Boot Glossary

Boot Glossary: Common Boot Terms


  • Beading: a slender, rounded strip of leather that encircles the top of the boot. The beading is made from the same material as the piping that runs down the side of the boot.

  • Boot hooks: a pair of long strong metal hooks attached to cross handles made out of hardwood or plastic. The lower section of the hook is flat so that the inside pull straps of the boot will not wrinkle when you pull the boots on. After the hooks are inserted into the loops of the pull straps, the foot is thrust into the boot, which is pulled on using slight force.

  • Bootjack: a tool that enables the boot wearer to remove boots while standing. The first boot jacks were made of wood and had a forked end to hold the heel of one boot while the wearer pulled his foot out of the other. Many early bootjacks were hinged down the middle so they could be folded for traveling. After the 1870s, most bootjacks were made from molded iron. The jacks came in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most common design was a brightly painted beetle with its antennae outstretched to hold the heel of the boot. Popular with cowboys are the Naughty Nellies, which depict a woman lying on her back with legs spread to catch the heel of the boot. Designs featuring six-shooter barrels and longhorns were also widespread. Tobacco companies, boot companies, and clothing manufactures began to put their names on the jacks as giveaway advertisements. Bootjacks gave rise to the catchy expression "Once you use a jack, you will never go back."

  • Boot jockey: a curved metal plate, or today, more commonly, a plastic one. The jockey is used with tall boots, usually those over fifteen inches high. The device prevents a pair of boots from sagging and losing their shape while not being worn.

  • Boot tree: a form used to keep boots in shape when they are not being worn. Also known as "wooden feet", boot trees are designed to be inserted into the foot of the boot with relative ease, thanks to slide or spring action built into and underneath the wood. They are regaining popularity and can be readily purchased. Older ones were usually made of maple, but today cedar is more common because of its deodorizing quality.

  • Box toe: a boot toe that is squared off at the end. Square-toed boots have been around for hundreds of years.  Box toes were popular with the early cowboys and remained that way through the 1950s. Boot makers often describe toes as one-eighth box, quarter box, half box, etc. This refers to the width of the tip on the toe. After the 1950s, the pointed, or sharp, toe became more popular than the box toe.

  • Buck stitching: a thin strip of leather, normally in a contrasting color, that is woven over and under the boot leather to create a laced effect. Although the purpose is usually purely decorative, this type of work can be used to hold layers of leather together. Buck stitching is often seen around wing-tip toes, up the sides of boots, or around their tops. Most buck stitching was done in Mexico and South Texas by the boot makers and factories in the 1940s and '50s.

  • Clicker: a machine like a press that pushes down on the dies to cut out various pieces of leather for all parts of the boot. It works like a giant cookie cutter. The word clicker comes from the sound the machine makes upon impact with the die. Once largely found in boot factories, the click machine is now also used by custom boot makers as well.

  • Cockroach killers: a street term that arose to describe the narrow, pointed, and sometimes hand-filed needle nose boots worn in the 1960s and early '70s. This very popular toe style was just about all you saw on men and women for almost fifteen years. During the popularity of Urban Cowboy, the toes began to round out to satisfy the more conservative East Coast tastes. However this type of toe, along with the narrow box, has remained the most popular one in all other countries throughout the world, and since about 1990, sharp toes have come back into vogue in the U.S. again.

  • Collar: a layer of leather at the top of the boot, usually in a contrasting color or made from an exotic skin that is cut in a decorative design. This collar is usually overlaid but often has fancy inlay work on it, which dresses up the boot.

  • Counter: the leather piece above the heel of the boot, which is attached by stitching to the vamp.

  • Crimping board :a narrow piece of wood, usually less than 1-1/2 inches wide, that looks like a tall tube sock. The wet vamps of boots are stretched and nailed to this board before they are attached to the other parts of the boot. Then the leather is left to dry for a day or two. This is an extra step before lasting to ensure that all the stretch of memory has been removed from the leather. If this process is not performed, wrinkles will appear in the curves of the boot over the top of the foot.

  • Custom makeup: a term used by boot factories to describe their version of custom-made boots. The major difference is that there is no custom last, nor are there any measurements involved. A stock factory last in a standard size that comes as close as possible to accurately fitting the customer's foot is used instead.

  • Die: a metal pattern with razor-sharp edges that works like a cookie cutter. It is used to cutout sections of the boot in various shapes; these are then glued and sewn together to form the vamp, counter, and top of the boot.

  • Ears: another name for inside or outside pull straps.

  • Forty-penny nail: a nail that old-time boot makers would beat flat and then shape to the dimensions of the wearer's foot. The nail was then covered with a layer of leather, stitched, glued, and sometimes pegged between the insole and outsole to work as a shank that supported the wearer's arch. Jumping on and off a horse all day can be rough on a boot, so many West Texas cowboys still request forty- and sixty-penny nails put into their boot soles.

  • Foxing: a term describing a piece of leather that is sewn (overlaid) over another part of the boot simply for decoration. Boot makers will say that the toe or heel is "foxed."

