What a cowpoke wears is partly a matter of fashion, as with anyone else. However, there are aspects to a cowboy's wardrobe that have more to do with function than form. There's gear that's necessary to getting the job done, for example, spurs, packer boots and chaps. Nevertheless, a cowboy on the range can choose to be a clotheshorse or not. He's no different from his big-city cubicle-confined counterpart.
The cowboy looking to keep his feet protected and in position in the saddle, as well as looking beautiful, has an array of boots and spurs at his disposal. Styles vary according to locale. The boot needs to come up high on the calf with heels that are also high. The higher heel serves to steady the cowboy on his horse during roping and keeps the foot from sliding through the stirrup. The preferred material for the boot sole is smooth leather to allow for easy dismounts. A couple of key boot styles include roper boots for rodeo arenas and packer boots, which are made of thicker leather for harder riding.
The word "chaps" comes from the Mexican Spanish "chaparreras." Chaps are commonly made of leather and protect the legs against the elements and when riding through brush. There are a wide range of styles, including angora, bat wings, chinks and shotgun. Specifically for the cold prairie weather of Wyoming and Montana, angora chaps -- or "woolies" -- are made from angora goat hair. Bat wings, used for tough rodeo riding, are made of leather and noted for their long length. Chinks, worn in the Southwest, are fringed and come just below the knee. Shotgun chaps are easy pull-ons -- essentially, leather pants that fit over the jeans.
According to Bootedman.com, cowboys prefer straight-leg jeans for the heavy weight of the fabric and the outside "rolled" seam. Cowboys need to watch out for certain types of jeans that have inside seams that can rub against the leg in the saddle. Designer jeans are a no-no, particularly the low-rise and ultra-baggy varieties.
The cowboy's hat must offer ample protection in wind, rain, punishing sun and cold. The standard brim specification is 4 to 6 inches. Of course, the most renowned brand is Stetson. John Batterson Stetson came from a hat-manufacturing family. He eventually moved West, where in 1865, he created the 10-gallon hat. Hats are most often constructed of felt -- from rabbit or beaver fur -- as well as from wool or straw. The price point is extremely wide-ranging, from as low as $20 and as high as $4,000 at time of publication.
Spurs and Cuffs
A spur in Mexican Spanish is "la espuela." It's made in the shape of a "U" and affixed to the heel of a horseman's boot. Its primary function is to control the horse's behavior, specifically to control the animal's speed. The spur is always roweled -- sharp-toothed -- and, given its Spanish design history, often quite beautiful, made of brass, sliver, copper and even gold. Some novelty examples take the form of little pistols or roosters. The function of a cowboy's cuffs is mainly to keep a work rope from getting caught in shirt sleeves and as protection against brush. They tend to be made of hard leather and can be quite colorful.
- Desert Cowboy image by Rob Duffy from Fotolia.com