With the exception of hard hats, shoes remain the only protective adornment we need to wear. They protect us from hard surfaces such as concrete and bitumen, they provide safeguards to our toes from falling objects and kicking hard things. They are, when appropriately fitted to the feet, a walking machine and vertical support for strenuous activities such as sport. The history of the shoe, or in this case the boot, is the history of human beings.
The sandal or thong, was introduced over 6000 years ago, worn initially by the privileges classes, it was soon realized putting shoes on fighting men made them invincible warriors.
The sandal was militarized about 4,500 years ago. Thongs incorporated not only leg extensions but other status statements. The Greek Krepis had a carved tongue (or lingiula) indicating the person was a free man or citizen. The Roman Campagus was a shoe worn by officers its particular feature was an above ankle extension, the higher the shoe top, the higher the rank. Hence the beginning of the military boot and its long association with military horse riding.
As Attila the Hun swept through Europe and China his marauding horsemen took with them a boot with red wooden heels. The fashion caught on and was popular for centuries among nobility and horse riders.
Military engagements in countries with inclement weather necessitated protection from the elements, slowly the height of boots crept higher and higher until the European Cavaliers took the style to extraordinary lengths wearing thigh high riding boots with Cuban heels.
Once defeated by Cromwell, the English Cavalier Stuarts immigrated to the New World. They took with them their boots and many settled in the southern states becoming the superior southern plantation class. After the defeat of the Confederacy many displaced southerners migrated west to Texas. They took with them the tradition of wearing boots. Standard cavalry issue during the American Civil War was the English Wellington Boot.
In 1815 Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The popular victor became a national icon and both men and women emulated his sartorial footwear style. The boot had a low cut heel and was calf high which made them easier to mass produce. Unfortunately, during the American Civil War unscrupulous contractors supplied below par footwear and many of the cavalry boots were mass produced using reinforced cardboard. Climatic conditions took their tool and horse soldiers suffered deep cuts to their feet. A Chiropodist General to the US cavalry was appointed at this time. Our lexicon was enriched with the word shoddy meaning manufacturers willing to compromise for profit. Right and left boots were introduced at this time and were most unpopular. As a result, shoe manufacturers decided not to introduce right and left shoes to the masses for another half century. At the end of the war the federal government had half a million pairs of boots surplus to requirements. Systematically during the following years troops stationed on the frontier were supplied with the shoddy boots.
Shoe historians believe the foundation of the cowboy boot trade in the frontier was based on the simple necessity for civilian bookmakers to replace defective military footwear. By the 1880's the cowboy boot was beginning to emerge as a distinctive style. Starting life as a dress Wellington or full Wellington, the fashion merged with the hard wearing lace up boot (or packer), worn by drovers.
Later the three-piece military boot was incorporated and worn by Hollywood's Cowboys. Tejas (or Napoleon style boots) with their peacock flair and ostentatious inlays were worn by megastars Tex Ritter and Tom Mix and became incredibly popular during the 30's and 40's. Somewhat surprisingly today’s cowboy boots which we associate with the Wild West are really fantasy footwear fabricated by Hollywood.