Fringe and ruffles, suede and leather, wide-brimmed hats, bandannas, gaucho pants and more
You don’t have to look long to find influences from the wild west in today’s fashion trends. The cowboy look is back, and we’re not talking about just the fabric and fluff.
Cultural influences have played a large part this season. For one, the cowboy culture is more inclusive than ever before. This summer’s record-breaking success of rapper Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” proves that a cowboy song released by a rap artist can be wildly successful. There are other musical examples, too, in Solange’s “When I Get Home” and Mitski’s “Be the Cowboy.”
Clearly, the cowboy ethos is no longer solely the domain of straight, white men, if it ever was. In 2017, Smithsonian Magazine reported that about a quarter of all cowboys were black, despite their portrayal in popular cinema. On social media, fashion archivist Bri Malandro coined the term “the yeehaw agenda” to describe the marriage of country-western style and black women’s fashion.
Marginalized groups are using the western aesthetic to prove that anybody can occupy that cowboy space, according to Denison University visiting instructor Terrance Dean, a former MTV executive. Dean cites figures such as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and even Donald Trump as embodiments of the traditional cowboy masculinity.
“I think we have not fully explored the breadth and the elasticity of masculinity,” Dean says. “What we have become very centered on is this idea that masculinity comes one way, one size fits all. And I think … women of color and the LGBT community are pushing these boundaries.”
The #MeToo movement and continuous online discussions of toxic masculinity may also be impacting the moment. “I think women … are taking back their own power, and I think the cowboy is just a personification of strength,” says Cindi Turnbull, costume designer and fashion history professor at Denison. “A cowboy hat makes you feel strong.”
Meanwhile, even straight men can relax their standards with today’s cowboy style. Floral shirts, flowing hair and graphic jackets are tools that test fashion fluidity for anyone paying attention.
For decades, denim-clad gunslingers rode horseback across silver screens all over the world, embodying independence, stoicism, tenacity, freedom and, above
all, machismo. For better or for worse, they reflected an America that saw itself as both a dominating world power and a scrappy underdog.
Living in an age of disruption, the cowboy image is next up for reimagination. Some say fashion is a performance, so don your hat and bandanna this fall as fashion becomes an all-American celebration.