Cowboy Boots Gained a Foothold Far From America's Old West

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In parts of the Southwest, they're appropriate footwear with any outfit. Walk into a business meeting in Austin, Tex., wearing a freshly shined pair of cowboy boots and you're likely to be welcomed like a good ol' boy or gal.

Boots are a symbol of the American frontier, of men in white hats, holsters and chaps. But the first boots originated far from Laredo in ancient Assyria.

Knowing that an army usually succeeded on its health, Assyrian generals developed a soft leather boot to keep soldiers moving during long marches. But they added a metal sole to protect feet from sharp rocks, which caused painful arches.

Assyrian boots spread into other armies and were eventually modified to include boots designed for the left or right foot, as well as a more pliable leather sole.

For centuries boots were only worn by noblemen and soldiers, because they were expensive to make. In the 19th Century, fashion designers picked up on the large boot heel to create the forerunner of women's high-heeled shoes.

As the western United States was colonized, soldiers brought along their boots to walk through the scrub brush, forest and mountains. Not many Westerners were seen without their boots, and traditionally they wanted to be buried with them on.

Today's cowboy boots haven't changed much in design from the originals. Exotic skins such as lizard and snake are used on specialty boots, while a soft calfskin is a staple of the work boot. Pointed or flat toe styles are a matter of choice, and fortunately, no one's tried to bring back the metal sole (ouch!).

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