Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>neo-traditional Western
Subject: cowboy
Culture: Anglo-American country/western
Setting: American West
Evolution1875 Anglo-American cowboy > neo-traditional Western

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Clayton/Hoy/Underwood 2001 p68 (Jerald Underwood, "The cowboy" p66-153)
"Of the mounted herders of North America, the cowboy is, no doubt, the most familiar to audiences of film and readers of fiction and history.  In reality, however, the term cowboy is often used in the generic sense to indicate not just someone mounted on a horse who works cattle, but anyone dressed in the clothing we think of as western.
    "According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term cowboy (also cow-boy or cow boy) was a British term to designate 'a boy who tends cows' -- and nothing is mentioned or suggested about tending cattle on horseback.  In Southwest usage, the cowboy is always a man on a horse.  A man who herded cattle on foot was no cowboy.  In fact, on the unfenced Texas plains and in the brush chasing Longhorn cattle -- animals more feral than tame -- a man on foot was useless and often in danger of being gored or trampled to death by the cattle.
    "As used today, the word cowboy is known around the world, and the cowboy, usually associated with Texas in the minds of everyone not familiar with the history of the American West, is one of the mythical figures of American history.  Those who are concerned with technical distinctions separate the cowboy from the vaquero and the buckaroo, though all three work cattle on horseback and share many of the same folk qualities.  The distinctiveness of the cowboy is apparent to those who observe his background, appearance, work, and daily life."

* Polhemus 1994 p23
"Streetstyle -- essentially urban in character, typically requiring the streetcorner or the nightclub dance-floor as a stage -- doesn't at first glance appear comfortably to embrace Western Style -- a style whose natural habitat is the rolling plains and the prairie.  But because streetstyle is an embodiment of dreams, its inspirations need never be limited to its actual environment.  in the 1970s, after all, Funk and Glam styles reached out to distant galaxies.  And in the 1930s and 1940s people in towns and cities across North America reached out to a mythic heritage of the great outdoors as a source of stylistic and ideological inspiration.
    "Why did Western Style appeal at this particular point in history?  The reasons are many and varied.  Firstly, the rapid urbanization of the thirties and forties left many new city dwellers homesick for a rural way of life which the Dust Bowl disaster, the Depression and the industrial needs of the war effort obliged them to leave behind.  Secondly, Western Style reflected and celebrated a demographic shift away from the East Coast, which had previously monopolized American culture.  Thirdly, the American South was striving to find itself a positive identity and various historical factors conspired to make this most feasible if the imagery of the Southwest were emphasized at the expense of the Southeast.  And finally, at a time of great hardship, the cowboy's rugged determination and triumph over adversity offered a symbol which all Americans could cherish."


* Clayton/Hoy/Underwood 2001 p104 (Jerald Underwood, "The cowboy" p66-153)
"[T]he cowboy's hat has undergone many transitions in appearance, the shape being one of the ways of identifying the home region of the wearer.  Today's younger cowboys are shaping the brims of their hats differently from the generation of cowboys before them.  The crowns have fairly traditional crushes, but the brims are not rounded up on the sides as the older cowboys prefer.  Instead, the younger cowboys roll the edges up slightly on the sides and slant them down in the front and back.  Although some older hat wearers also prefer this style, it seems to predominate among cowboys age twenty-five and below.
    "Also common among the younger cowboys are the vent holes in either contrasting or compatible colors on the hats.  Quite common in black hats, for instance, are red vent holes.  This system allows ventilation to the wearer's head, and in hot weather the felt hat is tolerable.  The bonnet strings are quite rare in modern cowboy hats."

* Sims 2015 p073-075


* Greenlaw 1993 p68
"Because cowboys and cowgirls believe in comfort as well as style, the bolo tie has gained favor. Whether the neck of the shirt is left open or closed, the wearer still looks fashionably dressed. The bolo is a braided leather thong that has silver tips and a decorative slide. Native Americans of the southwest created these ties, but they were first produced commercially by Rockmount Ranch Wear Manufacturing Company."


* Polhemus 1994 p23
"If the cowboy hadn't existed he would have had to have been invented. And, in a sense, he was.   All those 'Singing Cowboy' epics and B-movies which Hollywood churned out between the mid-1930s and the mid-1940s were more concerned with mythmaking than with historical accuracy. This was especially true of the dress styles. Real cowboys had been paid low wages and had worked long, arduous hours doing dirty jobs. To imagine that they could have ended up looking like Gene Autry or Roy Rogers is absurd. But America needed a vision of itself and Hollywood happily obliged.
      "So too did the music industry. While 'country and western' had most of its musical roots in Appalachia and the American Southeast, its visual appearance quickly ditched 'hillbilly' styles for 'cowboy and western' accoutrements."

* McDowell 1997 p126
"The dress of the working cowboy -- especially his jeans and boots -- has been so absorbed into modern urban fashion that it is now worn with confidence, and even conviction, by men who would run a mile if asked to sit in a saddle.  What is it about cowboy gear that gives it such pulling power?  The masculine authority that it suggests is more to do with myth than reality.  There is no evidence that cowboys were more courageous than troopers or that their lives were more difficult than those of trappers, but such beliefs have sunk so deeply into our collective psyche that even the most diffident of men can, by wearing cowboy clothes, believe themselves to be part of the hard-drinking, hard-riding, hard-fighting dreamworld into which we have turned the cowboy life."

* O'Hara 1986 p81
"cowboy  Fashion based on the working clothes of American cowboys and early American pioneers, which included check cotton shirts, bandannas, jeans or gauchos, and thick-heeled boots decorated with tooled leather.  Ponchos and fringed leather jackets were also worn.  Cowboy fashions were popular in the late 1960s and 1970s."

