A Brief History of
From cavemen to cowboys
Who were the first to wear boots?
No one can be completely sure when our
fore bares started wearing boots, but
most experts accept it was about 17, 000
Lay people, mistakenly believe the first
shoes were sandals or thongs, but from
the earliest finds, it appears our ancestors
had a range of shoes and boots which we
would recognised today.
Cave paintings in Spain dated to 15,000
BCE. depict a man in boots of skin and a
woman in fur boots.
What allowed early humans to make
clothes and adjust to climate change was
the awl or bone and flint needles.
These were known to exist some 35k
Although it is conjecture, the earliest
boots were possibly ugg boots made of
Early Mediterranean Boots
The Persians (7000 BCE), wore finely crafted
boots which were captured in artefacts like
funerial jars and drinking beakers.
There is strong evidence people around
Mediterranean wore boots with long
pointed toes made from kid leather.
Soldiers in ancient Greece wore leg
protection laced up the front of the shin
leaving their toes exposed.
Highly decorated white boots began to
appear about 2k years ago, and were worn
by young Greek men.
During the Bronze Age, the Etruscans
(1200-550 BCE) who were skilful tanners,
made a break through with copper tacks.
However, it took until the Romans for the
shoe tacks to become hobnails and the
Romans incorporated them into military
Roman Hobnail Boots
Historians believe hobnail footwear
allowed the Roman Empire to expand
beyond any other Mediterranean
Soldiers crossed rough terrain wearing
robust footwear that could be repaired.
When the empire stretched so far it
became impossible to supply equipment
from Rome, local shoemakers were
taught the crafts of sandals and boot
Local artisans incorporated their own
skills which included waterproofing from
France (Gaul as in galoshes).
Fashionable Roman Boots
At first, the higher the boot was worn on
the leg signified rank, but eventually
boots became popular with soldiers
posted to colder climes.
Victorious legions on their return to
Rome often replaced their copper tacks
with silver and gold hobnails.
As time passed patricians wore decorated
boots with the letter ’C’ clearly embossed
on the side to indicate they were nobles
Roman senators preferred black (then
white) knee length boots with complex
lacing and gold or silver crescents at the
After the Fall
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the
5th century, many of the boot making
skills would have been lost but for the
provincial shoe and sandal makers who
kept the trades alive.
High clergy kept their feet warm with fur
lined slipper boots.
The horsemen of Genghis Khan (1162-
1227) were archers and wore boots with
a small heel. This helped them stabilise
on horseback and they became invincible.
Boot styles in the Middle Ages
Throughout the Middle Ages two styles
of boot emerged the fashionable short
boot which was popular in Europe; and
the heavier military boot worn by cavalry.
Military boots were heavier and often
acted as armour to protect the legs
Boots became predominantly a male
fashion and were made from the finest of
leathers, worn tight on the leg and folded
back into deep tops.
Long boots were worn tight to
the leg which made it difficult
for dismounted horsemen to
bend their knees.
Soldiers adopted a
swaggering gait which was
considered very macho at the
Funnel Flaps and Bootlegging
Full tops became the fashion at European
courts. These boots were made of softer
leather and worn with baggy creases.
Funnel flaps were turned down for town
17th century horsemen wore square toed,
thigh high boots and red heels were very
Smugglers, used their funnel flaps to
hide their contraband or "booty. This
practice gave rise to the term,
The Plantation Class
After the English Civil War (1642–1651),
defeated royalists (Cavaliers) escaped to
the New World, settling in the southern
Cavaliers wore ostentatious thigh high
riding boots with Cuban heels and took
them to America where many families
formed the plantation class.
The Wellington Boot
During the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815),
the Duke of Wellington instructed his
shoemaker, to modify his military boots to
fit more closely around the leg.
Wellington’s boots stopped mid-calf and
had low cut heels, stacked around an inch
Suitably hard-wearing for riding, the boots
proved smart enough for informal evening
wear, worn over trousers. The new boots
quickly caught on with patriotic British
gentlemen eager to emulate their war hero.
Wellington versus Napoleon
Wellington personally despised the
thought of sore feet and was keen his
generals wore comfortable boots.
His nemesis Napoleon, suffered from
sore feet and had a personal corn cutter
accompany him and his campaigns.
Napoleon also preferred tejas, or shorter
boots cut high in the front.
The American Civil War
During the American Civil War (1861-1865) ,
Wellington Boots were standard issue to the
Unfortunately, unscrupulous contractors
supplied below par (or shoddy) footwear
made from reinforced cardboard. Climatic
conditions soon ensured the horse soldiers
suffered deep cuts to their feet.
When, right and left boots were introduced
these proved so unpopular with the soldiers
manufacturers decided not to sell them to
the masses for another half century. At the
end of the war, the federal government had
half a million boots surplus to requirements.
How the West was won
During the American Indian Wars (circa
1865), which followed, the surplus boots
were issued to soldiers posted to the
Brass tacks were used to hold the leather
soles to the uppers but these very quickly
wore through and damaged the soldiers’
The Government put together a committee
to study the problem and the solution was
to issue all servicemen with a metal file and
ordered to “get down to brass tacks.”
The most welcome craftsmen in the wild
west were European bookmakers who
modified the defective military footwear (or
kips) into wearable boots.
The Cowboy Boot
By the 1880's the cowboy boot was
beginning to emerge as a distinctive
What had started as a dress Wellington
or full Wellington, merged with the hard-
wearing lace up boot (or packer), worn by
drovers. Other influences included the
Mexican riding boot called vaquero.
Early cowboy boots had no
By the time Hollywood adopted the
cowboy boot these were highly
decorated Tejas (or Napoleon style
boots) with ostentatious inlays, and bore
no resemblance to real life boots worn by
Considered too dull for screen heroes,
fantasy boots were now designed and
made by the likes of, Salvatore Farrago.
Modern Cowboy Boots
By the mid-50s, the design of cowboy
boots changed to accommodate the
growing sport of Roping.
Modern cowboy boots had a lowered
heel and rounded toe which made them
ideal for boot scooting.