History of Old West Clothing
Cowboys enjoy a mythical importance among American legends. From legendary lawmen, to fearless outlaws, our imaginations of the Old West have been inspired by movies, dime novels, country music, the Wild West shows, and the cowboys themselves!
What makes them so unique? Definitely their attire!
With slight individual and regional differences, the basic Old West cowboy attire the wide-brimmed hat, an ordinary shirt worn beneath a cowboy vest and waistcoat, the cotton or wool trousers, covered halfway with the leather chaps, the distinct tall boots with spurs, and the oversized silk handkerchief worn around the neck.
As interesting as the ensemble may appear, the cowboy clothes lend them a hand on their ranch work, and kept them protected from the environment.
The attire is a mélange of stylistic and cultural traditions that crossed the Western boundaries. The leather drew inspiration from the American Indians, and the early European adventurers quickly adopted the ways. However, the cowboys found little use of Indian traditions. They instead took upon the use of leather for belts, boots, and gloves. Victorian styling worked its way into the elements of the basic cowboy garb only as long as it was practical. That limited it to the buttoned up ethos for the men.
While the men were at it the ladies never stayed far behind in fashion. The 1890’s saw the western women wearing typical Victorian dresses – it was high fashion then! Cowgirls, as the Wild West called had fine riding and trick roping skills. Another thing they put men to shame with was their expert marksmanship. Talk about girl power!
Like the men, the women in the West spent a considerable part of their day in the ranch, which required practical clothing. Many out of necessity began wearing clothes similar to ones worn by their husbands, fathers, and brothers. Some areas witnessed women wearing divided skirts to aide their ranch work and riding. With the advent of the Wild West in the 1900s, splits skirts became increasingly common among western women - and why not? They liberated them to compete with the men in numerous events.
In 1910 it was showgirls like Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, and others from the Wild West paving the future of cowgirls’ fashion. It is important to note, that for most part the cowboys, and the cowgirls stuck to practicality in their choice of clothes, which is why, subsequent eas saw the Old West population buying, designing, or making clothes specific to their requirements.r