* Clayton/Hoy/Underwood 2001 p105-106 (Jerald Underwood, "The cowboy" p66-153)
"The typical cowboy shirt today is cut with a yoke, perhaps of contrasting color or design, in front and back and has a collar.  Sturdy blue denim shirts are popular, but all kinds of shirts of various descriptions often discarded dress shirts, may be seen.  When a cowboy is conscious of his appearance, however, he will wear the 'typical' cowboy shirt, usually with pearl snap buttons and in a bright color, contrasting stripes, or sometimes a floral pattern.  Pieced contrasting colors and contrasting patterns of cloth, especially with bright colors, have characterized a new generation of Western shirts in the 1990s, apparently triggered by those worn in performances by Garth Brooks and other popular country and western singers.  Yellow is not a suitable color, especially for today's rodeo cowboys, to whom it symbolizes cowardice.
    "[....]  Today's cowboy will be found in blue cotton denim jeans bearing the brand of Levi or Wrangler, brands that compete for the 'cowboy image.'  These are usually tight-fitting and may sport a bandanna handkerchief protruding from one of the back pockets."


* Sims 2015 p144
​"Although more outlandish buckle designs are often associated with the cowboys of the American Wild West, the fact is that the original pioneers and frontiersmen would have worn suspenders.  It was only in the early twentieth century that western, Native Indian and rodeo-influenced plate buckle designs took hold -- including the traditional Navajo combination of silver and turquoise; eagles or longhorn cattle; and the Stars and Stripes -- by which time the public image of the cowboy was already becoming the stuff of mythology.  This, of course, was enhanced further by Hollywood's golden age of westerns from the 1930s to 1960s.  For Red River (1948) director Howard Hawks gave John Wayne and other cast members belts with a silver buckle depicting the Red River ranch's cattle brand, a D with two wavy lines; years later Wayne made a return gift of a buckle to Hawks.
    "This glossier cowboy image is what would come to inform the dress of some country and western singers and -- in wildly exaggerated form -- the white rhinestone-covered jumpsuit style worn by Elvis Presley for performances through the 1970s."

* Clayton/Hoy/Underwood 2001 p106 (Jerald Underwood, "The cowboy" p66-153)
"A man may or may not wear a belt to hold up his pants while working.  Some men shun a belt because it may hang on the saddle horn of a bucking horse and cause the rider to get hung up and hurt if jarred loose from the saddle.  Hand-tooled belts have been common for years, especially with the wearer's name gracing the back.  This style lost favor in the 1970s and 1980s, and the tooling of oak leaves, basket weave, or other patterns covers the entire belt.  A style using a pass-through buckle of silver with tips and loops has seen extensive use.
    "Still widespread is the use of a trophy buckle; that is, a large flat buckle with a stud on the back inserted through a hole in the in the leather to secure tension on the belt.  These are often prizes at ropings and ranch rodeos and are silver with gold, brass, or copper embossing and words indicating the occasion for the trophy.  Figures include men or even horses in various activities such as horse riding, barrel racing, roping, and the like.  Suspenders are rarely used by cowboys, though occasionally one may be seen wearing suspenders advertising a popular brand of beer."

* O'Neal 2014 p126
"The buscadero rig was popularized by Hollywood Westerns, as fast-draw scenes added drama to the silver screen. Movie and television fast-draw rigs featured a dropped panel with a slot on the gun belt for a low-slung holster that was tied down above the knee.  Sometimes, the holsters were tilted for even faster draws.  Such gun-belt and holster combinations were unknown on the frontier."


* Sims 2015 p017-018
"It was Hollywood's efforts during the 1930s to turn the mythology of the cowboy into cinematic gold, initially through actors such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, that the cowboy boot was first worn for fashion.  Outside America's Midwest, today the cowboy boot can sometimes be perceived as being a largely decorative, folk-art form of bygone dress, with its rococo shape, ornate leatherwork and, of course, more than a hint of the nineteenth century about it, jarring with twenty-first century urban life.  Yet its unisex design -- both men and women of the 'Wild West' rode and ranched -- was shaped by consideration for its function while riding a horse.
    "As for decoration, that was an imaginative response to the fact that cowboy boots are stitched on the outside so that no seams are left to rub against the foot or leg on the inside.  The more ornate take on the boot, with inlays and overlays of boldly patterned and coloured leathers, only arrived on later styles of cowboy boot, from the 1920s onwards, when boots began to be worn for show as much as for work.  Rodeo blended ranch skills with entertainment, while Hollywood sought to give its big-screen cowboys ever more spectacle."

* Clayton/Hoy/Underwood 2001 p107 (Jerald Underwood, "The cowboy" p66-153)
"The boots the cowboy wears while riding are special to him.  He will likely have a pair of dress boots, perhaps with a low heel and a rounded toe, and a pair of rough work boots he wears when he feeds stock or does menial chores.  The riding boots are usually handmade with a high  underslung heel, so that the foot will be less likely to slip through the stirrup, and a more pointed toe (not the sharply pointed one) to slip into the stirrup easily.  The heel may protrude slightly in the rear or on the side to form a ridge that keeps the spur from sliding down over the heel and being lost.The tops, often with a vee in front and back, come to the bottom of the knee.  The cowboy often tucks his pants legs into the tops of the boots, and the brightly colored and ornately stitched and decorated tops are thus displayed to public view.  Black bottoms and red tops are frequent color combinations, but variation from this combination is common, such as yellow or green tops and brown bottoms.  In the past decade some cowboys have begun wearing 'packers,' a laced-up style of boot common among buckaroos.  A lace-up, flat-heeled boot has shown up in recent years, a combination of the packer and the flat-heeled, low-top boot called a 'roper.'  Cowboys usually find these unsuitable for work."