SAN ANTONIO – A visit to San Antonio would not be complete without a stroll by the Alamo, enjoying a cheesy enchilada plate at a Tex-Mex joint off the River Walk, or browsing the cowboy boot section at the local Western wear shop.
In fact, nothing says more about a Texan than a fancy pair of cowboy boots. Whether they’re rough-hewn boots scuffed and dirtied after a hard day’s work at the ranch, or a slick pair of exotic skin boots made from snake or alligator, worn to a board meeting or for dancing at the honky-tonk, cowboy boots are a part of Texas identity.
“I won’t wear anything else,” says Dallas resident Coley Kellogg, 24, who got his first pair of custom-fit boots when his feet stopped growing at age 15. Kellogg, who originally grew up in San Antonio, works as an analyst in the oil and gas industry and pairs his fancy ostrich-skinned boots with slacks to the office every day.
Any boot-wearing Texan can attest it takes confidence to pull off a fancy pair, especially if you’ve didn’t grow up in a Western-wear culture. Texans just don’t wear them sparingly: Western boots are matched with business suits, accessorized with mini-skirts and even found under the occasional wedding dress.
Western wear shops can be found around San Antonio and, along with 10-gallon hats and humongous belt buckles, most shops will have a wide variety of cowboy boots to peruse and try on. Cavender’s Boot City, a Western wear shop found just west of the airport off NW Loop 410, sells cowboy boots for as little as $100 but offers many for hundreds, even thousands, depending on the types of materials used in making the boots. The Lucchese Bootmaker store in central San Antonio sells a handmade pair of American alligator skin boots costing nearly $13,000.
Traditionally, cowboy boots were made with tough cattle hides to withstand a life of driving cattle across the open plains, but boot makers turned to exotic leathers and fancy stitching to attract not only cowboys, the but the ranch and oil field owners who were willing to pay more for something different.
Many boot makers use snake and lizard skins, along with the hides of hippo, stingray, elephant and many others. (Laws allow import and sale of these animal skin products with proper permits under certain conditions.)
More fashion boutique than traditional Western wear store, the Lucchese store at the Alamo Quarry Market on Jones Maltsberger Road sells cowboy boots better suited, and priced, for boardrooms than the oil field. The soft leathers of goat and buffalo adorn many of the boots in the showroom along with the scaly pirarucu skin, a large freshwater fish found in the Amazon.
Lucchese’s high-priced boots have been worn by U.S. presidents, Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and the late professional wrestler Andre the Giant, who wore a whopping 26EEE, according to Lucchese marketing manager Merritt Milliorn.
If boot shoppers want something different than the off-the-shelf boots, head down to Little’s Boot Company on San Antonio’s south side. Founded by Lucien Little in 1915, the company has been making customized boots for over a century. The shop offers handmade footwear for customers willing to spend top dollar for a cowboy boot that offers a unique style, comfort, perhaps most importantly, a sense of identity.
Inside Little’s showroom, hundreds of colorful boots the family made over several decades line the shelves. Some have decorative embroidery stretching from the pointy toes up to the shafts. Others are emblazoned with pictures of the Alamo, bluebonnets, and even a portrait of Elvis Presley stitched into one unique pair of boots. The store can create designs for customers upon request, incorporating elements with personal meaning ranging from musical notes to Day of the Dead, according to Duane Little, who helps run the business his great-grandfather started.
A pair of custom-made boots from Little’s made with calf’s leather or kangaroo skin and simple stitching and no fancy designs start at $1,300 with an eight-month waiting list. Little’s is located on Division Street just off I-35 South.
The cowboy boot is a lifestyle, as most Texans will attest. It is part of an identity that keeps Texans, Texan. So if you think you’re tough enough to tame a bucking bronco or brave enough to two-step across the dance floor, consider picking up a pair on your next trip to San Antonio.