Monday, March 8, 2010

Bet Your Boots

While it’s universally accepted that you shouldn’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, it’s almost as rote that you can judge a man by the shoes on his feet. The Good Guy will take this notion a step further and introduce the opinion that, unless a man has walked a mile in a pair of honest-to-God cowboy boots, he still has a way to go.

For the better part of two centuries, the American cowboy has epitomized the concept of a real man, and around the world today his footwear of choice is recognized as that of the same. Presidents, politicians, CEO’s, attorneys, rock stars, actors and all-around icons (think T. Boone Pickens to Racehorse Haynes to James Dean) have all adopted this near-timeless tradition, and with good reason – when it comes to putting your stamp on the world, there’s no better way to do it than with a great pair of boots on your feet. However, the kind of boot you make that mark in has a lot to do with the kind of mark you want to make, and the choices of both are seemingly endless.

Pick Your Hide
We’ll begin with the actual materials. The vast majority of cowboy - or western - boots are made of cow hide, chosen for it’s tough but supple quality, versatility and of course abundance. For durability and comfort, you simply can’t go wrong with a really well made pair cow hide boots. Make your pair more unique by selecting something a little more exotic, from ostrich or lizard for texture to elephant or stingray for unparalleled endurance with style. Snakeskin, whether boa, python or rattlesnake, makes a bold statement and requires the appropriate amount of attitude to back it up, which is easily (and all too often) overdone. For the overall ultimate in luxury, the choice de rigeur remains alligator (or crocodile, caiman, etc.) Get yours in black, and go for a texture that’s smoother and more subtle, avoiding the over-the-top texture of the back and tail sections - impeccable from the boardroom to the barroom.

Make Your Point
The next telling point of a man’s boot is the shape of the toe, and there are as many as 12 recognized standard shapes, ranging from extremely pointed (X) to squared (C) or very rounded (W). Original working cowboys boots were given a slight point to more easily slip into a stirrup, and that shape was exaggerated greatly in the 40’s and 50’s, though for purely aesthetic reasons. Most aficionados tend towards the middle of the scale – pointed but not extreme (F or L) for everyday wear, though extreme points and square toes have both gained in popularity with the recent emergence of retro western trends.

Well Heeled
Another distinguishing factor of a man’s boot, and one of the characteristics that make the boot such a great choice in general, is the heel. There’s nothing better than legitimately adding an inch or more to your usual stature – whether you need it or not. And because boots are so often associated with horses, and horses have for centuries been equated with wealth and nobility, the height of a man’s boot heels still retains some connotation of a quality upbringing – hence the term “well-heeled.” As with the toe shape, there are a lot of options to choose from – heels can range from 1” to 2 1/4” and can be blocked (straight) or underslung. Again, the most popular choices tend to range short of the extreme, with a 1 5/8 to 2” heel, slightly underslung, (9) getting the most chances on the dance floor. However, as with toe shapes, the taller and more underslung styles have gained popularity, as they did in the 50’s and 60’s closer to the U.S./Mexican border. Quality heels are made of stacked, compressed leather, usually with a thin strip of rubber on the bottom. The soles of any quality boot are 100% leather. A great, wizened old boot maker also once told me that only a rough stock rider leaves his edges raw or unblacked.

Getting the Shaft

The shaft, or upper portion, of the boot is where you get the opportunity to really make a statement. While this portion of the boot is (and should almost always be) concealed beneath your trousers or jeans leg, the right boot shaft can garner just the right amount of attention when the wearer is seated, dancing, has one foot propped on the bar rail or both crossed on his expansive mahogany desktop during negotiations, worn leather soles facing your opponent with disdain. Start simply with an elaborate colored stitch pattern, take it farther with an altogether different colored shaft, or go all out with one-of-a-kind inlaid or cut-out shafts. Add your initials, brand, or other icons to signify the life you’ve chosen to lead. The top of the shaft, or scallop, also comes in a variety of options.

Regardless of your choice of “manly footwear,” whether it’s a roper style with 1” blocked heel, shorter shaft and rounded toe in chocolate brown ostrich or a buckaroo with massive heels, spur ridges, wide running board soles and featuring your initials above a full house (aces over kings) inlaid on shafts reaching almost to the knee, the over-riding concern should always be quality. For a can’t miss choice, check out Lucchese – made by hand in Texas since 1883. Prowl second hand shops in Houston, Austin and San Antonio in search of the distinctive finish of their calfskin creations, or head to El Paso to select your new pair. Better yet, find a great boot maker in your neck of the woods – someone like Maida’s Blackjack Boots in Houston - and work directly with them to layout your masterpiece from heel to toe, scallop to sole.

And in case you’re wondering – The Good Guy alternates most often between black Justins in kangaroo, with a squared toe, 1 5/8” heel and dark green calf skin shafts with orange stitching, and for special occasions breaks out a pair of Chris Romero black and white cut-outs with pointed toe, 2 1/4” underslung heel and amazing thunderbird shafts, handmade in 1968 and bought second hand in Houston for $120. A pair of bronze Nocona pythons from the 70’s also get a fair amount of screen time.

As always, The Good Guy does not profess to be an expert, but is simply putting it out there. If you’ve got something to add, let me hear from you.

No comments:

Post a Comment