One day in 2017, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders director Kelli Finglass ran breathless into Charlotte Jones’ office. She held a letter from the Smithsonian Institution, which was offering a space for the team’s uniform at the Museum of American History. “I’ll never forget that day,” says Finglass, who, since 2002, had been writing her own letters to the museum advocating for a spot in collection.
A year later, the cheerleader uniform was placed in the same wing as the Wizard of Oz’s costumes, Miss Piggy, and Seinfeld’s puffy shirt. It was “truly a moment in history for our organization,” she says.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cheerleaders’ iconic look: front-tied blue satin tops, fringe-lined vests, short shorts, and crisp white boots. Of course, there have been small adjustments to the uniform over the years, like adding crystals to the fringe and stars. But, for the most part, the uniform has remained constant.
Finglass loves the look of that uniform against the green turf. “It might look different on an ice rink, or hockey rink or baseball field,” she says, “but in our world and our turf, the blue and the crisp white contrasts beautifully.” The white cowboy boots, she says, highlight the sharp footwork the team is known for, especially when the dancers are in a kick line.
Except, when the team first unveiled its new look in 1972, dancers donned vinyl go-go boots á la Nancy Sinatra instead of cowboy boots. That made sense at the time, but the go-gos were not practical, says Finglass, who danced on the team from 1984 to 1989. The flimsy plastic heels almost always broke on gamedays. The team even gave a Christmas tree with broken-heel ornaments to then-director Suzanne Mitchell in 1988.
In 1989, the team retired the disco-era go-go boots in favor of a Western-style cowboy boot. The shift was “a fashion nod to cowboys and Western wear,” Finglass says. However, it took a while for the team to find a design and a maker they liked. It’s hard to convert a heavy, stiff boot into easy dance footwear. “The choreography requires high kicks and jump splits and a lot of motion that cowboy boots aren’t traditionally made for,” she says.
The team partnered with luxury brand Lucchese in 2011 to custom-make each cheerleader’s boots. After an initial audition early in the summer, dancers are immediately fitted for their shoes. Then, the boots are produced at the Lucchese factory in El Paso. Finglass likens the production to watching a magician work. “It’s a beautiful process,” she says. “There’s so many hands that touch the boots with great pride. It’s actually really cool to see that.”
The boots have pearl-colored embroidery, two metallic stars on the bootstraps, and four more “secret stars” worked into the stitch pattern. The shoes are supposed to fit more like a baseball glove than a “boot-scooting style boot,” Finglass says. To aid dancers, Lucchese removed the boot’s metal shank, adjusted the curve of the boot’s shaft, and used a softer, more flexible calf-skin leather.
Every pair is ready for dancers by the beginning of August. Throughout the summer, dancers rehearse in old boots from the previous season (dancers don’t get to keep their used boots, except their My Cause, My Boots pair). For dancers, it’s a big moment to dance in the shoes for the first time—one that’s been well documented on the now-canceled Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team TV show. Getting their new, custom boots is even better.
“When you get your own pair with your name in them and they’re made for you,” Finglass says, “there’s absolutely something special about having a custom-made footwear that’s a part of the uniform that is world famous.”
It takes dancers about two weeks to get over the “boot shock” of a new pair of shoes. After that, Finglass says, they’re ready for a season of high-kicking and spinning in one of the most visible and iconic costumes in the world. One that’s stood the test of time since its introduction a half-century ago. “The design was right at the time,” she says, “and still is today.”