Cowboys are the epitome of the pioneering, frontiersmen spirit of America. While popular media has helped us preserve the memory of cowboys, we often forget about the real cowboy in modern times. Although many people dress up as cowboys for many occasions, they usually do so in a way that almost parodies the proud tradition.

If you’re searching for true authenticity, its best to know why cowboys wear what they wear. Though it may seem like a silly get-up to us, it comes from a long tradition of very specific tasks they needed to complete. Below is a basic guide to what a modern-day working cowboy needs to get his job done.

Real Cowboy Attire

real cowboy

Much of cowboy attire is a hodgepodge of different cultures contributing to practical needs. Mexican vaqueros, Native Americans, Mountain Men, and the western rancher all contributed to the cowboy aesthetic. Here are some of the things a modern cowboy would wear to battle the elements and rough the tough work required of them in the old west:

  1. Bandanna: These are usually large and made of cotton. Used to absorb sweat and shield from dust storms and sun.
  2. Chaps: To protect the rider’s legs from any debris generated from riding a horse.
  3. Cowboy Hat:  A cowboy hat is best when it’s high-crowned and has a wide brim to also help protect from the sun.
  4. Cowboy Boots: The ideal pair of boots has high tops to protect the shins. Pointed toes will help guide the wearer’s feet into stirrups, and a high heel to prevent from slipping through the stirrup.
  5. Gloves: A cowboy’s gloves are usually made of deerskin or other soft leathers, and they provide the hands with protection from barbed wire, equipment, or vegetation, as well as helping to grip the reins of the horse.
  6. Pants: The perfect pair of cowboy pants are usually jeans or other sturdy trousers made from canvas or denim. These protect the wearer’s legs and usually include a smooth seam on the inside to prevent the cowboy from getting blisters.

Authentic Cowboy Equipment

Authentic Cowboy Equipment

Cowboys have a lot of equipment to master if they’re going to be out in the hot sun working up a sweat. While a modern cowboy would most likely own a pickup truck, as well as a horse, it’s surprising to see how much of the gear has largely remained the same. Below are a few of the things you can find cowboys owning.

  1. Firearms: Considering that one of their primary responsibilities is to ensure their livestock is safe from predators, most cowboys have access to at least a rifle.
  2. Knife: Cowboys love their knives. Usually they own something with multiple blades that can be as versatile as the tasks they need to master.
  3. Spurs: These metal devices are attached to the heel of the boot to give stronger cues to the horses they ride.
  4. Horse Tack: Most horseback-riding equipment always looks worn—just think about all the used saddles you’ve seen—but this gear is extremely durable. This includes bridles, saddle blankets, and the saddle itself.

Once again, in order to look like a real cowboy, it’s best to know the rationale of their attire. While we think of cowboys as wearing denim, a hat, and some boots, there are actually a lot of layers to work with when trying to dress like an authentic one. If you buy real cowboy quality gear, as well, it will can be quite expensive and may seem to include a lot of different elements, however their denim and leather is made to withstand the rough and tough lifestyle that these men endure.

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Featured photo credit: Kevin Zollman via Flickr, anyjazz65 via Flickr, Authentic Cowboy Equipment via Flickr

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