What the Cowboy Wore

I thought I’d take a break from Spearfish history to fill you in on the proper attire of a cowboy.

For the next several History Thursday blog posts, we will sift through a western cowboy’s wardrobe. Not only will we look at each piece individually, but we’ll talk about the function.

I mean, do you think they just walked around in chaps because they looked cool?

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, they looked cool, too. But they wore their particular garb for a reason. We’ll get into that.


To start us out, I wanted to post a couple of paragraphs from a great book called The Cowboy: His Characteristics, His Equipment, and His Part in the Development of the West. It has a mouthful of a name, but it’s a great resource!
Ahem! . . . 
“The clothing worn by members of the trade was distinctive. Although picturesque,
it was worn not for the production of this effect, but solely because it was the dress best suited
to the work in hand. Inasmuch as it was selected with view only to comfort and convenience, it knew
nothing of variable fashion and suffered from no change in style.

It, however, was subject, as were many of the cowboy’s customs, to differences in form according
as the locality involved was the Northwest or the Southwest. The line of demarcation between
these sections, though never very clearly defined, was in effect an imaginary westward extension
of Mason and Dixon’s Line, this extension zigzagging a bit in some places.”
So, there you have it. They wore the clothes because of function, and because function was the only main issue, the cowboy look really doesn’t “suffer… from… change in style.”

What Cowboys Wore (Overview)

Like I said, we’ll go into more detail in the following weeks, but here is a basic rundown of the cowboy look.
The Hat
That’s Wild Bill Hickok, by the way.
He’s from Deadwood–just a skip, hop, and a jump from Spearfish.
The Handkerchief
The Shirt, Vest, and Trousers, and the Belt (the lack thereof!)
The Overcoat and Gloves
The Boots
The Spurs
The Chaps
The Horsehair Chain
Are you a sucker for the cowboy look?
What article of a cowboy’s clothing really gets your heart pumping?

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2 comments on “What the Cowboy Wore

  1. Hi, Janette! I’ve done a lot of research on cowboy dress for the Northwest (my novels are set in Wyoming), and no matter what I learn about the clothes, my favorite item is the hat.
    They could show so much with it–look out from beneath the brim, doff it at the lady they liked, bash it against their leg in frustration (if it wasn’t the nice Sunday hat)… and there’s something about a Stetson that just says “cowboy” to me.

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