Cowboy boots have taken a big step forward in fashion circles - make that two steps forward.
The traditional footwear of Western bars, barns and rodeos is landing on the feet of fashionistas. Many women say their Western boots are not only suitable for work and play, but they're fun to wear.
Lauren Alaina Suddeth regularly put cowboy boots in the national limelight while competing in "American Idol." Her pink cowboy boots, provided by The Prado Collection at Hamilton Place, were especially memorable. Chuck Prado, who owns the high-end formalwear store with wife Vikki, said there has been a demand for that style since Suddeth first wore them on air.
Atlanta fashion designer Christian Caldwell-Wiley, a Chattanooga native, said the fact that the Rossville teen paired them with a cocktail dress shows the year-round versatility of cowboy boots.
"You can wear them with jeans, dresses, shorts, skirts or suits," Caldwell-Wiley said. "As long as it's styled properly, cowboy boots can really make a statement. Cowboy boots add personality to an outfit."
Chattanoogan Emily Marsh, 33, a roadway specialist with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, said she wears her cowboy boots to work "but not for the purpose of working."
"I wear them with dresses and, in the winter, with jeans," she said. "The trick is to wear them with something unexpected. Today I am wearing them with a steel gray, cotton, knee-length dress. I was a bridesmaid this past October and wore them to the reception. I always get compliments on them, especially from the 'fellas.' "
Boutique Couture owner Emily Goodin said it takes a certain confidence to wear cowboy boots.
"It takes the right dress, the right boots and the right person," she said. ... "If you're confident in your boot style, then go for it. Otherwise, you look like you're the star of a bad Western movie."
Caldwell-Wiley said it helps that the heels are low enough to be worn by everyone from little girls to older women.
"I have never seen a cowboy boot that looks awful on anyone," she said.
Elizabeth Estes, 26, of LaVergne, Tenn., wore cowboy boots at her September 2009 wedding to Jason Estes of Chattanooga.
"I was married on a beautiful farm," she said, "so boots felt more appropriate than if I'd been married in a ritzy hotel."
She said the boots - made of worn leather with hot-pink lining - expressed her willingness to take fashion risks, her country roots and her sense of humor.
"Plus, it was just plain cute," she said. "I believe it shows your sense of fun and individuality. It will always make you smile that you really wore cowboy boots on your wedding day."