THE CLOSET – I am ready to come out of the closet. In boots. And I don’t care what Gov. Rick Perry thinks. As you may know, Perry announced he will no longer wear boots. (In Texas we don’t have to specify the kind of boots – it’s not work boots, army boots, ski boots, it’s cowboy boots.) His change in footwear goes back to his ill-fated presidential campaign in which he variously giggled, forgot and ooped his way from the front of the pack to the back. He now says wearing boots seemed to worsen his back problems. Indeed, there was the rumor that his nagging back ailments and the needed medications were the root (or boot) cause of his antics.
This is quite a sartorial change. Even The New York Times picked up on it: “Sacrilege! Perry finds wearing cowboy boots to be pain in the back.” Remember that he usually wore boots. I met him one time when he was wearing a pair of beautiful boots with the Texas state flag on them. He appeared on the cover of Newsweek in 2010 with boots emblazoned with the Texas battle cry “come and take it,” but his new footwear is in strict violation of House Concurrent Resolution No. 151 — a formal declaration by the Texas Legislature designating boots as the state footwear of Texas, in honor of their role “in the mythic romance of the Lone Star State.” The bill was signed in June 2007 by one Gov. Rick Perry.
Do you buy his back-problem story? Of course not. What happened was that Perry went to his Manhattan PR firm, Slant, Tilt & Spin. “I need a new and better campaign. That last one y’all ran was a disaster.” The mad men replied: “You’ve got to stop coming across as the good ol’ boy from Paint Creek, Texas. First, stop saying ‘y’all’ except in the South. It’s ‘youse guys.’ Get some thick-rimmed glasses, even if they are non-prescription. They’ll make you look more Ivy League and less Aggie. Also, get rid of those boots.”
Perry isn’t running for governor again because most Texas pols wear boots when running for office, even though it’s hard to run in boots. There was a long profile in a recent New Yorker magazine on Sen. Ted Cruz. In the accompanying photo Cruz was wearing boots. Having held Canadian citizenship until a few months ago, I thought Cruz would be wearing snowshoes. Look for Wendy Davis in pink boots. Most Texans have a pair of boots in their closet, and most Texans don’t wear them. I do. You will usually find me wearing boots except in the summer because they really don’t go with Bermudas. When did you get your first pair of boots? For me it was when I was a small tad at summer camp, otherwise it was shoes. Then one day at UT, I noticed a cobbler shop on Congress Avenue, Capitol Saddlery, (it’s still in business, but moved). I walked in, ordered a set of black boots. I couldn’t have paid much for them. Lord knows as a college student I didn’t have a dime, so the price for my custom-made boots must have been really low. The cobbler probably figured I needed something better than my cardboard sandals. Since then, I’ve been a bootlegger.
Like any craze, in the rest of the nation boots come and go. After “Urban Cowboy” everyone went Western (or Texan), with boots, hats and mechanical bulls. When a Texan leaves the state he or she is expected to be properly sartorially Texaned. In “Midnight Cowboy,” the first thing Texan Joe Buck (Jon Voight) does on his way to New York City is open his box of boots and put them on so everyone will think he’s Roy Rogers. And get this: “A taste of the American West has come to Paris shoe stores. Lurking among the pedestrian fare are a healthy scattering of bent heels and pointed toes once meant for an easy gallop or a fast roping. Straight from the factory or custom made, cowboy boots are there for the asking in shops all over Paris — and spreading across the rest of Europe.” – International Herald Tribune, Oct. 8, 2005.
If you are a new Texan, a few tips for buying your first pair of boots: Get the right heel size. There are riding heels, walking heels and combinations – a different height for each boot, I guess. The standard height for riding heels is 1 ¾ inches which is considered the proper length to hook around the bar, or bottom, of the stirrup. But today most boots are made for walking, so an inch or less is proper. Soles are made from leather, rubber or thick crepe. When it comes to toes, pointed toes are best for stomping cockroaches in kitchen corners, rounded toes are best for playing tennis. As for brands, I prefer Lucchese which I used to pronounced loo-CHEESE-ee until someone explained the name is Italian and is pronounced loo-KAY-zee. Or you can order custom-made boots. Prices vary as to the quote or flag you want.
As for why Texans love their boots, even though few ride horses to work, I found the answer. In “Travels With Charley,” Nobel laureate James Michener explained this fashion phenomenon, “Businessmen wear heeled boots that never feel a stirrup, and men of great wealth who have houses in Paris and regularly shoot grouse in Scotland refer to themselves as ‘little old country boys.’ It would be easy to make sport of their attitude if one did not know that in this way, they try to keep their association with the strength and simplicity of the land. Instinctively they feel that this is the source, not only of wealth, but of energy. And the energy of Texas is boundless and explosive.” If you don’t wear boots, explain you’ve got a bad back – and are running for President.
Ashby is well-heeled at firstname.lastname@example.org