Levi's denim jeans are older than Oklahoma, but as up-to date as any current fashion trend. Besides being the most popular fabric and clothing item in the world, they are a true American original. Designed and patented by 1873 as tough "waist overalls" for the working class, these blue jeans with the unique riveted pockets caught on big time with youth and the leisure class by 1960.
Crafted in San Francisco as a practical solution to the wear and tear of tough working conditions in the mines, factories and ranches out west, these close-fitting, indigo dungarees are a staple of the world's wardrobe.
Throughout their evolution, blues jeans have been embellished with the romance of a rugged exterior, with a comfortable soft side. Blue jeans and cowboys; blue jeans and rock'n'roll; blue jeans and James Dean; blue jeans and Brook Shields.
The success of Levi's produced marketing knock-offs such as highly popular Wranglers and Lee Jeans. In fact, zippered flies were first introduced in 1926 by Lee Jeans for the functional purpose of being easier to unzip with a work-gloved hand. They were appropriately named, "Cowboy Pants." Blue jeans have most certainly been a staple in Western attire ever since.
To wrest blue jeans from the image of rock'n'roll rebel, nothing says "Western" like a hat and some boots. Again, these accessories were initially designed to be entirely utilitarian. According to the story, cattle herders took sombreros and modified them into what we know today to be cowboy hats. The popular version we know was fashioned by John B. Stetson to protect against driving rain and snow.
Cowboy boots, also, were designed to be practical.
Jennifer June, in her book Cowboy Boots: The Art and Sole, writes "From 1865 to 1890, cowboys drove cattle from Texas to Kansas. They wore Wellingtons and variations. ... "The tall tops of the boots protected your legs; the underslung heels kept your feet in the stirrups. The cowboy boot's original design elements were suited to the horseback rider, including the rounded or pointed toe that makes it easy to insert the foot into a stirrup and the slick sole that allows the boot to slip free when dismounting.
"Early cowboy boots were work boots and were suitably utilitarian in appearance. Hollywood jazzed them up," June said.
Indeed motion picture cowboys like our own Will Rogers and yodeling cowpoke Gene Autry glamorized denim, Western boots and hats. Attire that was once purely functional found its way to fashionable, to the honky-tonk -- and eventually to the streets -- and has given birth to the urban cowboy.
The urban cowgirl is not to be left out. While jeans and boots are certainly popular with women, many females have stayed true to the style of women on the prairie and opt for knee-length skirts and gingham prints. In fact, sharpshooter Annie Oakley, the ultimate original cowgirl and first female American celebrity, performed her shooting exhibitions with stylized Western attire. Though far from a style icon, it was her show dress that make have sparked the beginning of fashionable Western wear for the girls.
Tulsa-based Designer Valentin Esparza is adamant about picking and choosing where you wear your Western. "I would recommend wearing one elaborate, beautiful piece with a knitted top, some nice jean shorts and cowboy boots. I hate seeing women wearing outfits that look like they came out of a Western movie. I love overly elaborate turquoise accessories and fringe bags; they make any outfit stand out."
Local stylist, and one of our all-around fashion authorities, Shannon Schroeder offers some great tips for imparting a bit of glam by adding some unexpected combinations. "Anytime I need inspiration for a little Western flare, I turn to one of my favorite designers, Ralph Lauren. Even in his most glamorous of ensembles, he always puts a little Western flare to it. My favorite examples are the juxtaposition of the popular chambray shirt with a sequin skirt or satin dress pants. Something more casual you could do a white flowy dress with a brown belt (sans cowboy boots). For accessories you can easily add a touch of turquoise in a ring or earrings or you could do a fabulous statement necklace, like from the designer Masha Archer available at Saks," said Shannon.
Local vintage shops are a great resource if you're looking for pieces that are truly unique. Silver Screen Vintage, a local vintage boutique owned by Sheila Alley, features an entire Western wear section. "Pearl snaps are particularly popular with both my male and female customers," Alley said. "Many of them wear them every day. It's extremely popular for women to wear vintage cowgirl boots with sundresses. I also love boots with shorts in the summertime. It's a very feminine look."
Kristen Casey of Cheap Thrills Vintage points out that Western wear is pretty timeless. "In the vintage business there are always those who want and collect Americana classics like Western and denim. Contemporary trends come and go but you can't go wrong with a classic piece. The trend I see even more now is the whole mid '80s southwestern trend. I've been selling the Southwest cardigans which lends itself to a sort of hippie/Western. I consistently sell pearl snaps all year round, mostly from the '70s and '80s. I can't keep denim cut-offs in stock. They are always popular and sell as fast as I can get them in."
Life is different than it once was on the prairie, but there's no reason we can't pay tribute to our roots and not still look very current. Whether horseback or riding a Vespa, with the right Western wear pieces, you'll be sitting pretty.
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