Western Culture takes over the reins of fashion
By SARAH IACOBACCI | April 28, 2019
Illustrated by Sofia Romansky
Ah, cowboys! They’re rough and tough, they’re real men. The epitome of sex-appeal in All-American fashion and grit; but are they contemporary? Riding into the wild wild west of 2019, however, suggests a reinvention of the ‘cowboy’: a more inclusive herder who tends shopaholics on social media.
Once synonymous with dirt and country, the past year has given rise to the comeback of the mainstream ‘cowboy trend’ across North America and Europe. It’s the harmonized sync of heeled-boots, bouncing off catwalks that exemplify the blurred lines, in which country-life has been able to intersect the world of high-fashion.
Still hesitant to “Giddy on up”? Then keep on reading to better understand why the renaissance of the ‘cowboy’ is a more subtle and intuitive solution to the current climate than MAGA (Make America Great Again).
In setting our ‘mood board,’ we delve into the late 19th century, where the “Wild West” imagery and connotations first surfaced. Most associate cowboys with guns, horses and confrontations with the Indians. However, the American Wild West, was in reality about homesteading the frontier.
The ‘cowboy’ was later popularised in Hollywood in the mid-20th century, with films like Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns Trilogy. However, with their main motivation being to drive cattle to railheads for slaughter; we can’t say that this would be a box-office success in today’s #vegan culture.
Nevertheless, it is a huge misconception in demographics that is the most fascinating tale of all. The ‘daily grind’ was labour-heavy and taxing, so it is of no surprise that those who sought out this employment, had few options. As a result, in remarkably parallel times, these jobs were typically held by Mexican immigrants and former or freed slaves (1 in 4 cowboys were black).
So, why are ‘cowboys’ being introduced into mainstream territory? In the lawless west, ownership of a firearm was a necessity for self-preservation. It was a means to protect themselves from hostile outlaws and beasts. Yet today, although society is met with a heightened perception of civilisation, the same paranoia exists.
Gun culture is ever so present in today’s fashion, with Dutch fashion brand ‘Vlieger & Van Dam’ showcasing a “Guardian Angel” handbag series, just a few years ago. With celebrities, such as Rihanna, sporting the revolver-embossed accessory, it’s concerning why there continues to be a demand for glamorized gun-inspired fashion. The designers further explained, that the bags were served to “narrate the increasing violence and crime in the media, objectifying our addiction to fear.” In its foundation, it was a response towards the xenophobic news reports in Rotterdam’s non-native communities.
In an era of paranoia-induced media, the iconography of the ‘cowboy’ is key. In pioneering a way to live cohesively amongst our neighbours, there lies an opportunity in this powerful personage, in all its patriotic glory.
It is Frederick Turner, a late historian, who expressed that the frontier was ultimately responsible for the individualistic American character, aiding in its distinction from Europe. Therefore, by blending social groups scattered across the country, it brings about a “new product that is American.”
In terms of fashion, are the two a fitting match?
Yes! Cowboy attire and fashion both illustrate immaculate attention to detail and tailoring, while still venturing into theatrics. In its truest form, it is the OG of ‘American Haute-Couture.’
In late 2017, Belgian fashion designer, Raf Simons “nailed the lethal anxiety at the heart of the American dream.” His collection for Calvin Klein was a continuation into the theme of American iconography, which touched on the inherent duality of the American. Touching on its roots in ‘boot barn chic,’ with transitions into city landscapes, it highlights the fact that there aren’t many styles, that can cover such polarity in scope. Sequins? I WISH!
Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent, continues to experiment with cropped wide-collar jackets and plaid shirts, as a spew of fellow fashion houses accompany him on the bandwagon. We’re talking Maison Margiela and Fendi status. American singer, Kacey Musgraves even proclaimed “It’s Yee-haw couture! I’m calling it ‘Yee-Sace’.”
Having said that, new businesses are arising for the increasing demand. Asia Hall is founder and CEO of ‘Neon Cowboys’ – a line showcasing lit-up cowboy hats. Most recently spotted this year, at Coachella on Winnie Harlow, the company also got MAJOR exposure when Simi and Haze wore them at their extravagant birthday bash.
Hall explains how the idea surged after having attended country festivals, and not fitting in with the traditional landscape. She wants to reinvent what a modern “country fan could look like,” in all its stereotypical splendor. In furthering this culture, she envisions creating a YouTube channel dedicated to line dancing with a Top 40 twist – “a party environment that’s Coyote Ugly-meets-Hard-Rock-Café but where now everyone is invited.”
This “Yeehaw agenda” (known as through Twitter) may be laughable to the Non-American, or even fellow patriot, but it helps give context to our current pop cultural climate. In most recent viral news, Billboard attempted to remove from the country chart, Lil Nas X’s song, as it was deemed not “country enough.” This only added fuel to the fire. As then, Billy Ray Cyrus (Yes – THE “sweet niblets” smooth-talking father of Hannah Montana) joined the song by doing a remix to it. The rest is history (as can be seen in memes and challenges on TikTok).
It’s not just this odd duo taking the mic, as Cardi B has recently been sporting a full-fledged EXTRA looking cowboy ensemble in multiple performances and music videos. It’s this once oxymoronic concept of culture, that’s proving to be that Gen Z are not to be reckoned with.
A generation with a sensitivity to labels, is further giving this agenda a purpose, by making cultural expectations into a more fluid environment. Hall says, “It’s more about us redefining what should America look like. We’re allowing these people that didn’t necessarily feel like they could fit in with Americana culture to have some kind of channel into it.” That being said, Gen Z reinventions are a worldwide cause, which make the understanding of ‘Black American culture’ a European issue too.
How to put the Yee into your Haw:
One shouldn’t be nervous to attempt this vision, but instead, be excited in its versatility. You can have the ‘Best of both worlds’ (sorry – another HM reference), in showing a more sexy side at times, and a more traditional meet-the-family style at others.
However, the cowboy hat, albeit fun, is not the most practical accessory or investment to start out with. Unless, you’re going for a bachelorette meets 6 year-old party entertainer vibe (YOU DO YOU).
The current trend is more tame, distancing itself from costume connotations. It’s more European – it’s Americana. So, think of denim shirts, corduroy and suede fits.
Down under stray from the leather chaps; the world can only handle one Channing Tatum at a time. Rather, opt for a slim fitting pair of black jeans, which will allow you more flexibility to experiment with a louder top.
However, honestly, I would start the party at the feet. Nothing says western more than a pair of cowboy boots – and with today’s boots looking more like a hybrid between the traditional and the Chelsea, it’s easy to integrate it into your ensemble. For a moderately priced array of western style boots, check out L’Intervalle and & Other Stories.
Remember, it’s an attitude that stems from the heel of your boot to the tip of your hat – a look for the pioneer of the new age.
Disclaimer: The magazine is a week-end light-reads publication which consists of highly subjective articles. The articles published in the magazine section do not necessarily reflect the views of The Amsterdammer, nor do we endorse them. The opinions expressed here purely belong to the author of the article.
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Sarah Iacobacci is a 20-year-old Canadian student, studying Communication Science at the UvA. She is the University reporter of The Amsterdammer.