Cowboy boots are on my mind today. And (heh) on my feet.
Of course cowboy boots come with so much symbolic weight it’s a wonder I can even walk in them. The cowboy is the most iconic, romantic, heroic figure in American history. Lean, laconic, and independent, he represents the way we like to imagine ourselves: tough as nails, self-reliant, unafraid of violence but guided always by a rigid code of honor. Owen Wister and Zane Grey helped establish the archetype, and Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Audie Murphy, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood, among many others, elaborated it for generations of children (and adults) on screens both large and small. In an increasingly urbanized society the image of the cowboy may seem quaint and anachronistic, but it can still exert a powerful pull.
All of which only partially explains why I just bought myself a pair of Luccheses—NV1503s in waxed and burnished olive leather, if you must know, as in the photo above—and why that’s such an unlikely thing for me to have done. Allow me to explain:
I have traditionally had a sort of ambivalent attitude toward cowboy boots. I have tended to associate them more with a certain kind of urban Texan—plump, loud, razor-cut hair, wearing pressed jeans and a white shirt, driving a too-big pickup—than with the rugged individualist of the bygone frontier. And then of course there’s that whole unfortunate association with a certain professional football team based in Dallas.
Moreover, my feet are famous throughout the tri-county area for their extraordinary width and flatness. They are the Great Plains of footdom. My footprints resemble the round tracks of a hippo rather than the delicately scalloped tracks of most humans.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that I have a long and often painful history with cowboy boots. I bought my first pair in London, of all places, at a very trendy boutique on Chelsea’s Kings Road, during our honeymoon many years ago. (I know, I know: what kind of idiot travels from Texas to England to buy cowboy boots? All I can say in my defense is that Heather had just bought a pair, and I didn’t want to be left out. Also, I was young and foolish.) They were a sort of honey-colored suede, with white stitching, lethally pointed toes, and rakishly undercut heels. They were also one size too small, and way too narrow. The shopkeeper—a pox upon his cynical soul—assured me that they would stretch, which was of course utter nonsense. I probably wore them no more than twice, each time suffering horribly while they were on and requiring a great deal of assistance to peel them off my swollen feet, before finally coming to my senses and giving them away.
A few years later Heather’s parents gave me a pair of boots for Christmas. They were made of thick reddish-brown leather, completely devoid of decorative stitching, with squarish toes instead of the classic pointy ones—in other words, they weren’t really cowboy boots at all. They were, however, the correct size. I wore them a few times, usually at Christmas parties and the like, before deciding that they were just too heavy to wear much in Texas.
But these new Luccheses fit my astoundingly wide, flat feet right out of the box, and they are lightweight enough to make me think I might be able to wear them comfortably even when the temperature is above freezing. Moreover, they are quite dazzlingly beautiful: fairly restrained, as cowboy boots go, with decorative contrast stitching on the shaft and more subtle stitching on the insteps, though the toes are sharply pointed.
How often will I actually wear them? I have no idea; I may ultimately conclude that they make me look more like this guy than this guy. Also, we seem to be moving into spring, and my usual warm-weather wardrobe involves shorts, a T-shirt, and Birkenstocks, with a Hawaiian shirt and sneakers for more formal occasions. Still, I like looking at them in my closet, and it’s nice knowing they’re there if and when I need them.
The bottom line is that these boots are a symbol of my willingness to take on the trappings of my time and place. We live in Texas, and we own a ranch; we are Westerners, in other words, and we yearn to partake of the best of that heritage. I’ve made no secret of my loathing for many aspects of contemporary Texas (just ask Heather). Wearing cowboy boots is a step—a small step, perhaps, but a significant one—in my long journey toward acceptance and acknowledgment of who and where I am. This is my life, and these, believe it or not, are my boots.
Next on my shopping list: a Nudie’s suit!
What we’re reading
Heather: William H. Eddy, The Other Side of the World: Essays on Mind and Nature
Martin: Philipp Meyer, American Rust