Few trends are as lasting and significant as the cowboy boot – and its upcoming lineup is flush with distinctive western details, burnished leathers, and colorful embellishments well-suited for fall.
The cowboy boot’s status as a staple in American fashion stems from its storied beginnings, when worn by the first American homesteaders in the 1800s, according to Boot Barn, a western and work-related boots, apparel, and accessories retailer. Originating from a need for utilitarian footwear in the American West, much of the cowboy boot’s fixation in American culture is due to its versatility and chameleon-like character that fashions it as a choice product for any environment.
That’s why shoppers view the cowboy boot as footwear that transitions well between urban dwellings and the American West – and due to changes in consumer buying habits and trends engendered by the coronavirus pandemic, shoppers have expressed an even stronger, demonstrated desire for multi-use, experiential products.
Here, Boot Barn discusses the history of the cowboy boot, its heritage brand, and consumer trends in footwear for fall.
WWD Studios: From Boot Barn’s perspective, what aspects of the cowboy boot make it an enduring, seasonless boot? Why is the cowboy boot so distinctive?
Boot Barn: Shoes are ordinary. But cowboy boots are an American icon. They are made to be worn and lived in, not collected. Cowboy boots not only represent the Western lifestyle, but they are an integral part of it, encompassing the integrity, perseverance, tenacity, and the “Yes, Sir, Yes, Ma’am” mentality of the West.
Spanning across the generations, from the first homesteaders in the 1800s to the working cowboys of today, cowboy boots are a vessel of storytelling. What they’ve seen. What they’ve overcome. What they’ve triumphed. They exemplify the heart of the cowboy and a lifestyle that is anything but ordinary.
WWD Studios: Tell us a bit about the history of the cowboy boot. How did it evolve from utilitarian footwear into a fashion item?
Boot Barn: The cowboy boot originated from utilitarian purposes. It evolved from the vaquero-style boots of the 1600s to the American cowboy boots of the 1800s we are more familiar with today. The slanted cowboy heel was designed to offer more security in the stirrup, the taller shaft to provide enhanced leg protection, and the narrow toe to get in and out of the stirrup with ease—these features were developed out of necessity to support the rugged Western lifestyle as cowboys moved massive herds of cattle from state to state undergoing unforgiving trails and environmental conditions, helped develop frontier towns, and became stewards of the land.
Cowboy boots have transcended into the fashion world simply because they are more than utilitarian—they are pieces of art. From the design elements such as stitching that has an inherent look symbolic of the western aesthetic, to the craftsmanship and care that goes into building a boot, cowboy boots are artfully designed and intricately executed. This is especially true with a handmade or handcrafted boot, where the artisans have the boot in their hands throughout the entire process, reenacting centuries-old boot-making techniques.
WWD Studios: How does Boot Barn stay rooted to its brand heritage while modernizing its selection for shoppers?
Boot Barn: We take cowboy boots very seriously and have for over forty years. We have spent the last four decades in the boot industry studying what makes a good cowboy boot great. Our design team even studies old cowboy boots as research for further improvements. We are constantly in pursuit of perfection when it comes to cowboy boots.
Everything circles back to having a function and a purpose. We look for the latest technology to better serve our customers while staying true to the function and needs of the working cowboy. We offer timeless pieces —from function to fashion—with quality craftsmanship that are constructed to withstand the needs of the cowboy; pieces that, with proper care, will last customers a lifetime.
WWD Studios: In what ways is the cowboy boot trending in the market and social media?
Boot Barn: The cowboy boot and western-influenced pieces in general have been trending across the board in markets such as contemporary, urban, and high-end fashion. Brands like Versace, Jeffrey Campbell, Nasty Gal, Steve Madden, Adidas x Ivy Park, and Matisse have all included western collections into their product selections.
And these pieces have been seen heavily throughout social media, migrating from the runway to the closets of high-profile names and mainstream celebrities including Kendall Jenner, Addison Rae, Miley Cyrus, Halsey, Beyoncé, Dakota Fanning, and Dua Lipa. From there, the western trend has been widely adopted by fashion influencers who have grown it into the macro trend it is today by sharing it with their followers through TikTok videos and Instagram. This has certainly contributed to the upswing in western fashion.
WWD Studios: Has Boot Barn noted specific consumer trends in the footwear space? What do consumers want and what are they doing differently?
Boot Barn: Last year, comfort was king as customers pursued casual western alternatives to boots. Now, they have shifted to higher-quality purchases. With this, we have seen a surge in more exotic skins with higher price tags, such as python, caiman, and ostrich exotic skin boots.
Women have been buying more eye-catching boots, including vibrant colors, metallics, suede, studs, glitter, higher heels, intricate overlays, patterns, animal prints, stark whites, and hair-on leather. Women appear excited to dress up and attend events. There is an inherent need to be seen and be in colorful feel-good pieces.
Additionally, the wedding market has been booming. With an uprise in outdoor weddings, we have seen an increase in western weddings and sophisticated country and bohemian themes. Brides and wedding parties are seeking anything white or white embroidered. Blue boots are also heavily sought-after by brides as their iconic “Something Blue.” For bridesmaids, colorful boots to match wedding colors has been trending.
WWD Studios: What’s next for Boot Barn?
Boot Barn: We believe the cowboy boot will continue to grow in popularity in mainstream fashion, reaching beyond American soil. Harnessing themes of grit, a rebellious spirit, hope, and tenacity, this American icon has the dexterity that knows no bounds. As we watch this phenomenon unfold, we will continue focusing on the needs and wants of our customers—from the working cowboys to the western-fashion enthusiasts. With the values of the West guiding us, we are honored to support each of our customers.
Boot Barn is a heritage brand that proudly supports the communities they serve. Since their first store opened in 1978 and still to this day with over 275 stores across 36 states, their goal is to offer a piece of the American spirit.