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Cowboy boots still riding high, especially for women

Bethany Ao
News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Raleigh, N.C. — Boot trends come and go every fall — over-the-knee, ankle, combat, wedges — but one boot remains, impervious to passing fads: the cowboy boot.

The cowboy boot entered mainstream fashion beginning in the 1940s and 1950s, when actors like Roy Rogers glamorized cowboys onscreen. Its popularity has ebbed and flowed since then (John Travolta, the star of "Urban Cowboy," could be called the Roy Rogers of the 1980s), but has never gone out of style. And in the last 10 years, the cowboy boot has experienced a new boom — especially among women.

Wade Allen, the owner of The Bull Chute Western Wear in Raleigh, North Carolina, says for years now, he has been selling more boots to women than to men.

"I never would've predicted that 60 to 70 percent of my boot sales would be from selling ladies' boots," he said. "It's become a fashion staple in people's closets. It started when these suburban moms got into cowboy boots about 10 years ago and turned them into a fashion statement. Since then, younger generations have embraced the boot as well."

Durham, North Carolina, fashion blogger Chanell Mitchell, 31, has embraced boots since she was 4, when she'd try out her father's tan Justins. Now she buys her own — and she's partial to vintage.

"Some of my favorite brands have been making boots since long before I was born," she said. "I recommend a resole and a good Doctor Scholls insert, since most used boots will be worn in and loved. ... I used to buy vintage and burn them out and move on to a new pair, but now I resole them."

Mitchell currently has three pairs in rotation — they're tan, black and white. On her blog, 3 Fs to Live By (, she writes that cowboy boots have answered a lot of her fashion dilemmas, and she poses for photos in various outfits with a pair of Nocona White Calf boots.

Her favorite way to wear boots?

"I love a super pointy black cowboy boot with leggings and a white tunic or denim Chambray Shirt, with gold bangles and a simple gold necklace," she said.

Allen says his customers also choose outfits that highlight the boot.

"Most wear their boots with dresses, skirts, shorts or over skinny jeans to show off the boot," he said. "Guys just wear them under jeans.

"A man buys a pair of boots because he needs them," Allen said. "A woman buys a pair of boots because she wants them."

Designed in the mid-1800s by boot makers for ranchers, the cowboy boot features an underslung heel and high boot shaft, which protected the cowboy's feet and kept them in stirrups while riding horses.

On the day of this year's first North Carolina State football game, local sports radio personality Joe Ovies tweeted, "As I walk up to Carter-Finley (Stadium), a couple thoughts. 1) Cowboy boots are still a thing ..."

Yes, they are. Even in the heat of August, all across the stadium young women were decked out in cowboy boots and short dresses.

In fact, Allen said many college girls pick up their boots at his store specifically for football games. He even carries cowboy boots branded with college logos just for that.

Larry Denny of Raleigh, who sells cowboy boots at his booth at the Raleigh Flea Market at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, sees the same trend.

"A lot of college girls come and get cowboy boots from me," Denny said. "The sales are best in the fall."

Sales of used cowboy boots have been so good that Denny has started focusing on those at his booth. He buys his boots for as little as possible from yard sales and thrift stores, but, he said, sometimes his friends bring them to him. His prices range from $20 to $100 a pair.

"I have boots made from snakeskin or alligator skin," he said.

Cowboy boots also feature a variety of toe shapes — pointed, square and round. Allen said that most men go for the rounded toe, and women prefer pointed or square toes.

"The pointed toe actually has no practical use," he said. "I recommend the square toes to horseback riders, but the pointed toe is just a fashion statement."

Arlene Goldstein, vice president of trend merchandising and fashion direction for Belk, said cowboy boots pair well with frilly dresses and shorts because they add an unexpected edge to a feminine outfit.

"To me, the Western boot is almost like leggings. It's become sort of a classic in the South," she said. "It definitely hasn't gone away and has an amazing amount of staying power."

Allen doesn't think the popularity of the cowboy boot will wane.

"There have always been certain aspects of the Western industry that are really trendy. But when trends come and go, certain things stay and become staples," Allen said.

"Cowboy boots have become a staple, like worn jeans are. I think it's because it's Americana. Because of that, I can really see them being around forever."