I searched this blog, and was astounded that while I have written often about cowboy boots, I did not have one article to address that question — until now. Most guys, especially those who do not wear boots often or are new to boots would consider boots that do not attract much attention — subdued colors, regular walking heels, round or less pointed toes. They just want a pair of plain old, decent, and affordable boots to wear.
What are my suggestions for cowboy boots that are decent and affordable today?
My recommendations are based on these assumptions:
1) Commercially-available new boots in the U.S. market (not custom-made boots)
2) Not used or “previously worn” boots — that is, this post is not about buying boots on eBay, etsy, craigslist, etc.
3) Materials and workmanship of good quality, producing a pair of boots that will last a long time if cared for
4) Boots whose materials are sourced in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, or Italy — not Pakistan or China
5) Reputation — from my personal experience and knowledge, having worn cowboy boots for 45+ years
6) Men’s boots — though my recommendations can apply to women’s boots.
Today, there are literally hundreds of labels under which cowboy boots are made. Some of the labels are very well known and the name has been around for a long, long time. But don’t let a name fool you. For example, boots made with the Frye label today are crap in comparison with Frye boots that were once made by the John A. Frye Shoe Company of Massachusetts, USA. Why? The Frye name was purchased in 2003 and since then, the name was resold to several holding companies that continued to have boots made with that label, but to much lower standards and with inferior materials and workmanship. (History here.)
Over the years, bootmakers have had to compete mostly with each other to build brand loyalty, but these days, the competition for sales is even more fierce: guys don’t buy boots because of brand loyalty alone. They look for quality, comfort, and classic style, but also demand pricing that doesn’t break the bank.
Bootmakers today respond to demands for affordability by sourcing materials carefully — they seek leather and materials from which to make boots that they can obtain in sufficient quantity and whose prices are within budget. That is why, unfortunately, you may see cheap boots made with man-made materials–not real leather. That is what “leather upper–balance man made” means, for example. Man-made materials are, literally, synthetic “leather-looking” stuff. But it isn’t real, doesn’t breathe, cracks, breaks, and wears poorly. If you ever see something that says, “leather upper, balance man-made” then run!
In my opinion, you get what you pay for. If you want “cheap” then expect to get fakey-flakey; if you save your money and buy new boots that cost in the range of US$150 or more, then it is likely you will get boots made entirely of “the real deal” — all leather. Good quality, decent cowboy boots made with exotic skins will cost more — the entry-level, average cost is in the range of US$250 – $350. (It is also quite possible to find excellent quality cowboy boots that cost much, much more, but that is not what this post it about.)
Bootmakers also seek methods to keep production costs down. The largest component of production cost is labor. U.S. labor rates are usually higher than labor rates in other countries, mostly because U.S. workers also receive some benefits, such as health insurance, paid time off (vacation), worker’s compensation insurance, and sometimes even a contribution toward a retirement plan of some sort, plus the working conditions are safer and humane. Workers in China are paid low wages, get no benefits, and working conditions are abysmal.
I have no problems or worries about boots made in Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Germany, or Spain. I do have legitimate concerns, though, about boots made in Pakistan and China. The quality of workmanship in these boots is poor. Single-stitching, glued soles, uneven texture and finish — to name a few problems — do not merit consideration of boots made in these countries. I also do not like having skilled jobs done cheap, essentially exporting jobs to other countries.
With all that to consider, nowadays, what bootmakers do I personally recommend for a pair of regular, decent, affordable cowboy boots?
1. Lucchese — Lucchese boots are still made in San Antonio and El Paso, Texas, USA. Lucchese offers a wide range of boots, from moderately-priced, entry-level “Lucchese Since 1883” line (formerly called “Lucchese 1883”) to the high-quality, hand-made line called “Lucchese Classics.” If you are looking for an affordable, decent quality pair of cowboy boots, then by all means consider “Lucchese Since 1883” boots. There are many styles and designs to choose from.
2. Dan Post — Dan Post boots are made by McRae Industries. As far as I can tell, Dan Post boots are made in the USA in Tennessee. Dan Post boots are known for a very comfortable insole, and styles that are not ostentatious. Regular cowboy boots in black, brown, black cherry, and some made with ostrich skins compose the primary line of Dan Post boots. Certainly if you are looking for a decent pair of comfortable yet dressy boots, Dan Post boots will serve the purpose well.
3. Justin Boots — the name “Justin Boots” has been around for a long time and has been making boots since 1879. In the year 2000, Justin Boots was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway and a separate company by the name of “Justin Brands” was created — this company now makes Justin, Tony Lama, Nocona, and Chippewa Boots. Justin boots are about the most common, ordinary, every-day cowboy boots that many guys wear. Be careful, though — in the past few years, some Justin boots have been made in China (in response to the Wal-mart shoppers who demand cheap over quality). Look for statements about where the boots are made (or the absence of such statements) – USA or Mexico are fine. Also look for the tell-tale words, “leather upper, balance man-made.” Another sign of cheap boots made in China. I still recommend Justin boots; however, look carefully before you buy and do not go for the lowest-priced Justin boots made in China.
4. Tony Lama and Nocona boots — see Justin boots above. These long-known names were once independent bootmakers, but now are produced by Justin Brands. Most boots made under these labels are still made in Texas or Mexico, which are fine.
Are there other brands I recommend? Let me say, for now, the five brands named above cover about 80% of today’s commercial men’s cowboy boot market. That should be enough. Sure, you will see boots offered by Ariat, Boulet, Corral, Dingo, Double H, Laredo, Los Altos, Olathe, Old Gringo, and others. Be sure to read the boot reviews on the Boot Wiki for more details about these and many other bootmakers.
What cowboy boots do I not recommend? From my experience, boots with these labels have been uncomfortable: Code West, Cowtown, and Rudel. While Sendra boots are very well-made, they also have been uncomfortable to me (shafts were too tight) and I ended up selling three pairs that I owned.
For additional reading, my page on “choosing boots” walks you through the decision-making process when selecting boots, and “Wearing Cowboy Boots” explains how to wear boots, what jeans to wear with them, what socks are recommended, and much more. Check these tutorials out!
Life is short: wear cowboy boots!