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Austin, Texas: How to buy your first pair of cowboy boots
The legends surrounding cowboys and the American West are as rich and colorful as the boots themselves. From Hollywood legends like Roy Rogers and John Wayne, to stories of Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp, cowboy legends linger in our minds and there's no escaping the western attraction when you land in Austin, Texas.
I was headed down to Austin to meet other members of the Gadling team for our annual weekend meet-up, but I secretly had another mission in mind: buying my first pair of cowboy boots.
Earlier in the day, I met up with Gadling's Heather Poole and her family for some boot perusing. Taking a lesson from her husband I knew these boots would be an investment, so I had to absolutely love them. Now with Catherine Bodry and Leigh Caldwell by my side, I gallivanted around Austin in search the perfect pair of cowboy boots. I stopped in a few stores to take some boots for a test ride and learned there's more to buying cowboy boots than meets the eye. I'm no foreigner to buying shoes, but cowboy boot shopping is an entirely other breed. Before you buy, consider these tips:
1. Size does matter.
Cowboy boots do not fit like regular shoes, so before you start looking around at shapes and colors, measure your foot. A good cowboy boot will fit as if it's made for your feet. While the leather will stretch a little bit, the fit you feel when you first put on the boot is about as real as it gets. Remember: cowboy boots are expensive so if you're going to spend the money, be sure the fit is perfect.
2. Identify your shape.
Boot toes come in all different cuts and sizes. Before you start grabbing boots off the shelves take a look at your toes. Are you comfortable wearing pointed-toe shoes? Or do you prefer a round toe with some give across the bridge of your foot? Choose a boot toe shape for comfort first, and style second.
3. Determining your height.
Cowboy boots are generally made with a heel both for men and women. Most boots have a heel between three-quarters of an inch and one and three-quarters an inch. Go with what's most comfortable. Cowboy boots are meant to take you from day into night, so stick with what feels best and don't push the heel height. Unlike other boots, the statement isn't in the heel of this shoe.
4. Now comes the fun part - finding your boot.
Now that you've assessed your size and narrowed down your heel height, it's time to find a pair of boots that suits your style, or as Ryan from Allens Boots would say, find a pair of boots that talks to you. Allow me to explain...
I stood bewildered at the all the sizes, shapes and colors in front of me. It's no secret I have a shoe fetish, but walking into Allens Boots on South Congress Street in Austin was like entering a cowboy graveyard - boots made for legends were piled up high on the walls.
We walked down the aisles ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the various styles and colors. The dynamics ranged from plain brown and black boots to boots with skull embellishments and rhinestone crosses.
There were purple boots, pink boots, Texas A&M boots, boots with spurs, boots with tassels, boots for kids, and boots with bells.
Some boots were multi-colored while other boots were two-toned. Some boots had pointed toes, others were square-toed and round-toed. There were tall boots, short boots, ankle boots, booties and mid-calf boots. The boots ranged in price from around $200 to upwards of $800, and those were just the boots I grabbed to try on. Just as I fell into the boot-shaped chair ready to give up on my boot buying endeavors, he appeared. Hellooooo, cowboy.
Ryan stood about 6'5" tall, had feathered blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and, we guessed, was somewhere between 25- and 30-years-old. He walked with a swagger - or maybe it's a saunter - and finished his sentences with "yes ma'am" and "my pleasure." He politely asked me if I needed some help.
"I have no idea where to start or what to do," I confessed. Ryan simply replied, "Just take a walk through and let the boots talk to you."
I stood staring at him for a moment, wondering if he was serious. He smiled, nodded and walked off, which I suppose was my cue to do the same and seek out the boots that speak.
5. Finding the right fit.
Trying on your cowboy boots is equally as important as the boot's size and style. There's a process every veteran cowboy knows and here's how it's done:
* Roll up your pant to just below the knee.
* Each boot comes with 'tabs' as part of the leather. Hook your index fingers into the leather tabs on each side so you're pulling the boot up and over your foot.
* Your foot should slide easily in the boot and should not bind. The leg should be loose and comfortable and you should be able to wiggle your toes. As you start walking, your heel should slide up a little.
I grabbed about half a dozen pairs of boots to try on. A few whispered, I think one boot winked at me, but none of them really "spoke" to me. In hopes they talked once they were on my feet, I tried each pair on and walked them up and down the aisles, stealing glances in mirrors along the way.
I grabbed one last pair of boots - a red pair that kept tugging at me - and when I put them on they talked, no screamed, "I'M YOURS!" Ryan was right - the right pair will speak to you, and when they do you'll know it. My boots were perfect - fire engine red and stitched perfectly with white and gold designs. The heel is stacked about one-and-one-half inches and the top of the boot comes just to my calf - perfect enough to wear with jeans or a dress. They make a statement, for sure, but it's a statement I'm proud to make. My fire engine red cowboy boots were made for walking!
I modeled the various boots for the girls and we all agreed, the red ones were THE pair. They were comfortable, the perfect size, the perfect height and I could pair them with just about everything in my closet. The best part? They were the right price. Authentic cowboy boots aren't cheap, but they'll last a lifetime. Go in with a budget and don't waiver - you'll find the right pair that fits your feet and your bank account.
As for Ryan? I showed him my fire-engine red Lucchese-brand boots, and he nodded and said, "Those are some serious boots but I think you can handle them. Every girl should own a pair of red boots at one point in her life."
I couldn't agree more.