You Bet Your Boots!

If you've ever had a serious job out-of-doors or in areas in which foot protection is important, you've probably had the pleasure of wearing boots -- that hybrid form of footwear that not only protects your feet, but offers lower leg support and protection as well. They've been invented many times in various cultures across history, because boots are one of those ideas that just make a lot of sense. While many types of boots exist today, they all share the same basic pattern of the sturdy shoe combined with a lower-leg sheath. Depending on their origins and purpose, they may extend all the way up to the hip, or cut off just above the ankle.

The Eskimos gave us mukluks, and if you don't believe they're still in use you haven't looked too closely at the Ugg-style boots that were recently popular among the ladies. Mesopotamians wore lace-up kid leather boots. Romans wore boots when they had to in order to keep their feet warm, but the height of the boots on the calves was strictly regulated -- the higher the rank, the higher the boot. Most modern boots in the European tradition, however, derive from ninth-century shoes called "heuse." Heuse were high, soft leather footgear, something like the hightops of their era.

Howdy, ya'll

In the last thousand years or so, boots have evolved to fill all sorts of niches. American cowboys and Australian jackaroos drove the development of the cowboy boot, which has evolved into a stylistic icon that has little to do, these days, with cattle ranching. Heavy engineer boots, in addition to their intended purpose, have become the favorite footwear of bootboys and skinheads since the seventeenth century. Of course, the various militaries of the world drove much of the evolution of the modern boot. Soldiers need footwear that, to some extent, serves as armor, as well as protecting them from extremes of weather and terrain. In World War II, it took 400 acres worth of leather (from 380,000 cows) to provide the raw material for Allied shoes and boots alone.

Popular Boots

While combat and hiking boots can't be beat in terms of utility, they tend to cause raised eyebrows in social gatherings. Fortunately for haute couture, there are several varieties of boots that may be worn in the general public without undue comment -- depending upon the environment, of course. Cowboy boots are rarely out of place in Montana or Texas, and never in a barroom; however, you'll rarely see Ropers at a New York City black tie event. Riding boots are great when you're out on the steeplechase, but most schools (except for a few military ones) frown on them. Similarly, Ugg Boots and Doc Martens have their place, whether it's at Studio 54 or a punk rock club -- but woe betide the potential trendsetter who tries to wear them to a wedding!
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