Ever since I touched down in this great state, I’ve been scoping the wide Texas horizon and every boot store and western-wear depot to replace that which was taken away from me so long ago. And while I failed in my mission to find cowboy boots (from Amarillo to El Paso) I finally struck gold in the boot-shaking capital of Austin when I stumbled upon Allens.

Allens Boots is the largest individual retailer of cowboy boots in Texas, selling around 6,000 pairs a year. At first I was daunted by the selection, but luckily, store manager Ryan Stathos offered me some great advice on how to buy cowboy boots:

1)    Pick The Pair That Jumps At You. The right pair of cowboy boots will shout out to you from the rack. It’s common sense, but as you peruse the long line of leather footwear, the pair that stands out is more likely to be something you’ll want to wear for a long time.

2)    Watch Your Toes. Cowboy boots come with pointed, square, and rounded toes-and not everyone can wear any kind of toe. Decide which style you want and know which fits your foot best.

3)    Check Your Heels. Traditional boot heels range from 1 ½ to 1 5/8 of an inch, designed to secure the foot behind a riding stirrup and allowing cowboys to maneuver on the back of a horse. Some fashion designers play with the heel height, so watch out you don’t get something that’s too tall or too short.

4)    Size Down. This is not a hard and fast rule, but at least for men, your size in cowboy boots will typically be one size down from what you wear in dress shoes. Cowboy boots should be more form-fitted, like a glove on your foot. It should fit tightly but without discomfort.

5)    Tight But Not Too Tight. A good cowboy boot is very snug on the top and sides of the foot—it shouldn’t slide from side to side at all. The heel will slide a bit though, but not too much.

6)    Break ‘em In. Until you break in the sole of the boots, they will feel very stiff. Like all good leather boots, the more you wear them, the more they’ll conform to your foot.

Allens Boots in Austin is the largest retailer of cowboy boots in Texas (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Allens Boots in Austin is the largest retailer of cowboy boots in Texas (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Other tips? Don’t ever buy used boots (they’ve already formed to somebody else’s foot) and always check where they’re made.

“Authentic cowboy boots are crafted in two places: Texas and Mexico,” Stathos explained to me.

“It’s like wearing art,” he said. Coming into this store is like entering a museum where you get to try on boots. He showed me one pair, handmade in Mexico, with smoking skulls stitched into the black and white leather.

“A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into this pair—it probably took a Mexican man at least one full year to make these. It’s very macho in their culture to make boots.”

Stathos also said that cowboy boots are becoming more fashionable—not just in Texas, but nationwide and around the world, “Nowadays, the boots are more fashion than utility, but we still sell working cowboy boots for ranchers and farmers.”

He doesn’t see that trend changing anytime soon, freely admitting that “Austin is booming.”

“Boots are a way of life down here. Everyone in the capitol building is wearing them, from the construction workers and janitors to the lawmakers—they all wear boots.”

And now so do I.

My new buffalo-leather Lucchesse cowboy boots, Made in Texas (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

After thirty years’ deprivation, my new buffalo-leather Lucchesse cowboy boots, Made in Texas, of course. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Comments

  1. Brian
    March 17, 2013, 3:48 pm

    how much did they cost?

    • Andrew Evans
      March 18, 2013, 4:35 pm

      Dear Brian, the boots were so inexpensive and fabulous, I don’t even remember the price.

  2. zach ohrtman
    Arizona
    March 18, 2013, 7:07 pm

    Andrew my name is Zach Ohrtman I am a 19 year old college student attending Glendale Community College. I am wondering how much you know about traveling abroad. I am currently thinking about taking some time off and traveling but with little to no money. I really like the idea of doing something like the book Into the Wild but of course coming out of it alive and possibly with a new perspective on life. wondering what you think about the idea. if you have any tips or people i can talk to that have done something similar.

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    [...] Austin is a cool city—there’s no denying it. And the coolness flows far beyond the country alt rock carnival of Sixth Street and out to the organic taco trucks and indie breweries and cowboy boot shops. [...]

  5. Erin Holte
    March 20, 2013, 8:22 pm

    Those boots are made for walkin’! Congrats on your new boots.

  6. daysray
    Montana
    March 21, 2013, 7:15 am

    Great article and info. I’ve been wanting to buy a pair but wasn’t sure about fitting. You just made it easier! Thank you!

