By Andrew Santella
from GQ, July 2002
At the heart of the purely American appeal of the cowboy boot is
this fact: You can walk around in a pair that cost four figures
and is made of purple-dyed kangaroo leather, and features floral
patters in contrasting stitching, and yet still think of yourself
as a real ass-kicking mans man.
They make you stand tall, they make you strut, and they cry out
for attention. No wonder cowboy boots seem to be the footwear of
choice for the worlds most powerful men. When George W. Bush
visited Mexico last year, he wore cowboy boots to his meeting with
Mexicos president, Vicente Fox. So did Fox. Not long ago,
Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian went shopping for a pair of his
own. If you run a country, cowboy boots are apparently a must-have.
American presidents have long loved cowboy boots. Carter wore them,
Johnson wore them, Reagan wore them, Clinton wore them. It makes
sense. Cowboy boots may be the perfect politicians footwear,
originating as they do in corrals and cattle pens, where the bullshit
is often even deeper than it is in the halls of Congress.
But until recently, you didnt see a lot world leaders wearing
cowboy boots with suits, and you certainly didnt see a lot
of world leaders getting together to admire each others boots.
The Bush-Fox meeting might well have ushered in a new paradigm in
political fashion, a kind of New Boot Order. At first glance, a
world run by men in cowboy boots might not seem like a great idea.
But then again weve had a half-century or so of a world run
by men in tasseled loafers, and that hasnt worked out all
so well, either. For his part, Bush has made his preference for
cowboy boots known from his very first moments in office. For inauguration
night partying, Bush paired black tie with black eel-skin boots,
embossed with a blue presidential seal over the shin. His fellow
Texans in Congress, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, also favor cowboy
boots and belong to something called the Congressional Boot Caucus.
All of these men wear custom-made boots produced by a Houston bootmaker
named Rocky Carroll. In fact, Carroll has made boots for the last
six presidents, including 56 pairs for the current presidents
father. Bill Clinton apparently wins the prize for largest recent
presidential foot, registering a size 13.
Of course, these custom boots go way beyond the caramel-brown numbers
we wore back in high school. Custom boots tend to be made of exotic
leathers like lizard or kangaroo and can easily cost several thousand
dollars per pair. Carroll once made a diamond-studded pair for Elizabeth
Taylor that ran $40,000.
Cowboy boot aficionados will tell you that the most beautiful boots
qualify as folk art. There may be no finer example than the pair
made for Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 by Texas bootmakers Zeferino
and Eli Rios. Now in the collection of the National Archives, the
boots feature images of the U.S. Capitol, the Great Seal of the
United States and Kansas sunflowers. Thats a lot of art to
fit on one pair of boots.
To make sure theirs does not become a dying art, some bootmakers
will train or apprentice greenhorns who want to learn to make boots.
Or wannabe bootmakers can enroll in the Shoe, Boot and Saddle Program
at Oklahoma State University at Okmulgee, the only such degree program
in the country. It appears to be a promising career path, because
any day now Bootmaster General figures to become a Cabinet position.