My last pair of boots

Don’t ask me how many pair of cowboy boots I have; let’s just say it’s in the same ballpark as the number of Ymelda Marcos’s shoes. But I’ve filled my closets and so am getting just one more: a custom pair made by Lee Miller in Austin, Texas.

I first visited Lee’s shop in March of 2010 on a trip to Austin, and posted about it here. A transplant from Vermont, Lee moved to Austin to apprentice with the late Charlie Dunn, perhaps the best bootmaker of his generation. And now Lee has become what I think is the best bootmaker of this generation. He’s made boots for any number of luminaries like Peter Fonda, Lauren Bacall, Darryl Hall, and Lyle Lovett.

When I visited his shop, it was purely to see the operation, for it’s well known that the demand for Lee’s work is so great that he is not taking new customers. But he and his wife Carrlyn (who runs the business and boot-design part of the shop) were so hospitable that when I returned to Chicago I sent them a copy of WEIT (with, of course, a boot drawn in it). Lee decided that anyone who could write such a book deserved boots, so I was allowed to get on the waiting list: three years long at that time. Elated, I put down a deposit and bided my time.

In late July of last year, after five years, I had reached the top of the waiting list and was passing through Austin, so it was time to get measured. Secular activist Matt Dillahunty (wearing his own boots) accompanied me to Lee’s shop, where we spent several hours getting my feet measured and, with the help of Carrlyn, picking out the design, which is quite a complicated process (you have to choose leather, color, scalloping, heel height, toe shape, and of course the design itself). You can see my post about that process here.

I love cowboy boots because they look good, they’re comfortable (far more so than you’d imagine), they’re a truly artisanal product, made entirely by hand with only leather, glue, stitching, a steel shank, and wooden pegs for the soles, and they’re a uniquely American article of clothing. Also, as Steve Pinker (another boot maven) once quipped, “It’s the only way a man can wear high heels.”

I was informed this week that the shop has finally started making my boots, and I asked for pictures of each stage. If you’re interested, have a gander. Mine will be made of kangaroo: a very tough leather that, unlike calfskin, doesn’t crack over time.  The boots are in their first stages of production, with the initial cutting and shaping of leather done by Charlotte, who I assume is an apprentice. (Lee usually is training one or two people to carry this unique tradition to the next generation.)

Here are the photos Carrlyn sent me, along with her descriptions. There will be more to come. I think my boot design is nice, but I’ll leave that to the end:

Here is Charlotte with a vamp pattern cutting out your feet.

Jerry%27s Boots2

Here the linings for your vamps have been cut out, crimped and are drying on the crimp boards. [Vamps are the footpieces that cover the entire front of your foot. The crimp boards are made from the measurements of my feet taken last summer.]

Jerry%27s Boots3

Here is Charlotte crimping the kangaroo vamps. They are wet and stretched on the crimping boards.
Jerry%27s Boots1
The pair of vamps crimped and drying.
Jerry%27s Boots5
Counter covers cut out. [Counters are the heel pieces, made from a separate piece of leather, as are the boot shafts.]
Jerry%27s Boots6
Stay tuned. . .


  1. Posted May 13, 2016 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Wow, very cool. I too love artisanal products. Thanks for sharing the photos. And: Lucky you!

    For custom instruments, I make a web page for each customer and add photos and comments as the instrument progresses. Customers love it. (I would!) It’s their own private (or shared/public, as they wish) photo album of their “baby” being made.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 13, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      What kind of musical instruments do you make?

      • Posted May 13, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        I build acoustic guitars, steel string and classical. (Easy to google.)

        • darrelle
          Posted May 14, 2016 at 8:43 am | Permalink

          Some gorgeous guitars there jblilie.

  2. Randy Schenck
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Another almost lost art.

    One bit of advice you probably do not need – humidity. If you have a number of shoes/boots in the closet it would do well to inspect them from time to time for mold. In the summer months in the midwest it can be humid. I run a dehumidifier in the basement to prevent problems.

  3. darrelle
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I’m very interested to see Jerry’s design / the final product. I too like good boots but have never had a pair to equal probably even the least boot in Jerry’s collection.

    Kangaroo hide is very tough. It is used to make higher quality racing leathers because it is tougher than any other leather and can be thinner and therefore lighter.

    Looking forward to the rest of this documentary.

  4. Jiten
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Wow! The quality is going to be so high that they’ll last 20 years at least, won’t they?

    • Posted May 13, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I plan to be cremated in them. .

      • Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Wow. Symbolically so interesting. I have not yet found something to cremate myself in, but I’ve thought about death a lot, having once worked at a crematorium. That’s a long story, but when I was transitioning out of all things spiritual, I lived at a zen center and worked outside at a natural burial place and crematory. I was there for the families but saw the bodies going into the ovens. And seeing people of all ages dead made me start thinking of how I’d want to go–and certainly how I want to live. I wish I had something I loved as much as fine quality boots. I might task myself with enjoying things so much I’d want to have them with me at the end too.

      • Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        Oh, no — don’t do that! Be a shame to loose such wonderful artwork to the flames.

        Don’t any of your students have similar-sized feet you could leave the boots to?


        • Randy Schenck
          Posted May 13, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          Yes, okay to die with your boots on but no need to get toasted in them.

      • Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        So it is really last, not latest? Awww. 😉

      • barn owl
        Posted May 13, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        I’ve planned for my body to take a trip through gross anatomy lab, before being cremated, so I’ll be going in barefoot and with my head sawed in half (minus brain). It’s only fair, really.

  5. ladyatheist
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    After this, you should get into hats:

  6. Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    PCC(E), maybe it’s time to collaborate with Lee and Carrlyn on a book on The Evolution of Western Boots!

    • Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      P.S. I hope there will be cats on your boots.

  7. p. puk
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Re-reading the two old articles was as enjoyable as the first time.

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