From Maison Margiela to Saint Laurent—there’s no denying the resurgence of cowboy boots on the runway in recent seasons. The classic Western style first saddled a ride into town at Calvin Klein: Raf Simons debuted a metal-tipped iteration at his inaugural show at New York Fashion Week for Fall/Winter 2017. Since then, the trend has gained momentum on both sides of the Atlantic, even trickling its way down to more commercial brands like streetwear favorite Ganni and the high street. But this is hardly the first time the footwear with deep roots in American culture has come back in vogue.
The cowboy boot as we know it today has gone in and out of fashion since the late 1940s, (when the actress Wendy Waldron posed in a mid-calf length pair in a scene for an old Hollywood Western movie), but the actual style far pre-dates recent history. The boots were originally designed for true working cowboys who, some say, were alive as the early 18th century. American cattle-wranglers added a stacked heel to a hybrid of the British Wellington boot (think of the brand Hunter for reference), and a lesser known Anglo-German Regency-era design called the Hessian.
San Antonio-based heritage brand Lucchese was the first to formerly capitalize on the practical style. The story goes that Italian cordwainer, Sam Lucchese immigrated from Sicily with his brothers and saw a gap in the local Texas market for durable, cost-efficient boots for ranch workers. The brand was acquired by Blue Bell Corporation—the parent company to another American staple, Wrangler—in 1970, but a classic pair of Lucchese has remained the industry standard ever since. Legend has it that smooth crooner Bing Crobsy was one of the first celebrities to request a custom design and that John Wayne was a loyal customer for over 50 years.
The fashion world woke up to a more refined version of the boot thanks to Marilyn Monroe. The iconic blonde posed in a Valentine’s Day-themed photoshoot in a playful two-piece cowgirl suit early on in her short career. Kitschy and fun, the style was beloved as costume-wear for the next three decades until Raquel Welch donned a sexed-up all-white pair in the 1970s comedy Myra Breckinbridge. Come peak disco-era, cowboy boots emerged as a solid choice for dancing the night away with Grace Jones at Studio 54. Club-goers matched their footwear with barely there hot pants and deep v-neck dresses.
Diana, Princess of Wales, issued the style with an aristocratic seal of approval in the late ‘80s. The much-emulated fashion icon (who was known to sell out clothes just by looking at them), wore an unusually informal brown cowboy boot with lattice-work and a baseball cap, blazer, and jeans to a polo match in Windsor, England in 1988. The outfit was widely-regarded as controversial at the time, but has since made way for other members of the British Royal family to break with tradition and be pictured in denim, amongst other things. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, for example, were recently snapped in full matching Western ensembles while on official state business in Canada.
The turn of the millennium brought about the cowboy boot’s worst and most cringe-worthy makeover to date. Country music artists and pop stars alike wore unflattering versions embroidered with rhinestone butterflies and similar atrocities on the red carpet. Some of the worst repeat offenders included Britney Spears and Taylor Swift, who liked to pair hers with matching, flammable-looking sundresses. Kate Moss and Sienna Miller managed to bring the style some credibility on the era’s music festival circuit, but damage to the boot’s reputation had already been done.
The trend remained stained by a heavy association to the country music world and right-wing political empathizers until Fall 2014, when native Texan Tom Ford reimagined the cowboy boot for high fashion. The designer revealed a glamorous take on the all-American classic at his runway show in London. On the day of the show, reporters wrote that Ford’s boots “put the Rodeo back in Rodeo Drive.”END
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