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SHOP TALK : Stepping Out to Track Down the Best Buys in Cowboy Boots : The growing popularity of country dancing has resulted in an increased demand for Western-style footwear.


Cowboy boots go in and out of fashion in the big city. But here in Ventura County, the appeal of the cowboy boot never fades. With the popularity of country music and dance comes a demand for boots that will put us in a Western frame of mind.

Boots are also essential to horseback riders. As protective footgear, the large heel keeps the foot from slipping through the stirrup and keeps the rider free from peril.

Best of all, we all stand a bit taller in our cowboy boots. They give us an edge, an attitude that Adidas just can't provide.

We searched high and low in Ventura for the best source of boots. We found many styles in a wide range of prices. If you are looking for boots for dancing, riding or cleaning out the stable, we can help you find them.

Just getting interested in line dancing? You'll want to keep your investment small, at least until you know you are hooked. Good boots for dancers to begin with are Dingos, Code West or even the fashion boot from Payless. For $40 or less you'll have a good time. Of course, if you want to do some fancy footwork, like a pivot or a slide, you'll have to two-step up to a leather-soled boot.

The three main suppliers of boots in the county are The Wharf, in Ventura; Howard and Phil's in The Oaks mall and the Buenaventura Mall; and Hilltop Feed and Ranch in Thousand Oaks. The Wharf and Hilltop carry work boots, English riding boots, and muckers along with cowboy boots. Howard and Phil's is strictly Western style. Prices were pretty similar. Howard and Phil's and The Wharf had just ended big sales. Shucks. However, that does mean there is a fresh supply of new styles.

We were surprised to learn that the colorful history of cowboy boots includes boot makers who have been in business for nearly 100 years.

H. Joe Justin Boot Co. began in the late 19th Century in Texas. The Lucchese Boot Co. was founded by the five Lucchese brothers in 1883 in San Antonio. The Lucchese is reputed to be the Rolls Royce of Western boots. Known for elegance and subtle styling, the Lucchese boots' leathers and skins are tanned and treated in Europe.

Tony Lama began his boot company in El Paso in 1912, with a great deal of his inventory initially going to the U.S. Calvary. In those days, an average pair of boots cost $11. Now they sell for between $111 (for a standard "Roper") to a few hundred dollars for the finer boots.

Enid Justin (Joe's daughter) founded Nocona Boot Co. in 1925. As a woman owner of a company she was a pioneer of her time. Nocona was first to manufacture shoe boots for square dancers in the 1930s. When Guess Jeans used two pairs of vintage shoe boots in an ad in 1987, they sparked a huge revival of the shoe boot.

The fit of a cowboy boot is very different from the fit of an average shoe. To begin with, expect your heel to slide in a new boot; don't let the slippage put you into a smaller boot. After the leather conforms to your foot, by shrinking in some areas and stretching in others, the slip will be gone.

But those pointy toes are kind of scary, aren't they? Especially when you hear they're called "Roach Killers"! Don't worry, nobody expects your toes to get squeezed into there. These boots can be incredibly comfortable. Check out the Tony Lamas or the Lucchese if your feet are narrow. Those with wide feet might find that boots by Dan Post or Rios of Mercedes fit better.

Cowboy boots are made to last. Gary, sales manager of boots at The Wharf, says he hasn't thrown out a pair of boots in the 17 years he's been wearing Lucchese.

The Wharf has by far the best selection of exotic skins. Ostrich, anteater, stingray and elk are all sold here. Our personal favorite are those gator boots for only $4,500!

The cowboy boot has become a popular collector's item. If you find a great pair at a garage sale or a church bazaar you might want to make an investment. As folk art goes, cowboy boots are appealing for their colorful reminder of our recent past.

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