What does it mean to be a cowgirl?
For a variety of reasons, that word - "Cowgirl", and the aforementioned question has been rolling around my head a lot lately. When I first started fully immersing myself in horses, I was around a lot of rough and tumble cowgirls. Cowgirls whose hands were weathered not by age, but by sun. Whose fingers didn't know how to grip anything other than bridle reins. They dressed, as many would call it, "punchy". Old-fashioned wrangler jeans, a plain button up, maybe a wild rag, and maybe even a casual sweater. They were understated, they were covered in dirt and time, and they were horsewoman. I thought, that is how a true cowgirl has to dress. I was 16 and I interpreted their look as ball caps, old faded jeans, and baggy pull-overs. I wasn't understated, I was just plain sloppy. I have since changed my view on those women, and those types of cowgirls. I've since then seen these women through fresh, more mature eyes. Done in the right way, these understated cowgirls can look as elegant as anything or anyone, and all they have on is a pair of starched wranglers, a well creased hat, an ironed button up and a nicely patterned wild rag. It's how you carry yourself, not how you dress.
From those humble beginnings, it is now that I have begun to see that, similar to fashion models, cowgirls have their own style. Some, like World Champion Barrel Racer Fallon Taylor, eschew the norm and go for the totally outrageous. That is definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but, I for one, commend her for her bravado and her bravery. Gold buckles don't lie people - we all know she won the world, on a homebred mare, and she won it in glitter, fringe and spectacle. Most cowgirls, I would say, fall into the middle between rough and tumble, and bravado. They like to look nice, but they aren't afraid to get dirty. Some dress down for the barn, but dress up to go out. While, others, wear lipstick when they barrel race. Some care what shirt they wear into the show pen, while others, again... simply do not.
So, where am I going with all of this? Well, first off, who do I personally admire? I've always been jealous of the girls that can come into the show pen, looking like they just walked out of Western Horseman photoshoot. Maybe they have a slight gloss on their lips, or have covered their blemishes up, their hair is neatly tucked beneath their hats, their shirts are ironed to perfection. Simply put, they look understated, but brilliantly stunning. Then, they manage to go into the show pen and win it all. That's the cowgirl I wish to emulate on a daily basis. Gritty & Pretty people - that's the motto.
However, I don't know if that is my own opinion, or if that is shared by a wide variety of cowgirls across the board. Fittingly, I recently picked up a copy of "Cowgirl Magazine", where in the July/August issue they documented "cowgirl" fashion at the Country Thunder music festival in Arizona, as well as in California at the Stagecoach music festival, in an article called "Street Style Out West". Each of these festivals are known for big time country headliners, and also for scorching hot weather.
Here are some of the girls they featured in the street style article, all of these photos are from the Cowgirl Magazine website:
Photos from Cowgirl Magazine
Well, a lot of Cowgirl Magazine readers DID NOT like the article. One Facebook commenter stated, "Trashy Looking! If you are calling this cowgirl fashion - NO THANKS", another "Oh it's rodeo tramp fashion again". Editor-in-Chief, Callan Kane, raised some very interesting points in response to the backlash. She stated, "Some readers were offended by the young ladies attire, and chastised us for presenting them as "cowgirls". The main gripe seemed to be the short shorts and exposed skin, which some readers were convinced indicated the girls had never ridden a horse, or worked on a farm or ranch - even going so far as to question the womens' morals and integrity. I was stunned. I'm not saying all (or any) of the gals pictured are working ranchers, or even own a horse; who can know just by looking at a photo? But even if they were only "cowgirls for a day," does that threaten or invalidate our lifestyle? If it does, then who, actually is entitled to call herself a cowgirl?" Raising some interesting topics of discussion, she finished by saying, "which brings to light a long simmering question - not only for cowgirls, but also for women - do we still have to choose between being strong and sexy?"
