Well dear, you can guess the topic of this article. Probably one of our favorites…Clothes, clothes, clothes! 

I’d say we, as fans of the American Frontier era, already know about what cowboys and, generally, people of the Old West wore…but allow me to start with a fun fact. 

The famous cowboy hat, wasn’t actually made for…cowboys. Crazy right? We’ll find out more below where I will present you some musts in a western wardrobe

Shine your boots and let’s get started!

Let Me See Your Shirt 

The shirt we all know with a stylized yoke on the front and on the back was made of tartan or denim. Full of patterns, colors, shapes very…intense! Patches, pockets, different fabrics were used in a single shirt during that time. The yoke would always make a color contrast with the color of the shirt. The western shirts were usually decorated with embroidered elements such as roses of other flowers, horse shoes of abstract shapes. 

Why so many contrasts? Because most of the men of the Old Wild West were taking part in rodeos. The cowboys would have to be easily identified by the audience. Also, by wearing shirts and costumes with colors and patterns different from other participants, each guy would become recognizable and easy, for his fans, to remember. To make a perfect costume set, those shirts were easily matched with buckskins. 

Which bring us to the next…piece of garment…

Buckskins

Not much to say here. The well known suede. The buckskins were usually consisted of a fringe jacket and leggings, made of the same material—the hide of deer. The fringe was very useful back then because the frontiersmen had a difficult life full of cold. In case of rain the fringe would shed the water and get dry sooner. So buckskins were warm, resistant and…modern! It brought the wamus! 

Give Me Your Coat, It’s Getting Cold Outside

Fringe jackets like the ones I mentioned before, frock coats, ponchos, duster coats and even waist coats. Made of wool or, most commonly, leather! Always with embroidery details, patterns, shapes flowers. The piebald, a.k.a. color of the cow, or cow pattern as I’d like to say, started its career during the Frontier Era. The Western ladies usually wore boleros, shawls and denim jackets. Honestly, denim was the best invention ever if you ask me. I love jeans. Trousers, jackets…even bags and dresses!

I Want To Be Formal

Of course there were special occasions! What did people wear then? Does Eisenhower or Ike jacket ring a bell? The leisure suit? Or the sports coat? 

The Ike jacket is more of a soldier’s clothing. It is a waist length jacket with many pockets mostly in the chest and many embroidery and rhinestone details. It is adjustable with fly-front buttons and shoulder straps.

Leisure suits. Perhaps, if you are fond of hard rock or country music, you already know what are these. I’ll tell you one name. Johnny Cash. Black western suit. Oh my! No further comments 😉

The lounge man jacket. It could be made of suede, leather, denim, wool. An all time classic. Ideal either for outdoor activities or a festival, a ranch party, a stroll with his love, another formal occasion. Meeting his bride, perhaps? 

Fun fact. Coats with rhinestone decoration were used by many country artists and performers. And that is how the phrase rhinestone cowboy appeared!

Trousers

At first they were made of wool. But then denim came and changed our lives. Ranchers, cowboys, sheriffs started wearing jeans. With pockets as we know today, accessorized with belts and metal details. If they didn’t wear denim trousers, their other option was leather. But these weren’t  exactly…trousers.

Leather chaps were leggings, but much more loose than jeans. The had a belt and many many details or even fringe. Thick and strong clothing. These leather chaps were protecting the cowboy’s legs from cacti! Sure this was a huge problem of the era. Have you ever been injured by a cactus? Hopefully not. Because it really hurts. Imagine the cacti in the desert. A total nightmare! No thanks, I’ll pass.

Men Wore Trousers, Women What?

Skirts. Our beloved skirts! 

Prairie skirts were very popular during the Frontier Era. They were knee-length and…puffed. Other options? Gingham dresses. Usually this pattern was red or blue, sometimes green too. Suede was a very popular material too. Suede fringe skirts, like the jackets I mentioned above, were a very preferable choice by the women of the era.

As for the saloon girls’ clothing…

…well, sexy short dresses, usually red, with fascinating corsets was, let’s say, a woman’s number one choice! Other accessories the saloon girls choose to wear were garter belts, amazing tight necklaces usually made of lace and stockings. That was how frontiersmen, cowboys, outlaws, sheriffs were falling for them. Astonishing, sexy and at the same time really tough and strong!

Neckwear Is For Everyone

Men and women of the era were constantly wearing constantly. The silk cravats of the Victorian Era, were changed to awesome bandanas, with many crazy patterns. Neckwear was necessary, especially for the cowboys, because it absorbed the sweat and it was keeping the desert dust away from the face. 