  • Fudge wheel: a wooden-handled tool with a cylindrical serrated wheel, also known as a boot rand wheel, wheel jigger, bunking wheel, stitched prick, or seat wheel. The fudge wheel is heated, and then rolled around the finished welt of the boot in order to mash, tighten, and firm the leather and the stitching. It creates ridges and gives a uniform appearance to the stitching. Many old-time boot makers think it gives the boot a nice finished look.

  • Graft: the front of the boot rising from the foot to the top.

  • Handmade: boots that are built entirely from scratch by hand the old way. There is little or no machinery involved, other than a foot-pedaled sewing machine for some of the fine stitching.

  • Heel: the part of the boot attached to the rear, or seat, of the sole. The heel comes in any shape and height imaginable and should be constructed to add support, comfort, and form to the overall boot design.

  • "H" toe: a toe tip rounded like the top curve in a lowercase letter "h." This style gained popularity in the 1980s.

  • Inlay: strictly decorative fancywork involving multiple layers and colors of leather. These may be overlaid or under laid. Overlaid patterns are sewn over the principal boot leather, while under laid ones are invisible, sewn in from underneath to produce a cutout window-type design.

  • Insole: the layer of leather between the foot and the outsole, or bottom, of the boot. The insole forms the inner foundation of the boot to which the outsole is attached.

  • "J" toe: a slim rounded toe tip that resembles the bottom of a lower-case letter "j." This style became popular after the pointed toes of the early 1960s and '70s went out of fashion.

  • Last: an Old English word for footstep. The last is the model used to make all custom and factory boots.
    • Until recently it was always carved from wood, but now fiberglass poured into foot molds has almost entirely replaced wood. The toe, however, can be fastened to the end of the last in any style the customer desires. And small pieces of leather are shaped and glued and then sanded down smooth to compensate for any irregularities in a foot or changes that occur normally as a customer ages.

  • Mule ears: elongated pull straps that resemble long ears, sewn to the outside of the boot. Some of these extend to the top of the boot and literally touch the ground at the bottom. Many times you will see initials, names, etc., inlaid down the ears. Buck stitching, lacework, and sometimes fringe are added for effect.

  • Needle nose: the absolutely sharpest point possible on a cowboy boot. A needle-nose toe has to actually be hand-filed to create less than an eighth-of-an-inch point. This style is still popular with many Nashville performers.

  • Peewee: a nickname given to the short boots popular in the 1940s and '50s. A standard cowboy boot is twelve inches high. Basically any boot less than twelve inches tall is considered a peewee.

  • Pegs: wooden pegs, little stakes of wood made from maple or lemonwood, usually from Germany. These pegs, in rows of one to three, run from the breast of the heel down the waist of the sole of the boot. Along with stitching and glue, they hold the insole and outsole together. Pegs are usually a sign of a better-quality boot, and you should also be able to see the tops of the pegs when you look inside your boots. Boot maker Ray Jones is the legendary "king of the pegs," known to use as many as 300 pegs per pair.

  • Peg wheel: a wooden-handled tool composed of a metal wheel with tiny metal spikes. It is used when the leather is damp, and is rolled along the sole of the boot to create a path as a guide for the boot maker to space his pegs evenly.

  • Piping: rounded strips of leather that run up the side seams of the boots. Sewn dead center between the back and front of the boot, piping can be in the same color or a contrasting color of leather to make the boot or its stitching patterns stand out more. Early boot makers had to hand-make all their piping. Now it comes in rolls in dozens of colors, already rounded and ready to sew.

  • Pull holes: finger holes at the tops of boots that replace pull straps and are very often used by working cowboys, who also call them "windows." 

  • Pull Straps: straps that are used to assist in pulling the boot on. They can be on the outside or the inside of the boot in any size or shape. In the 1940s and '50s, when men and women frequently tucked their trousers into their boots, boot makers and factories began to stitch their names into the cotton cloth out over the top of the boot, for free advertising. 

    • Outside pull straps can catch on things and have been known to pull a rider off a horse. Inside pull straps sometimes rub against a leg and create a lot of discomfort.

  • Roper: a style of boots with a wide, round toe, no decorative stitching, usually a nine-to-ten-inch top, and a low walking heel. From the 1920s through the 1960s, this work style boot, rugged but plain, was called the Wellington. It comes with low or high tops. In the late 1970s the boot was renamed "roper" by the factories. The style caught on and became very popular with both men and women. The roper bears little resemblance to what we think of as a real cowboy boot from any era.

  • Saint Crispin: the patron saint of shoe and boot makers whose festival is celebrated October 25. Legends and stories about Saint Crispin, who supported himself as a cobbler while preaching the gospel, are popular with boot-makers.

  • Scallop: the V-shape in the front and back of the cowboy boot. This can be shallow or cut very deep.

