What's With the Western Thing?
I get asked about my affinity for westernwear all the time. I suppose it's not an obvious choice for someone from a mid-sized city in Wisconsin (not exactly the heart of the west), who has spent the last few decades travelling the globe before ending up in the Scottish Highlands for most of the year. Again, not exactly a place where you hear the jangle of spurs in the supermarket.
I suppose it all began with this guy. I think I was maybe 10 years old in this photo.
That's Prince. He was our horse when we were kids, and even though he definitely had his own ideas about what he wanted to do in any given moment (because horses), he was a very good boy. Even though we tended to ride him in English tack as much as western (that's just what our instructor tended to teach), I always really appreciated, and even preferred the comfort, ease, and light-handedness of classic western horsemanship, and of course all the accompanying gear. Plus, I have never been able to keep a pair of traditional light or white dressage breeches clean. Not even for five minutes. Not even for two minutes. How do people do that!?!? I'm 49 this week and I still can't do it.
The weather can pretty much give you its full "greatest hits" treatment in Wisconsin in the course of a trail ride, and western clothing always made me feel like I was wearing the right thing to get too hot, too cold, wet, muddy, dusty, grasshopper-y or whatever else was in the air that day.
Skip ahead to now-times. Living mainly in Scotland over the last twelve years, I found myself slowly creeping back into my cowboy boots. Geographically it may seem a bit weird, but when the climate is often the same whether it's January or July, you're probably not going to be too far from dressed for the weather in a pair of jeans and boots. I suppose my return to working around horses more often again also had something do do with it, but it was really working on finally launching my vintage shop that got me really thinking about my westward-leaning sartorial tendencies. That tends to happen when you're faced with a mounting pile of vintage clothing, comprised quite heavily of western and western-adjacent pieces that one needs to inspect, catalog, and photograph. In doing so, I've learned a few things, as evidenced below. Oh, and these photos are clickable by the way - should you want more info on the pieces. Because what kind of shop owner would I be if they weren't?
Westernwear is Fun
For me, fun is the primary motivating life force. Life is simply just too short for anything else. While launching my shop, I realized that there are a ton of amazing vintage sellers out there, each with its own unique signature from the everything-goes eclectic to lingerie-only to neutrals-only super-duper austere.
Looking at my pile of colorful, fringey, boldly-patterned and textured vintage goodies, there was really only one way that this thing was ever gonna go. Whee!
Westernwear is Comfortable
Granted, there are always sartorial exceptions to my claim that an entire fashion genre is comfortable, so please don't send me photos of your most uncomfortable western-themed, concho-encrusted bustiers. I get it. Choices have a lot to do with comfort. But by and large, western-themed garments span a broad range of styles that allow us to make comfortable choices. Fuller skirts, boot cut and bellbottom jeans (my favorite), and wide sleeves are very much a thing, and I'm here for it. And perhaps more poignantly? Not a sweatpant or yoga pant in sight. Wait, what are we supposed to call them now? Pandemic pants? Apartment pants? Yeah, whatever. Those.
Westernwear is Distinctly American
I suppose my status as an expat of over a decade has a lot to do with my nostalgia for western-themed Americana, but nonetheless, there really is no other style of clothing that screams AMERICA at the top of its lungs in this way. We're always the loudest in the room, aren't we? But you can't beat Americana westernwear as a sartorial choice for a summer BBQ.
In recent times, what with all the political unrest and unsettling nationalistic carrying-on and such, wearing distinctly America-themed, lighthearted clothing almost has an element of shame attached to it for a lot of people. But I think that is exactly why I feel so strongly about it. Not because I'm some super-extreme nationalist (and if you've been reading for a while thank you for laughing at the very idea of that), or because I think that America is the greatest country on the planet 100% of the time, because trust me we're not...no country is "the greatest" 100% of the time. But rather because I think it's important for us to remember that fashion is expression, and expression is for everyone. So-called "patriotic" sartorial choices are simply not the domain of a particular ideology, and I positively recoil at the idea that the co-opting of something like our national flag to express dodgy ideals has become a thing we might have to discuss. Yet here we are.
Americana-inspired clothing, whether it be a simple t-shirt with the flag on it or a full red white and blue sequinned, skin-tight bodysuit with led lighting sewn into the lighting that is so bright you actually have to plug it in to recharge at night - that should be a bit of fun that we can all enjoy, not an emblem of a particular movement. Particularly a movement that does not include all of us.
Right Prince? (he agrees, even if he's looking a bit annoyed with his rider at the moment, who I'm pretty sure has her hat on backwards in this photo.)