Fashion Reflections

Cowboy boots and the All-American Identity during Fashion Week

Despite the nearest ranch being miles away, New Yorkers of all backgrounds embraced the Western trend during the September 2018 NYFW shows, mainly with cowboy boots. And with the February shows right around the corner, this trend shows the power of challenging what the ‘All-American’ look represents.

Texans are unquestionably — and understandably so — possessive of their cowboy boots. No, you don’t need a horse in order to wear them, but they look slightly better when you’re next to one. Seeing them in New York however displaces them in a refreshing way. The resonance and pride some native New Yorkers have for Timberlands in the winter is just as strong for Texans and their cowboy boots.

As a former Texan, seeing shoes that I usually associated with late-night two-stepping parties (with my college classmates in cutoff shorts and plaid T-shirts bravely facing a mechanical bull) now being worn by top editors and influencers in designer dresses at New York Fashion Week shows how far-reaching the style truly is. It also shows how what defines “All-American” could be slowly changing for the better, and how people are redefining the Southern closet staple for their own style preferences.

However, by adopting and adapting them to one’s personal style, it suggests that the “All-American” identity should not, and is not, owned by one group, which is a refreshing sight to see. Cowboy boots are part of the DNA of the diverse American identity, and rightly so should be expressed in its many forms. Many critics have described how cowboy boots in the past have represented turmoil or patriotism in America, which is true to a certain degree. “The times we tend to see cowboy dress appearing in fashion are times when America is either ultra-patriotic or under stress,” Dr. Laurel Wilson, professor of textiles and apparel at the University of Missouri, said to Fashionista.

By editors, bloggers, models, and influencers of all backgrounds wearing it in all its forms, it demonstrates how Americana is not, and should not, be synonymous with just the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and slim standard of beauty. The boots are an unintentional form of rebellion, breaking down the previously thought notions of what it means to be All-American — unintentionally dismantling the monopoly on who can wear Western wear. And that message is being carried to the runways too, with the September Spring 2019 runways being one of the most racially diverse in recent history, according to The Fashion Spot.

Designers have made endless reiterations of the boot over the years, which my Texan friends have critiqued and praised as much as any Fashion Week editor. The most pivotal being Raf Simons’ Calvin Klein FW17 collection, which has reignited the trend for those living beyond Midwestern ranches. And while my college friends and I dreamt of splurging on designer Lucchese and Frye boots, today the styles come a dime a dozen at fast-fashion mass retailers (but frankly, invest if you want the boots and your feet to last). More importantly, the style savvy at every budget can now become a cowboy (well, for a season at least). However, like most trends in New York, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one is short-lived.  

Surpassing class and creed, cowboy boots represent those who aren’t afraid of getting their hands, or boots, dirty. My only criticism is that cowboy boots in NYC look too perfect. They’re supposed to be beat up. The rougher the leather the better, since each mark tells a story. However, come next fashion week, I imagine each pair will have their own richly diverse story to tell. Although I don’t think that you’ll need to throw the Western look completely out of the window just yet. For the Spring 2019 shows, native Texan Brandon Maxwell gave a hint at what could become the next NYFW street style trend in February — cowboy hats. The iconic Western symbol was displayed in plexiglass boxes carried by models of various ethnicities. Even if the fashion set may be hesitant to saddle up and try the next Western trend, it’s important to note that what represents “classic” beauty is finally being redefined for the better in New York, Texas, and beyond.