May 26, 2024

The Boot Scootin’ Rise of Cowboy Boots in Mainstream Fashion

These days, you can spy cowboy boots—sturdy and crafted in leather of all shades—on the streets of NYC, LA, and even as far afield as London and Paris. Originally designed for cowhands, ranchers, and rodeo riders, the footwear has a long history in Texas and other parts of the American West. But like a lot of workwear styles, cowboy boots are also currently trending for the fashion cognoscenti. Lately, the utilitarian and regionally specific footwear is a regular sight at fashion weeks, red carpet events, and on Instagram feeds. Ask Texas bootmakers, though, and they’ll insist the cowboy boot’s stylish rise to fame—yes, even before Beyoncé’s hit country song—makes perfect sense.

Gillian Kennedy, chief marketing officer of Tecovas, an Austin-based brand that crafts cowboy boots with modern silhouettes, says they’ve always been a wardrobe staple. “So many of us who work at Tecovas grew up with families where cowboy boots and Western wear were a way of life rather than a trend,” she says. “There is nothing more versatile than a cowboy boot.” Style influencer Krista Lavrusik agrees. “Cowboy boots make the whole look feel more relatable and softened-up. They have a fun, relaxed, effortless flair,” she says. “I grew up in Texas and moved to California. So when the ‘coastal cowgirl’ trend picked up…I thought to myself, Oh, I can do both. Let’s embrace this,” Lavrusik tells us.

For the uninitiated, Coastal Cowgirl peaked on Instagram and TikTok last summer with beach-meet-ranch looks: cotton sundresses or breezy linen pants paired with leather or suede cowboy boots. Kennedy sees Coastal Cowgirl as a trend influence that worked in conjunction with pop culture inspirations like Yellowstone and the Eras tour where Taylor Swift commonly showed up onstage in cowboy boots to make these footwear items feel both aspirational and accessible to a wide range of wearers.

Jose Perez/GC Images/Getty Images

“There is an effortless element to cowboy boots,” says Madisen Li, VP of merchandising for Tecovas. “They are a throw-on-and-go type of shoe, and their construction and style makes them easy to pair alongside your favorite denim or an easy dress.”

In high fashion contexts, cowboy boots show up in photo shoots and on runways. Designers are taking cue from classic Western silhouettes and accents can be translated into more modern fashion aesthetics. “I always pay attention to the way that people dress them up; it can be a cool juxtaposition,” says Holly Mery, director of women’s design at Lucchese, whose San Antonio–born luxury boots were founded in the late nineteenth century. “We’ve seen our boots at fashion shows, on red carpets, and at formal events… It’s really exciting to see [gowns] with sparkles and rhinestones and sequins with cowboy boots.”

Founder and CEO of Dallas-based CITY Boots Lizzy Bentley agrees. “[We’re] always throwing around the idea of ‘Boots in uncommon places’ when we’re launching new campaigns and planning photoshoots. We’ve put cowboy boots on classically trained ballerinas, poolside, in the snow!”

Courtesy Tecovas

The rise in ranch gear outside of these specific US regions is also not entirely new. In the 1950s, Elvis Presley’s choice to wear cowboy boots onstage and to events inspired a rise in boot sales. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Western styles made a major impression on menswear, with films like Midnight Cowboy establishing the trend in Hollywood and chic ’70s women also dabbling in Western boots and hats and belts. In the 1980s, major network shows like Dallas kept Texas-inspired fashion on the minds of TV viewers nationwide, and superstar Western wear enthusiasts like Burt Reynolds moved cowboy hats and boots firmly into the mainstream.

But when it came to turning cowboy boots into a fashion-world fixation for womenswear, no famous name played a bigger role than Princess Diana. Her famous outfit worn to a polo match in 1988 consisted of a charity sweatshirt, an oversized pinstripe blazer, a baseball cap, and straight-leg mom jeans tucked into brown cowboy boots, cementing Western-style boots’ place in the upper echelons of style. “She styled cowboy boots with everything from jeans to sweatpants and had a real knack for a mix of unexpected casual-slash-cool styles,” says Li.

The beauty is in the clash. Though there’s a history and a purpose to this footwear, it doesn’t mean it can’t evolve. “I think longtime boot wearers who may feel as though boots have been ‘appropriated’ should view this ongoing trend as a celebration of all that the cowboy boot represents,” says Bentley. “The women wearing CITY Boots are paving their own paths, just like Texas ranchers have been for hundreds of years”—whether those paths be the brick-lined roads at the Fort Worth Stockyards or the paved sidewalk in Manhattan.

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