the long line of leather footwear, the pair that stands out is more likely to be something you’ll want to wear for a long time.

2)    Watch Your Toes. Cowboy boots come with pointed, square, and rounded toes-and not everyone can wear any kind of toe. Decide which style you want and know which fits your foot best.

3)    Check Your Heels. Traditional boot heels range from 1 ½ to 1 5/8 of an inch, designed to secure the foot behind a riding stirrup and allowing cowboys to maneuver on the back of a horse. Some fashion designers play with the heel height, so watch out you don’t get something that’s too tall or too short.

4)    Size Down. This is not a hard and fast rule, but at least for men, your size in cowboy boots will typically be one size down from what you wear in dress shoes. Cowboy boots should be more form-fitted, like a glove on your foot. It should fit tightly but without discomfort.

5)    Tight But Not Too Tight. A good cowboy boot is very snug on the top and sides of the foot—it shouldn’t slide from side to side at all. The heel will slide a bit though, but not too much.

6)    Break ‘em In. Until you break in the sole of the boots, they will feel very stiff. Like all good leather boots, the more you wear them, the more they’ll conform to your foot.

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Allens Boots in Austin is the largest retailer of cowboy boots in Texas (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Other tips? Don’t ever buy used boots (they’ve already formed to somebody else’s foot) and always check where they’re made.

“Authentic cowboy boots are crafted in two places: Texas and Mexico,” Stathos explained to me.

“It’s like wearing art,” he said. Coming into this store is like entering a museum where you get to try on boots. He showed me one pair, handmade in Mexico, with smoking skulls stitched into the black and white leather.

“A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into this pair—it probably took a Mexican man at least one full year to make these. It’s very macho in their culture to make boots.”

Stathos also said that cowboy boots are becoming more fashionable—not just in Texas, but nationwide and around the world, “Nowadays, the boots are more fashion than utility, but we still sell working cowboy boots for ranchers and farmers.”

He doesn’t see that trend changing anytime soon, freely admitting that “Austin is booming.”

“Boots are a way of life down here. Everyone in the capitol building is wearing them, from the construction workers and janitors to the lawmakers—they all wear boots.”

And now so do I.

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After thirty years’ deprivation, my new buffalo-leather Lucchesse cowboy boots, Made in Texas, of course. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)