Fit is vitally important when buying and wearing cowboy boots. Most shoes and boots allow for some degree of adjustment with lacing, buckles or elastic. This allows footwear manufacturers to get as many people as possible into their product. The cowboy boot with its pull-on construction has no accommodation for adjustments, so it needs to fit correctly.
In addition to length, there are four primary areas of the foot that determine a correct fit. The BALL is the joint area at the base of your toes where your foot bends. A tight fit here will compress the joint, causing discomfort. The natural curve under your foot is the arch. The area on the top of your foot above the arch is the INSTEP. This is a bony area without any padding and a tight fit here will also cause pain. The ball and instep are obvious indicators of fit, and since an improper fit in these areas causes immediate distress, they’re the most common benchmarks.
The WAIST is the narrow part of the foot between the ball and the instep. All of the bones are running side-by-side here so a snug fit won’t cause discomfort. It will also help keep the foot in place in the boot, which is important in a type of footwear that can’t be laced into place.
The fourth component of a proper fit is HEEL WIDTH. If the fit is too wide in the heel area the foot will be left to slide around inside the boot. Unfortunately most boots are produced in a D width so if you have a narrow foot or a narrow heel, finding an off-the-shelf boot that fits properly can be a challenge. A cowboy boot that fits well should have some resistance when you pull it on and off. To pull the boot on you should have to put your fingers into the boot pulls or fingerholes and tug. Your heel should slide down into the boot and pop into place. A boot jack can be useful for pulling the boots off as there should be some resistance there also.
Thoroughly wetting a new boot and wearing it until it’s dry is often suggested as a way to achieve a good fit. Due to the abundance of boots manufactured with cheap leather, cardboard insoles and glued/fake-stitched construction, I’d advise you to try this with extreme caution. You may end up with a puddle of wet cardboard and random, unconnected boot pieces.
Cowboy boots have a reputation for being uncomfortable to wear, but this is primarily because a proper fit is misunderstood and often impossible to achieve with a factory-made product. There are activities that are not well-suited for cowboy boots–jogging and playing in the snow come immediately to mind. Traditionally, cowboy boots are made with a leather sole. A leather sole doesn’t provide the traction of a rubber sole and it’s not a good barrier against cold. For normal activities such as standing and walking though, a cowboy boot that fits well can be your most comfortable choice in footwear.
If you love cowboy boots and want to experience a true fit then a boot that’s custom made for you by a cowboy boot maker is the way to go. A custom boot maker measures your foot and talks to you about any fitting issues you’ve experienced. After this measurement session your boot maker will customize a LAST (the wooden or plastic form around which the boot is built) especially for your foot. You’ll also have the opportunity to choose your leather, design and colors. The result will be a unique piece of footwear that expresses your personality and fits you perfectly.