“I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy.”
“I see by your outfit you are a cowboy too.”
“You see by our outfits that we are both cowboys.”
“Get yourself an outfit, and be a cowboy too.” 
—From ” Laredo?” by the Kingston Trio
So this year in Art in the Garden we will be having “themed” weeks, in which all of our art projects are connected to something. We started off the summer by having the first week’s theme; Cowboys and Cowgirls. Children decorated their own paper cowboy and cowgirl boots, and created their own popsicle stick cowboy or cowgirl doll. (Click here to read more)
Today “cowboy” and “cowgirl” clothing are very popular fashions, whether or not you take part in the actual tasks of a cowpoke. But while many enjoy the style and comfort of cowboy clothing, all the original cowboy garb was actually designed for specific functions to help the cowboy in their tasks.
I Can See By Your Outfit That You Are a Cowboy
One of the most distinctive measures of cowboys and western wear are cowboy boots. Originally cowboys wore the same kind of work boots that a miner or logger would wear and what we now call a “cowboy boot” was not designed until the mid-1870s. This new type of footwear enabled the cowboy to do his work far better and also added extra protection against the elements. A significant feature of these boots were their height (about seventeen inches). The extra length protected the cowboy’s legs from brush, thorns, snake bites, chaffing, and biting cattle. 
However, what really makes the cowboy boot so different from any others is its narrowness and specialty heel. Cowboy boots are specifically made to be narrow and pointed, to assist in slipping out of the stirrup more easily. The boot heels are unique in that they slant upward, so if a cowboy were to fall from a saddle or be bucked by his bronco, he would easily get out of that situation, rather than be hanged from the stirrup or harmfully dragged about . While these innovations benefit riding, roping, etc.; they are what attribute to the pain or discomfort one faces when walking around in cowboy boots. After all, these were designed for riding, not walking.
As the popularity of cowboy boots increased with cowhands and the public, they also became more embellished and decorative. While some may feel the additional adornments are impractical, this increased stitching actually improved the boots, as the designs would stiffen the leather keeping the boot upright instead of puckering or chafing the cowboy’s leg.
From the mid 19th century to the 1880s, the pants that most cowboys wore were known as “California style,” because they were fashioned after the California vaqueros (the Mexican cowboys). These pants were made out of wool and designed with a tight waist and loose-fitting bottoms. The natural tightness of the pants made no need of belts, but the cowboys wore suspenders if additional assistance was required. Canvas pants and denim jeans were not a popular choice until the late 1800s and early 1900s .
On May 20, 1873; Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis created a new form of Western wear that changed the image of the cowboy, the West, and America. In the mid-1800s, Davis decided to tackle the issue of canvas pants. Cowboys liked the mobility and comfort of the canvas material, but these pants were not very practical as they tended to tear at the hips when the wearer moved quickly or twisted. In the 1870s, Davis solved this problem by placing copper rivets in the pockets, to alleviate the stress of hurried motions and the natural pull of pants when bending, sitting, or riding . He approached Strauss for funding, and the two applied for a patent in 1873. This type of pant became so popular with Westerners that other companies, such as Wrangler, began mimicking their designs. By the 1920s, denim had replaced canvas and as the jeans no longer followed the “California style,” belt loops were added to ensure that pants remained upright.
3) Shirts and Vests
Most cowboys did not wear coats as it restricted mobility, so shirts and vests were very important in providing warmth and protection against the elements. Shirts were typically long-sleeved, button ups made out of flannel or wool. Shirts ranged from collared to collarless, solid to plaid, and came in a multitude of colors. More often than not the cowboy wore blue shirts, as the close of the Civil War brought on a surplus of that particular fabric being sold throughout the states. The more embellished Western shirts of films were not typically worn by an actual cowboy. He may have owned one or two nicer ones for Sundays, dances, and his day off; but the embroidered and extremely decorative ones were mostly worn by cowboy actors and singers .
Vests were typically worn to provide an extra layer of warmth and unlike coats, vests did not get caught on trees, fences, horns, etc. They were also crucial for storing items the cowboy needed. Since cowboys spent most days in a saddle, it was difficult to store and retrieve items from one’s pant pocket while sitting. Vests were the easiest and best option.
Hats are another symbol of the cowboy and were crucial to their survival in the West. Cowboy used hats to shield their eyes from the sun, protect their faces from sunburn, and defend their ears from frostbite. They also used them as a bucket for water, a feedbag, a tool to herd cattle, and as a fan for the campfire.
Hats typically varied from region to region, as the weather indicated what type of hat was needed. For instance cowboys of the northwest preferred smaller brims as they had high winds, and the southerners had larger brims, similar to sombreros, to protect cowboys from the rays of the sun. But no matter where the cowboy worked all hats were made out of felt with deep crowns. The deep crown of the cowboy hat was essential as it enabled it to stay on one’s head securely while riding a galloping horse .
By the 1890s, cowboys everywhere were wearing Stetson hats, designed by John B. Stetson . His most popular designs were the peaked hats, nicknamed “Montana Peak,” and his ten-gallon Stetsons.
6) Additional Accessories
Cowboys also typically wore bandannas and chaps (pronounced shaaps from the Spanish word chaparreras), both of which provided additional protection against the elements. The bandanna could be used to cover the neck, face, or ears. They were also used as a towel, potholder, or to blindfold horses. Chaps helped the cowboy remain warmer and drier in rain or snowstorms; along with defending him against brush, dust, cattle bites, etc. Chaps were often made out of cow leather, goatskin, and sheepskin. Bearskin was also used, but this was rare and tended to be mostly done in California. 
For additional information and fun, click here to try out our interactive game that allows you to mix and match clothing worn in the historic West.
1. “Laredo?,” performed by The Kingston Trio, on College Concert, by Frank H. Maynard, adapted by Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds, and John Stewart, 1962.
2. Jeremy Agnew, Old West in Fact and Fiction (Jefferson, NC: MacFarland and Company, 2012), 130.
6. Ibid., 127
7. Beverly Chico, “Cowboy Hat,” in Hats and Headwear around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013), 121.
8. Agnew, Old West in Fact, 117.
9. Ibid., 131.
A&E Television Network. “Levi Strauss Patents Copper-Riveted Jeans.” History.com. Accessed June 9, 2014. http://http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/levi-strauss-patents-copper-riveted-jeans.
Agnew, Jeremy. The Old West in Fact and Film: History versus Hollywood, Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2012.
Chico, Beverly. “Cowboy Hat.” In Hats and Headwear around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia, 121-24. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013.
“Laredo?” Performed by The Kingston Trio. On College Concert. By Frank H. Maynard. Adapted by Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds, and John Stewart. 1962.