So, where do I stand on the matter? Well, it's not so black and white for me, in ways I agree with Ms. Kane's statements, and in others, disagree. In reference to the photos above, the only girl I think is emulating real trends in western fashion right now, is the centre/top row photo, where the girl is wearing a black fringe dress, and an american flag headband. I also think the centre/bottom row outfit, the vintage white boots, with yellow shift dress, is quite cute. As for the other girls? Well... they might be cowgirls, they might ride the rankest colts you've ever seen, but I would say their fashion isn't "western", but instead what I would call "country". This might seem redundant - but in my mind, there is a big difference between the two. Cowgirl Magazine is suppose to be for Cowgirls, so I would suspect they would know that their readers would probably more so appreciate the "street styles" at horse shows, on the ranch, and at rodeos. Perhaps showing the bikini-clad girls at a drunken music festival... was a little off the mark. BUT, and here is the big but, maybe these girls weren't trying to be fashionable, maybe they weren't being asked to be called cowgirls. The fact that women across the world like to wear cowgirl boots to country music festivals doesn't mean they think they are cowgirls - it just means they are appropriating a piece of western fashion into their own dress. Is there anything wrong with that? No, I don't think there is. Is there something wrong with women that see themselves as "cowgirls" being catty and snotty to bikini clad girls, and so called "buckle-bunnies", yes... I think there is something wrong with that.
Linda Parelli, Photographed for Cowgirl Magazine
However, Cowgirl Magazine, certainly didn't forget about stylish cowgirls in their July/August issue. They ran a beautiful spread of Linda Parelli, where the above photo really caught my eye. Here is Linda, leading her horses in to the barn. The photo is visually stunning, and Linda is fashionable, beautiful, definitely (and without a doubt) a cowgirl. Yet, I don't think we have to define ourselves by button-ups, and starched jeans. There are ways to show skin, and show flair, and maintain the essence of western fashion, and cowgirl style.
When I think of my favourite example's of cowgirl style, I think of Rodeo Wives. If you want to see what will be "in" next year, look at the wives of major PRCA players. They manage to look flawless for any season. Palazzo Pants? Been there, done that, see those for sale at the NFR next year. These wives, often horsewomen themselves, generally have their finger on the trigger of western fashion, and can find a balance between cleaning stalls, and going out to star studded events. For example, Shada Brazile, who is the better half of Trevor Brazile, (a cowboy that has literally won everything there is to win), always manages to look stunning. Yet, she is also a fierce competitor - having also made it to the NFR in barrel racing. All the while having two children, a very famous husband, and another child on the way. To me, that's a cowgirl.
Shada Brazile, and family, at the Calgary Stampede in 2014.
Photo from Shada Brazile's Facebook
Shady looks effortless, and fashionable, while beating the heat during the summertime rodeo in Calgary.
Which is what leads me to my next and final thoughts on the term "cowgirl". There are definitely two different styles that cowgirls have - when they are on a horse, and when they aren't. No true cowgirl I know is going to wear heels riding - but she sure as hell might put a pair of pumps on to go out. And again - some may just stick to their boots. I think you guys get where I am going with this. As cowgirls, ourselves, it is our job to recognize we are all different. Just as you shouldn't judge someone that rides a different discipline than you, you also shouldn't judge a girl that wears a dress when she goes out. So, perhaps, that is where Cowgirl Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Callan Kane, has it right. Isn't it our job to raise each other up, and recognize how different we are across the board? Just as traditional cowboy wear evolved differently from different seasons and regions, cowgirl style is changing, evolving, and different from girl to girl. The thing that maintains, and unites us is the cowgirl mentality. I recently came across a quote, and photo, that I thought, really summed up my various ideas on this subject.
She was a wild, wicked, slip of a girl. She burned too bright for this world. - Emily Bronte
Cowgirls... are just that, women, who are brave and bold, and who, to their core, think of themselves as horsewomen before anything else. After that fact, how they choose to costume themselves, is their own brand. Just as we respect cattle brands, we should respect our own.