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Putting a Wild West Spin on Spring Fashion

fashion beauty runway putting a wild west spin on spring fashion

The cavalry started rumbling last fall, just as Pharrell Williams was busy choosing the proper script font for Louis Vuitton’s hard launch into the Texas desert under his guidance as new Creative Director of Men’s Fashion for the billionaire LVMH brand. 

Now, I don’t know if it was a question of the planets being properly aligned, the solar eclipse of 2024, or Pharrell’s magnetizing influence ramifying into the different fashion spheres, but by the time February rolled in, Beyoncé was fully ensconced into the Western look wearing elements of the ultra hashtagged #VuittonWestern at the Grammys, just in time for the release of her “Cowboy Carter” album. Some might say this was just a slick marketing manoeuvre to give the look cred as the proper new style expression of 2024. But the truth is that fashion tastes and trends sometimes take time to come up to the mainstream surface. 

Western looks have been simmering in the last five years, fuelled by the surprise success of the ‘Yellowstone’ series with Kevin Costner, a whole lot of Coachella looks, the ‘coastal cowgirl’ trend, and so many more. Even Barbie and Ken slipped into fringed clothes and donned cowboy hats when they were catapulted into the real world in the 2023 movie. 

Not that long ago, Ralph Lauren was the only luxe fashion designer regularly showcasing in his collections and imagery denim, cowboy boots, fringe, and conch belts. OK, they were really high-end, in more innovative and cutting-edge colour palettes and accessorized differently for his upscale clientele. By and large, Americana iconography in fashion was mainly considered kitsch and a tinge anachronistic. But that was before Lil Nas X’s dropped his viral country rap hit ‘Old Town Road’ in 2019, and transformed traditional cowboy elements by dripping them in hot pink at the Grammys. Soon, snippets of the western aesthetic were showing up everywhere in pop culture. 

Dua Lipa went full cowgirl look for her music video for “Love Again” in 2021, wearing a cowboy hat, cowhide jacket, zebra-print bikini and a bolo tie. And then Beyoncé teased us all when she launched her Renaissance album, and a magnificent photo of her riding a horse in a metallic cowboy hat, as prep for her going full country. 

And for Spring 2024, Western-inspired fashion is everywhere, at every price point. Canadian fast fashion retailer Ardene has a new extensive ‘soft western’ collection featuring the key elements: cowboy boots (yes, even in ‘Beyoncé-approved’ silver!), conch belts and super cute prairie dresses with flounce. 

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A New Classic 

We all know Covid threw change into high gear for things that were close to the breaking point, or no longer felt relevant in this new day and age. Cowboy iconography, like the one depicted in Yellowstone and pop culture, are one thing but so is the growing appreciation for the outdoors following the pandemic. The booming outdoor economy has created a new lifestyle where outside sports and dressing for the elements are pillars of a new style of dress. 

Western fashion possesses an inherent practicality to every garment and accessory through a pragmatic approach adapted to living in a harsh environment and life on the ranch, riding horses and corralling cattle. What has trickled down to the fashion podiums in terms of Western, cowboy and cowgirl influences have little to do now to when these pieces were originally created, in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

According to retail intelligence firm Edited, 240 percent more styles of cowboy boots and denim shirts were introduced in 2023 (in the US and the UK) that they had in the previous year. For its spring 2023 menswear collection Prada, paired more than half of its nearly 50 looks with cowboy boots, including a few all-denim getups. It’s clear to see cowboy looks have gone mainstream. 

And that was before Beyoncé launched her new country album. 

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The Flavour of an Idealized Past 

The notion of “going country” isn’t new. The first time Vogue showed jeans in the 1930s, these types of pants were not recommended for daily use, but rather as the perfect clothing item to bring to a dude ranch, a vacation spot where urban dwellers (“dudes”) would travel to experience the allegedly “open” frontier, abundant freedom, rampant individualism, and country lifestyle. 

America was in the midsts of the Great Depression and people escaped through the cinema to impossible Hollywood fantasies: the glam over-the-top art deco film sets of a romance or musical with headliners Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical, or to “simpler” more rugged terrains of the Old West as seen in the Westerns of John Ford and John Wayne

Today, we might not (yet) be in a rampant depression, but there are persistent and big problems in the world starting with a staggering inflation in the West, wars brewing in Europe and the Middle East, and the threat of AI seeping into the most highbrow professions (law, engineering, accounting, medicine). And so, the desire to escape through fashion to a ‘simple, more idealized time’ provided by Western style is at our disposal through cheap fast fashion and even more luxurious brands.  

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Key Elements of Western Style 

Here are some of the key elements of Western-influenced style. Some of them are true classics that have been present in our wardrobes for decades, while others are periodically ‘rediscovered’ and brought back to the forefront of fashion. 

-Jeans are one of the staples of Western-inspired fashion. Before denim came around in the 1850s, workers trousers were made out of wool, and sometimes canvas for the summer months. Levi Strauss improved the design of the trousers, by adding copper rivets, which were adopted by miners searching for gold, and then ranchers and cowboys because of their affordability and durability.  The denim jacket was soon created to match the rugged pants. In Canada, denim on denim is called ‘The Canadian tuxedo.’ 

-Fringe is one of the oldest decorative elements of fashion that finds its roots in Mesopotamia (around 3000 B.C.) where it adorned shawls and skirts. Cowboys spent long hours outdoors, facing harsh weather conditions. Fringe acted as a barrier against water, dust, and dirt. And it also played a sustainability aspect, avoiding trimming seams (considered wasteful) in garment construction. Instead, they clipped seams into fringe for a decorative look.

-Leather chaps (from the Spanish chaparajos) were often worn to protect the cowboy’s legs from cactus spines and prevent fabric from wearing out.Two common types include the skintight shotgun chapsand wide batwing chaps. They appeared on the Great Plains somewhere around 1887.

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-Prairie skirts and dresses, usually in red or blue gingham, were derived from Native American dress. Saloon girls wore short red dresses with corsets, garter belts and stockings. The “Wild West” took off during the Victorian ages, hence the influence of similar fashion of the era.

-The Western shirt is characterized by a stylized yoke on the front and on the back. It is generally constructed of chambray, denim or tartan fabric with long sleeves, and in modern form is sometimes seen with snap pockets, patches made from bandana fabric, and fringe. 

-Cowboy boots have a high heel that is traditionally made of stacked leather, a rounded to pointed toe, high shaft, and no lacing. The heel’s slanted shape, an essential component of Western riding boots, prevents the foot from slipping too far into the stirrup, so if the wearer falls off their foot doesn’t get caught.They are usually made from cowhide leather, which may be decoratively hand-tooled, but are also sometimes made from “exotic” skins like alligator, snake, ostrich, lizard, etc. 

Now that Western influences have firmly been ramifying into the fashion scene of the moment, a few classes of square dancing are surely in order to really get into the swing of things. 

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