  • Shank: the portion of the boot that is used as reinforcement for the wearer's arch. Most boot makers today use a thin, pre-cut strip of eighteen-gauge steel, which is glued, whip stitched, or tacked in place. On urban sidewalks this works fine, but most folks in the country, including cowboys, still prefer that forty- or sixty-penny nail for support.

  • Skive: from the Norse word skifa, "to make leather thinner." Skiving is also known as feathering the leather. This is usually done when overlapping is required, as in overlay and inlay. The backside of the leather is scraped thin along the edges, or wherever the leather is too thick, with a sharp knife, lightly sanded for continuity, then quickly burned with a match or flame to remove any small, loose beads of skin that remain. The leather is then ready for glue and thread.

  • Sole: the only part of the cowboy boot, besides the bottom of the heel that actually has contact with the ground, unless you happen to get thrown off a horse or a bull.

  • Spur rest: a ridge or shelf on the back of the boot that helps hold up a spur. Below the counter, extending from the base, the top of the actual heel is pronounced by a quarter inch or more. Looked down upon by some older cowboys as a wimpy crutch for those who don't know how their spurs should fit, this spur ledge has become very popular with young cowboys today.

  • Stay: the strip of leather that runs up and down the back of the inside of the boot lining to stiffen and support the boot and hold up the top, which gets the most movement. The width of the stay and how high it extends reflect an individual boot maker's idea of how a boot should be made. Most working cowboys prefer a stay that extends all the way from the bottom of the boot to the top and is about four inches wide.

  • Stovepipe: refers to the top of the boot when there is no scallop. The boot resembles a sawed-off pipe. Most early cowboys, before 1900, wore boots with stovepipe tops because they were still clinging somewhat to military fashion.

  • Straights: a term describing boots that have no designated right or left foot. Because high-heel lasts were more difficult to make in mirror images, straights remained popular from the 1600s until 1819, when the irregular-shape copying lathe was invented. Straights continued to be worn extensively until 1900.

  • Toe box: a stiff piece of material that is placed in the top of the boot toe between the outer vamp leather and the lining to reinforce the shape. All toe boxes used to be made of leather until the advent of super man-made materials. However, many custom boot makers still use leather, while the factories use plastic or man-made toe boxes.

  • Toe bug: also referred to as the "toe flower," "medallion," "fleur-de-lis," or just plain "toe stitch." Every boot maker has his favorite design. It becomes their signature and can identify the boot to others. Usually only one or two rows of stitching are used to create a delicate and artful design. You seldom see cowboy boots without decorative toe stitching unless they are made from exotic skins, in which case the stitching would not be visible.

  • Tongue: the top part of the vamp, usually cut into a decorative shape. The tongue is sewn to the upper front portion of the boot. Because a cowboy's stirrup hits this area of the boot all day, it was originally reinforced by a third layer of leather inside or was cut extra wide to prevent wearing out.

  • Tools: the dozens of implements used in boot making. Most of these have their roots in Europe. Some have names and manufacturers; others do not.  Most boot makers hand-fashion many of their battery of tools—even today. To a boot maker, tools are known by their functions rather than their names.

  • Triad: a type of boot with no counter. In a triad, the front of the boot extends all the way to the sole, and the vamp stops before the side seams and is stitched down. A regular cowboy boot has a four-piece construction: the shaft with two parts (front and back); the counter, or heelpiece; and the vamp, which is the foot of the boot. A boot with a one-piece top has no side seams and is sewn or laced up the back.

  • Underslung: a descriptive word for the angle of the back of the heel. Underslung heels are also sometimes said to be "undershot." From 1880 to 1960, most cowboy boots had higher heels. To keep them from having a heavy, blocky shape, boot makers hand-fashioned the backs of the heels to angle toward the foot. This style was taken to its extreme in the 1940s at the Leddy Boot Company in San Angelo, Texas, when bronc buster Alton Barnett had all of his boots so undershot that you could not squeeze a penny between where the heel and sole met. Other than those with a low, flat walking heel, most boots today have some undershot to them.

  • Vamp: the lower front portion of the cowboy boot that covers the foot. The vamp attaches to the counter in the back, and to the front parts of the boot shaft in the front.

  • Waist: the waist of the boot is at the bottom of the boot shaft where the ankle bends. The heel waist is the center circumference of the heel sometimes angled or dipped in, especially noticeable in the Cuban heel.

  • Welt: a strip of heavy leather that is sewn around the lasting space of the upper and joins it to the insole. The sole is then stitched to the welt with a second seam. The welt is also known as the rand.

  • Wingtip: a fancy leather piece, which can be any shape and even have inlaid
    designs, that is stitched over the toe and a portion of the lower vamp area. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, wingtips were usually associated with dress boots. Now wingtips are experiencing a revival and can be seen on everyday cowboy boots. A wingtip can be as simple as a small tip of exotic lizard or other skin sewn over the principal leather.

  • Wrinkles: the straight lines of stitching on a toe, usually located behind the toe flower.

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Most recent revision March 12, 2019 11:41:56 PM

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