Western Wear From East to West

What is Western Wear?  This is actually a more complicated question than you might think at first glance.  The question really depends on where you live.

In the United States, we typically think of Western Wear to be the sort of clothing worn by cowboys and cowgirls.  Such as cowboy hats and cowboy boots.  This style of clothing can include Stetson hats, large belt buckles, duster coats, etc.  Another well-known Western accessory is the bolo tie, which was a pioneer invention reputedly made from an expensive hatband.

In Asia, Western Wear refers to clothing styles from countries from the West such as the United States, Canada or parts of Europe.

The Western world or the West is a term referring to different nations, depending on the context, most often including at least part of Europe. There are many accepted definitions about what they all have in common.  The Western world is also known as the Occident (from Latin: occidens "sunset, West", as contrasted with its pendant the Orient).  The term originally had a literal geographic meaning.  It contrasted Europe with the linked cultures and civilizations of the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the remote Far East, which early-modern Europeans saw as the East.  In the contemporary cultural meaning, the phrase "Western world" includes Europe, as well as many countries of European colonial origin with substantial European ancestral populations in the Americas and Oceania.

The history of Western fashion is the story of the changing fashions in clothing for men and women in Europe and other countries under influence of the Western world, from the 12th century to the present.  Learn more about the history of fashion.

The general definition according to people that live in the USA would be that Western wear is a category of men's and women's clothing which derives its unique style from the clothes worn in the 19th-century American West.  The term has actually evolved to include modern day fashion as well.

Western Wear

It ranges from accurate historical reproductions of pioneer, mountain man, Civil War, cowboy and vaquero clothing to the stylized garments popularized by singing cowboys such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers in the 1940s and '50s. Western wear can be very informal, with a t-shirt and blue jeans forming a basic ensemble (similar to what a rancher may wear on the farm or range), or it may consist of tailored formal garments with western accents.  It does not always, but generally Western wear incorporates a cowboy hat, a leather belt, and cowboy boots.

A Western shirt is a traditional item of Western Wear characterized by a stylized yoke on the front and on the back. It is generally constructed of denim or tartan fabric with long sleeves, and in modern form is sometimes seen with snap pockets, patches made from bandana fabric, and fringe.

In the early days of the Old West it was the bowler hat rather than the slouch hat, center crease (derived from the army regulation Hardee hat), or sombrero that was the most popular among cowboys as it was less likely to blow out off in the wind.   By the 1870s, however, the Stetson had become the most popular cowboy hat due to its use by the Union Cavalry as an alternative to the regulation blue kepi.

Stampede strings were installed to prevent the hat from being blown off when riding at speed. These long strings were usually made from leather or horsehair. Typically, the string was run half-way around the crown of a cowboy hat, and then through a hole on each side with its ends knotted and then secured under the chin or around the back of the head keeping the hat in place in windy conditions or when riding a horse.

The tall white Ten gallon hats traditionally worn by movie cowboys were of little use for the historical gunslinger as they made him an easy target, hence the preference of lawmen like Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson for low-crowned black hats.

Originally part of the traditional Plains Indian costume, coonskin caps were frequently worn by Mountain men like Davy Crockett for their warmth and durability.

Frock coats and ponchos were popularized by Clint Eastwood's Spaghetti Westerns, short Mexican jackets with silver embroidery, fringe jackets popular among outlaw country, southern rock and 1980s heavy metal bands, and Duster coats derived from originals worn in the Wild West. More modern interpretations include leather waistcoats inspired by the biker subculture and jackets with a design imitating the piebald color of a cow.  Women may wear bolero jackets derived from the Civil War era zouave uniforms, shawls, denim jackets in a color matching their skirt or dress, or a fringe jacket like Annie Oakley.

For more formal occasions inhabitants of the West might opt for a suit with "smile" pockets, a half-belt at the rear, piping and a yoke similar to that on the Western shirts. This can take the form of an Ike jacket, Leisure suit or three-button sport coat.  Country and Western singer Johnny Cash was known to wear an all-black Western suit, in contrast to the elaborate Nudie suits worn by stars like Elvis and Porter Waggoner.   The most elaborate western wear is the custom work created by rodeo tailors such as Nudie Cohn and Manuel, which is characterized by elaborate embroidery and rhinestone decoration. (learn about fashion embellishment) This type of western wear, popularized by country music performers, is the origin of the phrase rhinestone cowboy.

In the early days of the Wild West trousers were made out of wool. In summer canvas was sometimes used. This changed during the Gold Rush of the 1840s when denim overalls became popular among miners for their cheapness and breathability. Levi Strauss improved the design by adding copper rivets and by the 1870s this design was adopted by ranchers and cowboys. The original Levi's jeans were soon followed by other makers including Wrangler jeans and Lee Cooper. These were frequently accessorized with kippy belts featuring metal conchos and large belt buckles.

Leather chaps were often worn to protect the cowboy's legs from cactus spines and prevent the fabric from wearing out.   Two common types include the skintight shotgun chaps and wide batwing chaps. The latter were sometimes made from hides retaining their hair (known as "woolies") rather than tanned leather. They appeared on the Great Plains somewhere around 1887.

Women wore knee-length prairie skirts, red or blue gingham dresses or suede fringed skirts derived from Native American dress. Saloon girls wore short red dresses with corsets, garter belts and stockings. After World War II, many women, returning to the home after working in the fields or factories while the men were overseas, began to wear jeans like the men.

Again, there is more than one way to look at the term Western Wear.  It could be either fashion from the old West in the USA, or it can reference clothing from Western world countries.

You may find the Western Shirts Guide (from Langstons) to be helpful.  Also, you can read about the Barstow Western Shirt from Levi's.

Learn about clothing from Europe.

If you own a fashion store that sells western style clothes, you may want to visit our westernwear wholesaler section to locate suppliers.