Traditionally, cowboy boots were made with cow leather, that being the type most cowboys had readily available. But not all cowboy boots these days are made with cowhide. You can get some really nice boots in a wide range of luxury leathers, like caiman, python, shark, and ostrich. Here’s what you need to know about the most common types of cowboy boot leather.
Cow is still the most popular leather for cowboy boots, and it has a lot to recommend it. Good cow leather is durable, but flexible enough that the boot easily when you walk. Cow leather is also flexible enough to conform to your foot with use. As the most common boot leather, it’s also the cheapest. Unlike some boot leathers, cow leather doesn’t require a lot of maintenance – it can take whatever you decide to dish out.
Goat leather is a step above cow leather without really being a luxury leather, either. Goat skin has a lot of pores, so items made with goat leather are breathable and cool. Goat leather is durable but flexible, and soft. Goat leather, too, doesn’t require much in the way of maintenance, but since it is a softer leather, it probably shouldn’t be your first choice if you need work boots.
If you’re looking for a pair of cowboy boots to wear to formal occasions, get yourself a pair of caiman boots. The tiles in caiman skin give the finished leather a classic alligator pattern. The best boots are made from the skin on the caiman’s belly, which is the softest and most flexible. Caiman leather is durable and beautiful, but, like all reptile leathers, it requires a lot of maintenance. You have to clean and condition it regularly.
Teju leather offers a reptile-like look in a leather that is highly resistant to scratches and damage. The unique structure of teju skin means that this leather is both durable and flexible, so it’s comfortable to wear, easy to break in, and conforms nicely to your foot.
Snake leathers are harvested from multiple species, including anacondas, rattlesnakes, and pythons. Snakeskin has unique colorations and patterns, and it’s also usually worn on more formal occasions. Some snakeskins are more durable than others – python is the toughest, followed by rattlesnake and then anaconda. Snakeskin requires careful maintenance and cleaning to keep dust out of the scales and keep the leather from growing brittle and cracking.
Ostrich leather comes in two types: full quill, which is obtained from the torso of the bird, and leg, which of course comes from the leg. Full quill ostrich leather has rather large bumps where the quills were plucked out. The leg skin of the ostrich has natural striations that give the leather a reptilian look, without the drawbacks of caring for and maintaining reptile leather.
Ostrich leather is touted as a durable, soft, and breathable leather. It contains natural oils that keep it pliable without much need for maintenance. While it does come with a high price tag, the smooth leg leather is cheaper and just as durable.
Sharkskin is harvested from non-endangered species of sharks. It makes a fine, soft, naturally water resistant and durable leather, but it can be hard to get ahold of due to fishing limits on sharks, so it’s usually pretty expensive.
Elephant leather is extremely hard to come by. Because the animals are endangered, bootmakers can only use leather harvested during legal culls, which occur when there are too many elephants in a given area. Elephant leather is distinctive, with a large grain, deep cracks, and a grayish color. It is perhaps the most luxurious of the luxury leathers. It’s resistant to scuffs and long-lasting. But it can be hard to get, and elephant-leather boots are expensive as a result. Not to mention, some people just don’t feel comfortable wearing the skin of an endangered animal.
When it comes to deciding what kind of leather you want for your cowboy boots, you have to consider how you plan to wear the boots. If you’re going to work outside on the ranch, a sturdy pair of cow leather boots is the best choice. For formal events, snakeskin and caiman boots were traditionally the fashionable choice, but these days, a nice pair of elephant or ostrich boots can fit the bill just as well. Choose the right leather for your next pair of boots, so you can rope a calf, cut a rug, or make a great first impression.