The pioneers also invented a new type of necktie: the bolo tie. This was a necktie braided with metal and leather tips and it was secured with an ornamental clasp. It was said that the bolo tie was the gamblers’ favorite accessory. Later, the Mexican horsemen known as charros adopted this…impressive style. Looking for something forbidden? Wear a bolo tie! I don’t know about you, but I would certainly wear one!

A Cowboy Hat, Not So Cowboy-ish

And finally, the famous cowboy hat we all know and are familiar with…was not so cowboy-ish after all! 

As “cowboy hat” we know the famous Stetson. But guess what? This hat was associated with the cowboys in the movies! This happened because the famous cowboy hat we know today, back then it wasn’t practical and didn’t help the travellers. The most common hat back at the time was the bowler hat. 

The cowboy hats had stampede strings to prevent the hat from being blown off when the cowboy was riding at speed. The strings were made of leather or horsehair. Other hats worn during the western era were the sombreros and the coonskin hats.

A Sweet Goodbye From Me

Well dear, that was a short presentation of what our beloved cowboys and ladies were wearing during the glorious period of the Old West. These clothes were truly impressive, considering how harsh life in the Wild West was.

Riding, searching for outlaws, being an outlaw, dancing, drinking, gambling…each occasion had its own dressing code. Regarding women, either walking, shopping, teaching, reading, sewing, dancing, singing and many many more…there was always a perfect dress, skirt or jacket. 

Of course, there was always the footwear. What else? Boots! 

Thank you for staying with me ‘till the end and I hope you enjoyed the article! If you did, I will be happy to see your comments below, or find a friendly email in my inbox folder. 

See you soon!

 

Written by Cassidy Hanton

44 COMMENTS

  1. Really? Knee length puffed skirts I thought it was just younger girls who wore shorter skirts but even then to the calf …… you have bamboozeld my brain

  2. Yes it was great enjoyed all the pics. Sure glad is girls get to wear pants but still love the beautiful dresses that made us look like ladies

  3. This was an interesting and informative article about the dress of that era. I was surprised by the cowboy hat not being a part of that era.
    Thank you for the info!

  4. Virginia City in Northern Nevada has many of these styles still being worn today. Unlike many old towns that have become only tourist attractions, Virginia City is a county seat and has a vibrant community which still upholds a lot of the old style and customs with some modern touches when necessary. Check it out if you in my neck of the woods.

  5. Hello Cassidy.
    I enjoyed reading your article about the the clothing of the men and women of the wild west, living in the UK, I only know what I’ve seen in western movies, I hope you have more articles to write, Thank you Cassidy.HappyWednesday.
    Joyce Dodd

  6. Thanks I now have proof that cowboys wore bowlers instead of Stetson, my sister and I have been arguing about that.

  7. I liked learning about the different styles that were available. I think of western garb as jeans, flannel shirt, boots and chaps. And cowboy hats, like John Wayne!

  8. Gosh a’mighty!! Who’d have thought all the clothing was supposed to be practical. I guess with lots of experiences such practicality ensued that the cowboy was well covered in any emergency situation. The gals too had to experience some degree of discomfort way out west in order to have designed the more practical outfit especially as she had to find a way to keep it clean!! The ladies of the saloons weren’t so lucky having to make do with what little they had & to copy some designs from the very few magazines/newspapers which covered fashion then but in order to have & more importantly to maintain customers their clothing choices had to be revealing very much more than the frontiers woman. Having these differences between the classes of women made the saloon ladies appear quite beyond the pale & consequently much preyed upon by the so-called missionary gentlemen of the time. They were going to hell much faster than any other woman!! I am glad that I don’t live in those times but am appreciative of the invention of denim as a long term investment in the wearing of jeans. Thank goodness for Levis!!

  9. I thank you on that information it was nice to hear about all the clothes THAY wore then I love the boots I wear them all the time Ithankyou very much am looking for new boots

  10. Thank you so much! The shorter knee length skirts came as a surprise. Thought the ladies had to keep their legs covered to the ankles. The bowler hat was also a surprise rather than the Stetson. Appreciate the info.

  11. The movies of the western pioneers showed the ladies walking with the wagons in long ankle length dresses. Dresses were made of Cotten material.
    Was this because of degrees of wealth, comfort in travel? The era of the times may also have been a factor.

  12. Very interesting. I too thought the knee length skirts were a surprise as was the bowler hat. How the movies have changed our impressions! Glad you cleared that up.

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