The cowboy boot has high-stepped its way to the fashion forefront. And those getting corralled? They aren't all Toby Keith devotees: If a look around D.C. streets is any indication, the boot savvy are more likely to while away the hours at the Grand Hyatt than the Grand Ole Opry. But as industry watchers tell it, the allure of the cowboy boot has long transcended its Wild West heritage.
"There's this romance behind it," says Fred King of El Paso-based Lucchese Boot Co., which has manufactured the style since 1883. "It's a way for anyone to live that part of America that almost doesn't exist anymore."
For some shoppers, the fact that celebrities have taken to the boots just adds another layer to the fantasy. Wherever Jessica Simpson and Sienna Miller tread, sartorially speaking, they are happy to follow.
"We knew that 'Dukes of Hazzard' was coming out," says Kassie Rempel, owner of Simplysoles.com, a shoe Web site operated out of the District. The movie prompted Rempel to order an intricately topstitched style by the Frye Co. for the site. They sold out in a matter of weeks and had to be restocked. "We've had to call [Frye] and tell them, 'Send us whatever you have,'" she says.
Local western stores have also found the trend to be a business boon, as all manner of shoppers continue to turn up in droves.
"The real cowboys who come in, they buy ropers," says Michael Corbett of Boot Hill Western Store in Woodbridge, referring to a simple work boot that's more functional than fashionable. "But these customers, they're buying these totally crazy fad boots, like really funky bright green with a lizard print."
For some shoppers, being able to say that you bought your boots at a store such as Boot Hill is a badge of honor. When Antoinette Karpacs, 18, wanted a pair, she shied away from the stylized steppers on offer at places such as Nine West.
"I wanted real boots," Karpacs says. The George Washington University freshman procured a pair in ruby-red leather at Locust Grove Country Shop, a western wear store near her Indiana, Pa., hometown. They cost $350, but to her, they were well worth it.
"My boots are my favorite thing to wear," Karpacs says. Her love owes as much to her boots' status as their style.
"Girls will be like, 'Where'd you get these? Urban Outfitters?'" Karpacs says with a laugh. "I'll say, 'No, I got them at a real store.'"
For most shoppers, however, the line between genuine and imitation is less distinct.
"There are some consumers that are basically only going to buy authentic merchandise," says Wendy Farina, principal at retail consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates. "But there are many consumers for whom authenticity's not that important -- largely because it's a little too expensive."
Lori Hilty falls in the latter camp. When the 28-year-old Silver Spring resident decided to buy cowboy boots, she went with a pair by Steve Madden that she found on sale for $50. "They were a good price," she says. "When a trend is so hot, you know it's going to be over after a season or two anyway."
Wondering how to wear it? E-mail Suzanne D'Amato, Sunday Source's deputy editor and a former fashion writer at Vogue, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city and phone number.