I have a good friend who admires quality, custom-made cowboy boots. He asked me some questions about how to order custom boots, including about custom lasts and whether it is necessary to travel to a custom bootmaker or if it is okay to place an order sight unseen. Having ordered and received a few pairs of custom boots (both cowboy and motorcycle boots), I am answering him in this blog.
First of all, know the difference between “made-to-measure” and “custom” boots.
“Made to measure” (sometimes the word “bespoke” is used for this, but that is not technically accurate) — means that you take measurements of each of your feet, ankles, and calves, and also make a tracing of each foot on paper. You send that information in to a bootmaker, and they match up lasts (foot forms) that they have in stock against your measurements and come up with the closest match. This is how Wesco Boots, Legendary Boot Company, and some other “custom” bootmakers do it.
Calf width is adjusted in made-to-measure boots to accommodate your specifications by the old-fashioned method: just pure measurement. Have a 17-inch wide calf? Then the bootmaker will measure out the leather for the boot shaft to provide a 17″ interior calf circumference. They do that all the time and usually hit that measurement exactly. (Usually, not always. They have to pay attention!)
Made-to-measure bootmakers offer set styles, leathers, and skins. Cowboy boot makers often name their boots like “Pecos” or “Hondo” or “Firebird” or “Monte Vista”… the names are endless. There is no meaning to the names — whatever catches the fancy of the bootmaker. But a Pecos made for Guy 1 will be the same as the Pecos made for Guy 2, except for the measurements and size.
Finally, made-to-measure bootmakers will offer some choice in heel height, boot height, boot pulls, toe style, harness rings (nickel or brass), and soles (added midsoles as well as leather, Vibram, rubber, etc.)
Made-to-measure boots are made by hand with machine assistance for stretching, forming, and stitching the boot all together.
Custom bootmakers take additional steps.
Some custom bootmakers will only make boots for men who visit their shop and get measured. They may have a form placed over each foot that the bootmaker uses to make a boot last. Some men have custom lasts made and keep them for use with each new style/design of cowboy boot they order in the future.
Most custom bootmakers will, however, allow you to submit a tracing of each foot and measurements of your feet and calves, and create or adjust a last to fit you. A few of these high-end custom bootmakers will send you a sample foot form using the last they created for you and you can try it on to make sure it fits.
But most of us don’t have to go that far. Custom bootmakers have many different lasts that will match up almost all men’s feet. Unless you have something very different about your feet, such as bone structures, bumps, growths, or malformations, you can expect that boots made against a bootmaker’s existing stock of boot lasts will result in a pair of boots that will fit you just fine.
Another thing that custom bootmakers offer are many, many choices. You get to choose standard options like height, heels, toe styles, boot pulls, scallops, stitching designs, and soles, but also most custom bootmakers let you get involved in designing your boot. Different colors for the foot, shafts, inlays, backstay, and boot pulls? No problem. Want exotic skin on the foot and leather on the shaft? Sure. Pretty much any combination of colors, skins, and design are possible. Of course, all come at a price. The more variations, colors, and skins — the higher the price.
So this all boils down to my friend’s ultimate question — if you want true custom cowboy boots, do you have to travel to a bootmaker’s shop, or can you safely order from the comfort of your home? Well, results from my experience show that it is possible to order custom boots without having to travel to a bootmaker’s shop and be satisfied.
While writing this post, I discovered a website all about custom bootmakers. It has links and resources about this process. Check it out — very informative!
Life is short: wear boots, custom or made-to-measure!