How the West Won Over High Fashion

Photo credit: Courtesy of the designers and subjects; Getty Images

Photo credit: Courtesy of the designers and subjects; Getty Images

Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Photo credit: Hearst Owned

For the latest edition of Style Points, a weekly column about how fashion intersects with the wider world, ELLE is celebrating all things Cowgirl Couture.

Fashion never met a niche it couldn’t barrel its way into. But the world of cowboy wear was, for so long, the province of dusty Western-inspired stores and rodeos, not Paris runways. Growing up in the Northeast, where people would proudly declare on their Facebook profiles that they listened to “everything but country,” being a fan of the music and its trappings felt like a corny, anti-fashion statement—incompatible with a love of avant-garde designers.

Of course, there were exceptions. High fashion Western wear owes a huge debt to Ralph Lauren, who made the frontier look chic. In the ’90s, Moschino played with cowgirl tropes on the Milan runways, and Madonna’s Music era in 2000 included chaps and fringed Western shirts (and a pink cowboy hat as merch, years before Joanne). In 2013, Karl Lagerfeld famously took Chanel’s pre-fall collection westward, showing denim, blanket coats, and turquoise baubles at the home of the Texas State Fair. And Raf Simons brought his own Euro slant to the motif during his tenure at Calvin Klein.

Photo credit: NBC/Getty Images

Photo credit: NBC/Getty Images

Today, a less rugged, more maximalist yeehaw style abounds, driven by musical artists who come from every genre. There’s Lil Nas X reframing the cowboy archetype through a Black, queer lens; Rina Sawayama donning a bedazzled ten-gallon hat, big ol’ “Rina” buckle and butt-baring chaps; Beyoncé on horseback, brandishing a white cowboy hat, for Renaissance; Kacey Musgraves sporting fringed pieces from Versace and Balmain, and Megan Thee Stallion in a 10-gallon hat and latex dress. As younger artists re-interpret the country tunes of their youth (Boygenius and Soccer Mommy covering The Chicks, Haim putting its spin on Sheryl and Shania) there’s been a related shift towards re-examining the styles of that time. While she’s never waded into the Nashville sound, Phoebe Bridgers recently traded her usual Gucci finery for a bedazzled Nudie-style suit, and the cover of her Sidelines single is a black-and-white image of a bull rider.

Photo credit: Courtesy of the designer.

Photo credit: Courtesy of the designer.

The trend has sunk its spurs into the runway, too, with big-time designers. Their sense of authenticity seems to be part of the appeal: these are well-crafted, unpretentious clothes originally intended for hard labor, and the friction that happens when they meet couture detailing, or a Milan catwalk, makes for very interesting results.

Photo credit: Courtesy of the designer.

Photo credit: Courtesy of the designer.

Texas boy Daniel Roseberry favors denim-on-denim, something that was a rare sight in the Paris halls of the house of Schiaparelli before his tenure. For fall 2022, he evoked a high fashion Texas tuxedo with a contrast-stitched jumpsuit. At Dior’s cruise show in Seville, Maria Grazia Chiuri was primarily inspired by flamenco and the traditions of southern Spain. But she also drew on images of Jackie Onassis riding with the Duchess of Alba for equestrian touches that leaned Western, like heavily embellished chaps. Casablanca designer Charaf Tajer opted for a Euro-chic spin on cowboy hats and Nudie Cohn-esque embellishments for spring 2023, while Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize went minimalist with a fringed look. Even prep king Thom Browne showed a look with a ten-gallon hat and chaps.

Photo credit: Estrop

Photo credit: Estrop

And street style has undoubtedly taken its cues from pop stars’ and designers’ wholehearted embrace of all things urban cowboy. Nancy Sinatra-worthy boots are now as mainstream as fashion sneakers, and fringe as unremarkable as athleisure. This season, you’ll likely see a season of Dallas’s worth of Western accessories off-runway. And on-runway, too. After all, when it comes to cowgirl style, it’s hardly fashion’s first rodeo.

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