The image of the cowboy in a white Stetson hat, fringed and spangled attire and Cuban-heeled boots was born from the mythos of colonial North America. However, the spangled uniform that we recognise as the cowboy-look, is not exactly what those first European colonists were wearing in the mid-1800s. Instead, the cowboy-look is a contemporary amalgamation of 1800s workwear (created for strength, practicality and durability), military uniforms, the Mexican vaquero and the glitzy, eye-catching costumes created for Hollywood ‘Westerns’ during the early 20th century’s golden age of cinema.


The narratives surrounding the cowboy can be seen as an early, romanticised version of the ‘American Dream’; a figure who adventures to the frontier to seek prosperity and success; who is morally upright and hardworking; and importantly, through their hard work and bold attitude, has the opportunity for upward social mobility. Coming out of the great depression, the pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps concept of the cowboy western genre was a hit in early Hollywood films. The cowboy quickly became an icon of desirable masculinity, both tough and romantic;

“he represents rugged individualism in beer commercials, unadorned masculinity in cigarette advertising, and ultimate heroism in fiction and film” (3). William Savage in his book The Cowboy Hero (3), describes the cowboy as an “invisible man”; because there was no one person who was THE cowboy, the figure is no one and everyone. A cowboy could have been (and continues to be) any of the farm laborers, cattle rustlers, bandits, land owners and entrepreneurs who existed anywhere west of the Mississippi river. It doesn’t really matter who the cowboy is, because we instantaneously recognise him from his clothes. Even his clothes are identified by his status as cowboy; hats, boots and coats all have cowboy as a prefix. And like the cowboy himself, his clothes are associated with strength, practicality and a certain kind of masculine showiness.


Influenced by enlisted men returning to work on cattle properties after the civil war, the iconic cowboy boot emerged in the early 1800s as a hybrid blend of military boots and English ‘Wellington’ boots with vernacular bootmaking adaptations, notably in Kansas and Texas.

The design and development of the boot was significantly influenced by changes in horse riding styles to suit the ranging needed for gathering and herding cattle. Modifications to the saddle and stirrups directly reflected in modification to the boots, which were both designed to keep the rider comfortable, safe and in the saddle for longer (4). Making a traditional cowboy boot involves about 100 processes (1), from the stacking of the leather heels (mostly likely to be a classic Cuban shape), the cutting and shaping of the toe box and vamp to attaching and embellishing the shaft, collars and pull straps. These pull straps (or boot straps), and the scalloped dip in the centre front of the boot, enable the boot to be easily taken on and off, as boot laces could catch on a stirrup if the wearer fell from their horse, causing them to be dragged and potentially trampled. The heels are angled, which traditionally helped them stay in the stirrup, and the height of the heel would change depending on if the wearer was predominantly going to be riding or walking around in the boot. Higher heels are less comfortable for walking, but made it easier to stay in the saddle. These variations mean that there are actually several types of boots that fall into the cowboy family - stockman, buckeroo, ropers etc - named for the type of work the wearer predominantly did.

The iconic, tall shaft of the cowboy boot, that extends up from the wearer’s ankle anywhere to their knee, is designed to protect the rider from both chafing against horse and saddle, and from long grasses or branches they might encounter while riding.

However, this means that the boots take up a significant amount of body real estate and thus encourage decoration. Contrast stitching, different types of leathers, carved inlays, piping and appliques are all classic decorative techniques of cowboy boots. These decorations often take the form of Americana motifs - cactus, eagles, roses, cattle and other imagery of the rodeo, where ornate cowboy boots come into their own. These decorative elements also serve a practical function, with the layers of leather or dense stitching holding the shaft of the boot erect.

The iconic, tall shaft of the cowboy boot, that extends up from the wearer’s ankle anywhere to their knee, is designed to protect the rider from both chafing against horse and saddle, and from long grasses or branches they might encounter while riding.

Words by The Stitchery Collective

Video: @cap.dom.au / @_swop
Motion by @jackbirtles
Creative Direction @notoriousbrig
Research / Blog @thestitcherycollective
Gaffer @paige_hilliard
HMU @makemeoverartistry
Sound @kayraaar
Soundtrack Redneph In B Minor by The Midnight Hour

1. O’Keeffe, L. (1996). Shoes : a celebration of pumps, sandals, slippers & more .Workman Pub.
2. Gibson, C., Muecke, S., & Wergin, C. (2014). Souvenirs, materialities and animal encounters: Following Texas cowboy boots. Tourist Studies, 14(3), 286–301. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468797614536333
3. Savage, W. (1979) The Cowboy Hero: His Image in American History & Culture https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=or7w5UKtqS0C&oi=fnd&pg=PP13&dq=cowboy+culture&ots=vQ_EMtu47g&sig=jW4-TJJV0cmqJyDYaGCQubWj6t0&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false
4. Barrett, T. (2010). Beck Boots: The Story of Cowboy Boots in the Texas Panhandle and Their Important Role in American Life https://baylor-ir.tdl.org/bitstream/handle/2104/7954/t_barrett_masters.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y