Hello, my name’s Johnny (yes, Johnny; it’s on my birth certificate), and I’m an addict.
Not booze, gambling or anything illegal. But it is a serious habit. Cowboy boots can get expensive.
I’m not alone. Early Westerners had similar issues with (lack of) control. Look at waddies who’d fork over a lot of money to dudes like Joe Justin and T.C. McInerney so they could belly up to the bars in St. Joe and Abilene in a pair of boots with star inlays. Look at O.K. Corral “Cowboy” Johnny Ringo, found dead with his boots allegedly tied to his saddle. Maybe he (suicide theory) or his killer (murder theory) didn’t want to get blood on them. I understand. I’m an addict.
The first pair of boots I remember were the Dingos I got in my teens. Those harness boots featured a toe looking like Play-Doh that had kicked a brick wall. Then came the gray calfskin Tony Lamas I bought in Texas when I was 22. The serious addiction began when I got a pair of custom, handmade Stallions. Then I started writing about boots, and, well, if you’re writing about Paul Bond, Dave Little, Lucchese, et al, you need firsthand knowledge. Right?
Jim Arndt knows what I mean. You know Jim, especially if you’re a boot addict. Jim is one too. The habit grabbed hold of him when he was six or seven.
“My uncle got me a pair, and I wore them all the time,” he says. “Then, when I was in my 20s, I saw that Austin-Hall would put your initials in boots, and I ordered a pair.” He sighs. “It’s spiraled out of control since then.”
Jim is best known for taking pictures of cowboy boots. You see his work in books like The Cowboy Boot Book and Art of the Boot, and in his Cowboy Boot calendars.
I ask him how many boots he owns. He hedges. “It’s over 50.” Finally, he comes clean. (That’s the first step.) “It might be over 75. Let’s say between 50 and infinity.”
That doesn’t count the 50 pairs of vintage boots that don’t fit him.
Jim has me beat. I only own around 25 pairs. But I have Jennifer June beat, and Jennifer is the author of the cool new book Cowboy Boots: The Art & Sole.
“I own 10 pairs,” she says. “A couple pairs are vintage pairs that have been retired to my bookshelves, another three [are so precious] I’d … grab them out of a burning building.”
She blames the bootmakers. (That’s Step Two.) “The ‘problem’ is that with every pair built, a bootmaker gets better at [his] trade,” she says. “And every year, there are new colors and finishes in leather. Have you seen the new sueded alligator? The new painted stingray?… The possibilities are endless.”
I don’t recommend Jennifer’s book for boot addicts. Well, actually, I do, but it won’t help your credit-card balance. Or cure you.
That’s because, as Jim and Jennifer say, there is no cure. It’s hopeless.
“I recommend moderation,” Jennifer says, “and if you can’t manage that on your own, I say choose an excellent bootmaker with a really loooong waiting list. At least you can say you tried.”
Accept your addiction. (That’s the final step.) And be careful. It could be worse. I could be addicted to cowboy hats.
On my office wall, I count only 14 hats.
Johnny D. Boggs wrote this article while wearing black Liberty boots with tooled wingtip and counter foxing. Sweet!