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All Hat and No Cattle: A Texan Insight into the Cowboy Aesthetic

Being in Tesco surrounded by cowboy hats and boots is not where I ever saw myself when I moved from Austin, Texas, to our idyllic bubble. This wasn’t an unreleased version of The Twilight Zone — this was the aftermath of Charity Polo’s Barn Bash, just one of the many cowboy-themed events on our social calendar. 

In some ways, this theme makes some sense: all you need for such an event is a bandana, a pair of jeans, ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’ and you’re set. However, this signature aesthetic goes beyond The Bubble’s drinking excuses. According to The Business of Fashion, UK and US fashion retailers introduced 240 per cent more cowboy boots and Western shirts in 2023 than in 2022. It would be wrong to say that cowboy boots have become popular because of social media — one of my friends has his dad’s boots, last worn in the early 1990s at a London uni. So why has the ‘Cowboy Aesthetic’ retained and gained popularity? As a somewhat qualified Texan, I’m here to give my unsolicited opinion on the matter and get you educated about those boots on your feet. 

Today, cowboy boots are a one-size-fits-all everyday fashion solution, regardless of season or occasion. Amelia Perry, The Saint’s own EiC and cowboy boot wearer, loves her pair because they are “a great way to bring a different element to your everyday outfit.” To Amelia, their versatility means “you can chuck them on with anything.” This versatility originated in the cowboy boot’s practicality. The shape was made to slip off easily if someone fell from their horse, the high shaft to protect from brush and snakes, and adornment to disguise repairs. The shape we know and love today has also been influenced for centuries by global cultures, including 13th-century Mongolian armies, early Spanish American colonists, Mexican vaqueros, and British Wellington military boots. Other Western fashions have also been influenced by Native American traditions, such as concho belts, textiles, and beading. 

Celebrities have also been essential in celebrating Western fashion. Lady Diana was caught once or twice clad in cowboy boots. Barbie and Taylor Swift concert fashion has brought frills and bright rhinestone cowboy hats centre stage. Bella Hadid has taken the cowboy accessory idea to the extreme — her boyfriend, Adan Banuelos, is a Mexican-American cowboy and horse trainer. 

Beyond fashion, Zach Bryan and Noah Kahan have brought a country twang to the top of the charts. Lana Del Rey, Texas-raised Post Malone, and Texan-born Beyoncé have also recently announced upcoming country albums. Country music is officially 'in'. Despite the usual American context, research by the Library of Congress attributes the roots of folk and country music to Scottish and Irish traditional music and African-American rhythms. Scottish immigrants to the American West brought their culture of musical ballads that tell stories, often of lost love or tragedy, and adapted them to their new landscape. These early Western songs sung on cattle trails are the foundation for the songs we know and love today, from ‘Stick Season’ to songs by Willie Nelson and Orville Peck. 

Some believe lacey ‘cowgirl core’ GRWMs, country music, and ‘country aesthetic’ social media content grew in corners of the American internet popular with rural conservatives who are turning to a more pure ‘American-ness’ because of their political beliefs. While I think there is some credit to this adding to its trendiness, it is not the only reason cowboy-ness is rising in popularity. It is also ineffective. Everything about Western culture has been influenced by the cultures these conservatives are looking to distance themselves from. In fact, what makes the cowboy aesthetic American is the result of different cultures adapting and combining to create a common American identity. Perhaps this is the answer to why the Western aesthetic is here to stay and growing: it is a fusion of practicality and cultural differences with a signature hint of camp. 

The answer to the Western aesthetic’s popularity in crowds who have never seen a cow may also be in our romantic connotation of it. Western media, from Glen Ford and John Wayne to Yellowstone, features the forlorn ballad-ness emotions of the Western landscapes where adventurous life-or-death situations coincide with the human connection between ourselves and nature that we seek post-COVID. When I spoke to Rowan Hoover, a second-year from Texas with elephant-skin boots who is working on getting his bull-riding license (yes, cowboys really walk amongst us), he suggested: “the charm of cowboy culture lies in its ability to transcend demographics and generations, offering a bit of a testament to the American ideas of freedom, adventure, and resilience.” He agreed that what drew people to the lifestyle 200 years ago continues to attract them to it today. Especially in St Andrews, with the otherwise Ralph Lauren couture culture, a Western twist is an easier way to be more casual with your wardrobe and more down-to-earth with your day-to-day. 

My only concern over the popularity of ‘cowboy core’ is that it doesn’t deserve to be another peg in the constant wheel of consumerism. Actual blood, sweat, and tears litter its history — to turn it into a trend would be a tragedy itself. For thousands of people worldwide, ‘cowboy-ish’ is a lifestyle passed down for generations. I spoke to Mari-Claudia Reimer, another second-year, about the trendiness of cowboy-ness. After listening to a podcast about cowboy boots being ‘out’ for 2024, she started purposely incorporating her grandmother’s boots into her weekly apparel. She said that “stepping in her shoes in a country she will probably never step foot in herself makes me feel closer to her.” This legacy nature of the Western aesthetic is why it deserves to be celebrated.

Six generations of my family have worked on our ranch. Having such a place has fundamentally altered how I consider myself within nature, society, and my family. Everyone deserves to experience that at some level; this is just my official plea not to let the meaning, diverse cultural significance, and wonderfulness of the ‘cowboy look’ get lost in your TikTok reels. Its specialness deserves your intentionality.

Illustration by Magdalena Yiacoumi

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