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Historically, there are few records mentioning girls or women working
to drive cattle up the cattle trails of the Old West. However women did
considerable ranch work, and in some cases (especially when the men went
to war or on long cattle drives) ran them.
It wasn't until the advent of Wild West Shows that "cowgirls" came
into their own. These adult women were skilled performers, demonstrating
riding, expert marksmanship, and trick roping that entertained audiences
around the world. Women such as Annie Oakley became household names. By
1900, skirts split for riding astride became popular, and allowed women
to compete with the men without scandalizing Victorian Era audiences by
wearing men's clothing or, worse yet, bloomers. In the movies that
followed from the early 20th century on, cowgirls expanded their roles
in the popular culture and movie designers developed attractive clothing
suitable for riding Western saddles.
- Western saddles are used for western riding and are the saddles
used on working horses on cattle ranches throughout the United
States, particularly in the west. They are the "cowboy" saddles
familiar to movie viewers, rodeo fans, and those who have gone on
trail rides at guest ranches. This saddle was designed to provide
security and comfort to the rider when spending long hours on a
horse, traveling over rugged terrain.
the growth of rodeo brought about the rodeo cowgirl. In the early
Wild West shows and rodeos, women competed in all events, sometimes
against other women, sometimes with the men. Cowgirls such as Fannie
Sperry Steele rode the same "rough stock" and took the same risks as the
men (and all while wearing a heavy split skirt that was more encumbering
than men's trousers) and competed at major rodeos such as the Calgary
Stampede and Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Today's working cowgirls generally use clothing, tools and equipment
indistinguishable from that of men, other than in color and design,
usually preferring a flashier look in competition.
A modern working cowgirl wears jeans, close-fitting shirts,
boots, hat, and when needed, chaps and gloves. If working on the ranch,
they perform the same chores as cowboys and dress to suit the situation.
- Chaps are sturdy coverings for the legs
consisting of leggings and a belt. They are buckled on over trousers
with the chaps' integrated belt, but unlike trousers they have no
seat and are not joined at the crotch. They are designed to provide
protection for the legs and are usually made of leather or a
leather-like material. Their name is a shortened version of Spanish
the word "chaparreras."
- The cowgirl hat is a high-crowned, wide-brimmed
hat best known as the defining piece of attire for the North
American cowgirl. Influenced by 19th century Mexican culture, today
it is worn by many people, and is particularly associated with ranch
workers in the western and southern United States, western Canada
and northern Mexico, with country-western singers and ranchero
singers in Mexico, and for participants in the North American rodeo
circuit. It is recognized around the world as part of Old West lore.
- Cowgirl boots refer to a specific style of
riding boot, historically worn by cowgirls. They have a Cuban heel,
rounded to pointed toe, high shaft, and, traditionally, no lacing.
Cowgirl boots are normally made from cowhide leather but are also
sometimes made from "exotic" skins such as alligator, snake,
ostrich, lizard, eel, elephant, stingray, elk, buffalo, and the
- 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