By Steven Hsieh

Santa Fe is a "treasure" for cowboy boots, says Jennifer June, one of the nation's foremost experts on this subject and the author of Cowboy Boots: The Art and Sole. I called her at home in California for a consult on the topic and she said we're sitting pretty in the City Different. Whatever you're looking for, whether it's a brand name work boot or a custom-made, runway-tailored showstopper made of alligator belly, you'll find it here. My Midwestern upbringing and Asian heritage didn't expose me much to Western footwear, so June doled out some advice: Try them off the shelf, ask about materials and don't give up after your first pair. With this advice in mind, she offered a few boot store suggestions and sent me on my way.

Kowboyz (345 W Manhattan Ave., 984-1256, kowboyz.com) is your best bet for vintage attire. This 28-year-old institution, which traces its roots to Los Angeles, outfits plenty of Western blockbusters, including No Country for Old Men and Brokeback Mountain. At the height of her fame, Britney Spears strutted around in Miss Capezio butterfly boots that she purchased at Kowboyz, sending teens scurrying for their own pair.

As co-owner Cristina Iverson puts it, this institution specializes in "boots, boots, boots, boots, boots, shirts and hats and socks and belts and bandanas and a little bit of jewelry." On a recent Saturday afternoon, Iverson helped me try on three different pairs of specialty vintage boots. The process felt totally Goldilocks. Our first sample, of burgundy ostrich leather, couldn't accommodate my heel size. Next up, a brown, cowhide classic from famous boot maker Tony Lama, left way too much space for my foot to move around. Finally, my heel snapped right into another cowhide boot from an unidentified maker. And damn, did they feel good. The best part: none of these offerings cost more than $110.

Back at the Ranch (209 E Marcy St., 989-8110, backattheranch.com) covers the custom-boots corner. When I popped by the store on the same Saturday afternoon, Ava, an energetic blondish terrier mix, greeted me at the door. So did shelves of intricately designed women's footwear fashioned from exotic leathers: alligator, elephant, ostrich. A couple wearing University of Texas gear browsed the men's collection for an upcoming wedding. Back at the Ranch, we learned, often provides foot coverings for cowboys and cowgirls when they tie the knot.

All the boots here come from a dedicated factory in El Paso. Get your wallet ready to grab a pair from the shelves or, if you're really prepared to shell out the big bucks, get one custom-made for your personality. Back at the Ranch does it all, from everyday walkin' boots to glamorous rock 'n' rollers with bright colors and designs, not to mention tassels galore.

Boots and Boogie (102 E Water St., 983-0777, santafebootsandboogie.com) is another great option for custom boots. Owner Roy Flynn works with four different manufacturers and touts a six-week turnaround.

Vintage and pre-owned boots await a little ways south of town at Cowgirl Red (2865 Hwy. 14, Madrid, 474-0344, cowgirlred.com). Don't forget the Western wear selection at Double Take (320 Aztec St., 820-7775, santafedoubletake.com) either.

Lucchese (57 Old Santa Fe Trail, 820-1883, lucchese.com), a national chain, has an outpost on the Plaza. Founded in San Antonio in the 1880s, these boots were a favorite of Lyndon Johnson. Many models are still handmade in Texas.

Boot Barn (Santa Fe Place Mall, 4250 Cerrillos Road, 471-8775, bootbarn.com) can't be beat for off-the-shelf options at affordable prices. We're talking corporate, so don't be surprised if some of the pickings here come from factories in China.