  7. "Rip" Long
    Tucson, Arizona
    March 22, 2013, 2:12 pm

    No offense, but you must be a neophyte. I am from Texas and have owned cowboy boots every day of my life, since I was age 5. I have multiple pairs at this moment. The best cowboy boots in the world are made by Paul Bond Boots, in Nogales, Arizona. I wish that it was otherwise, but it isn’t. Paul Bond was the “original rodeo cowboy,” in the 30′s and his group of artisans hand make them all, from your own custom fitting. AND, that part about buying them a size smaller than your dress shoe size is questionable . It is much better to buy a pair that is large enough to add an inner sole cushion than to buy them too small, that is, if you want to wear them for distance hiking, and not just for show. Most of my boots are Texas made and all of them are absolutely great. Just setting the record straight.

  8. Susie Blackmon
    Ocala FL
    April 8, 2013, 5:56 am

    You made an excellent boot choice, and I enjoyed the information in your article. During the years I owned a Western store, my very favorite service was fitting customers in quality Western boots. Shaping hats was next… There just aren’t enough cowboys and cowboy boots to my way of thinking.

  9. BG Reno
    BR Land NE Oklahoma
    May 9, 2013, 2:11 pm

    Custom made are the way to go. Store bought fit a standard last. For the masses. If you work, wear them daily, or cowboy, you know the values of picking you leather, top stitching, other collars, and such. They are distinctly yours alone. Yes they cost a third as much or more, but they fit. Not sloppy, and NO ONE has a pair like them. Several great companies are or have bit the dust; or are relegated to live in smaller and smaller buildings. Do your research. Pick a maker who makes the boots you admire. Splurge. They will last longer than you think. I personally am wearing a pair of Bluchers I had made in 1985. I have others and you tend to think of them like your dern kids. Go on, make the trip. Customs are it.

  10. Bonnie
    Pennsylvania
    June 29, 2013, 12:41 pm

    The best boots I bought were Ariat’s! wont wear anything else, the foot bed is amazing! got ‘em at a store called “Killer Hats” in Lancaster PA.. Amish Country. It’s a great store, the customer service was great, the owner Steve was so knowledgeable in the fit, he even stretched out my right boot to accomodate my larger foot. They sell boots hats belts and all kinds a cool stuff. good luck!

  11. Michael
    http://www.damenfrost.com/shop
    September 21, 2013, 1:05 am

    Leather is sold in three structures, these being full grain cowhide, rectified grain calfskin and sued. Full grain cowhide is characteristic calfskin produced out of the finest of all crude materials and this case just the hairs have been taken away while the stow away is left clean and regular.

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  13. Amanda Arena
    ny
    February 18, 1:59 pm

    I have about an inch and a half of room in the front of my square toed boot… is that to much??

  14. John
    TEXAS
    February 25, 11:34 pm

    There are no had and fast rules for the fit. And much depends on the socks you are going to wear and the time of day you buy the boots. In the morning, your feet are their smallest, by evening they can be about one half size bigger. And the sizes will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. The only way to be sure is to visit a place like Allen’s and spend some time there. You will find in some boots you need your shoe size, others will require a half size bigger. All in all, when talking about cowboy boots, it is no small feat to fit the feet.

  15. Paul Ryan
    Boulder, CO
    March 22, 7:24 pm

    If you want the best boots, just google “the best cowboy boots you can buy” and Heritage Boot in Austin will come up, first. Small runs of boots made in a 3rd generation factory in Central Mexico, made only for export. They are as finely made as a custom pair, made in the US. Every pair in the store is perfectly made and gorgeous. Besides, the customer service is second to none. They will fix any problem you may have and do their all to make sure you are happy. They do not wash their hands of you once you leave the store. I have sent back boots to them and they have had them resoled at the price they pay to have it done. Now, that is customer service! The people who run the store are the most knowledgable when it comes to western boots. Check ‘em out – you will not be disappointed.

  16. Dan Montgomery
    Gunter, TX
    April 30, 12:33 pm

    For work I wear Justin apache ropers, cactus won’t go through them nor will snake fangs. Brush the dirt off and they look great in the evening. I get many comments on my calfskin roper boots. Nicely broken in and they take a great shine. I do have a 30 year old pair of Larry Mahan antelope that were great. With all the sweat and dirt on them I’ve put em on the shelf to just look good.

  17. Linda
    United States
    June 9, 10:32 am

    GO to GYPSY HART COWGIRL PRE-LOVED/VINTAGE boots and get those folks to help you get a great deal on custom boots and all brands….Great prices and great folks…Boots for men and ladies…. They are out of Georgetown, Texas. just facebook gypsyhartcowgirl for info..