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The Evolution of American Western Style

The Evolution of American Western Style

Are you a fan of Western handbags and the cowboy/cowgirl aesthetic?

When you hear the word “cowboy”, a distinctive picture probably forms in your mind. Most likely informed by old Hollywood movies, the iconic style you imagine is not so far off the mark in terms of historical accuracy.

This is what is meant by “Western-style”.

What is Western Style?

Western style was originally based on the attire historically worn by cowboys and ranch hands during the pioneering days, as European settlers crossed the frontier from east to west. Since that time, and thanks to Wild West Shows, Hollywood movies, dime novels and Country music, the image of the “Cowboy” stereotypically represents the Old West (alongside Plains Indians, outlaws, sheriffs, and mountain men) and has a mythic stature as a “national hero” in US American culture.

The signature clothing of the cowboy traditionally consisted of a wide-brimmed hat, a neckerchief, a shirt worn under a vest or waistcoat, leather chaps over cotton or wool (later denim) trousers, and tall, spurred leather boots. He carried a whip and usually a rifle or pistol.

But where did this style originate? And how has it evolved?

The Birth of Western Style

The Pioneers were white settlers who moved westward across the rugged and unforgiving landscapes of what was to them the new frontier of the North American continent. As they travelled, they realised that the clothing they wore needed to be acclimated to suit the rougher environment, hotter conditions, and harsher way of life.

The roots of the Western style date even further back, to the Spanish settlers who brought horses for the first time to what is now Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. The presence of horses enabled herding, ranching, and raising livestock and the cowboy was born.

  • The cowboy hat, for example, was inspired by the sombreros worn by the Mexican vaqueros (Spanish cattle herders and horsemen).


  • Cowboy boots were designed to suit long hours working outdoors in hot climates, much of it spent on horseback. The pointed toe and low heel are ideal for wearing while in stirrups. In the 1900s practicality was joined by aesthetic interests in boot designs and leather was often decoratively cut and embossed.


  • Using leather boots that extended up the leg was important for protection against rubbing on horseback as well as from frontier dangers including cacti and snakebites. Leather chaps provided similar protection.


  • Denim originated in France in the 1600s. As a cheap, robust material, it was ideal for use by everyone from cowboys to farmers and miners. Overalls made of denim, cotton, or wool were eventually replaced by trousers (jeans) which were secured with suspenders.


  • Cowboy belt buckles eventually replaced suspenders, and these were inspired by the American Military after the Civil War. While originally mass-produced, cowboys soon competed in rodeos and similar for buckle prizes. Some designs were also soon inspired by the artistry of local Native American silversmiths and more ornate belt buckles of silver featuring turquoise and other stones were highly prized.

Southwest Designs

Southwestern style takes the Western aesthetic a step further, marrying the abovementioned features with the Native American Indigenous designs of the region – including but not limited to Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Santo Domingo, and other Pueblo motifs, as well as those of northern Mexico (Aztec) and even Spanish influences. The result is iconic artisan clothing and accessories featuring embossed leather, cowhide, bold and vibrant textiles, and distinctive traditional designs with silver, copper, turquoise, and other accents.

Bring Some Western Style into Your Life!

Indian Traders proudly offers a vast catalog of exceptional Western handbags and purses, women’s Western wallets, and much, much more from some of the Southwest’s finest artisans and designers.

From rustic to minimalist, bohemian to luxe, we have the perfect accessories for you from brands including STS Ranchwear, American West, Myra Bags, and many, many more.

Check out our collection now – we’d love to see you in-store or over on Facebook!