Cowboy attires go beyond aesthetic. They are rich with history and limited by the circumstances, as well as the goods available to cowboys, in the profession of their choosing.
Today, it’s easy to find shops such as A.A. Callister that offers signature cowboys items such as a concealed carry, boots, and vests. And while we simply dismiss such items as simply a part of an elaborate cowboy get up, there is more to cowpuncher clothing than meets the eye.
The Authentic Cowpuncher Style
An Old West cowpuncher’s style generally consisted of cotton or wool trousers with leather chaps, a basic shirt under a vest or a waistcoat, a huge neckerchief, tall boots with spurs, and a wide-brimmed hat. While the cowboy attire varied according to some individual and regional preferences, every article in the cowboy’s getup addressed his professional needs.
The Western frontier saw a hodgepodge of stylistic and cultural traditions come together, and clash, throughout the process of creating the standard cowboy outfit.
For example, the early European adventurers, which included the mountain men, the fabled trappers, and eventually, buffalo hunters, adopted American Indian clothing: pants, leather shirts, and moccasins. But cowboys opted for the more practical option, which is using leather for boots, belts, and gloves. Occasionally, they also used the material for their vests and overcoats.
Practicality Over Style
At the time, the Victorian style set the standards for fashion, and some elements of the buttoned-up ethos found its way to the cowpuncher’s way of dressing.
Cowboy fashion was limited, of course, by practicality and his financial circumstances. Cowpuncher clothes did not come cheap. A pair of boots, for example, could burn an entire month’s salary.
As cowpunchers are not exactly well paid, the early cowboys drove cattle from Texas all the way to the north with only one set of clothes each. Sometimes, their only clothes proved inadequate for spending long days in the saddle. This led American cowboys to buy clothes with seemingly fancy embellishments that were actually designed to fulfill the needs of their profession. These embellishments fulfilled more an aesthetic role: they were practical considerations for durability or structure.