Weatherford Democrat

Features

January 4, 2010

From Wild West to modern rodeo, the look is new

DENVER (AP) — Thousands of cowboys and cowgirls will be decked out in their Western finery at the National Western Stock Show in Denver this month. But if an original cowboy from the late 1800s somehow stumbled in, would he recognize anybody?



"He wouldn't even recognize the cows," said Steve Weil, president of Denver's Rockmount Ranch Wear.



Western wear today doesn't look much like what the legendary young cowhands wore from the 1870s through the 1890s, designers and historians say. The clothing has adapted to meet changing styles, just as cattle have been bred to meet evolving tastes.



In the 1880s, Texas cowboys often wore battered, floppy hats and loose pants made of wool or canvas. Cowboys from California or other parts west of the Rockies more likely wore tighter pants made of denim and a red sash, a carry-over from the Mexican vaqueros.



Or a cowboy's clothes might be a chaotic mess with no discernible style at all, said Don Reeves, a curator at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.



"In earlier times, you had such a mismatch of people and the clothes they wore. They looked more like refugees than cowboys," said Reeves, who holds the McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture at the museum.



An event like the National Western, with 16 days of rodeo, livestock contests, auctions and Wild West shows, draws hundreds of thousands of people with a noticeably tidier look.



Today's well-dressed cowboys and cowgirls are more likely to wear a clean hat with a carefully creased crown, maybe in a style called "Cattleman" or "Montana" or "Gus." They might also wear a brightly colored shirt and heavily starched jeans.



"My dry-cleaning bill is through the roof," said Keith Mundee, vice president for sales and marketing for Rocky Mountain Clothing Co. of Denver. "Just this weekend I spent $140 on starched jeans."

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