ICONIC STYLE: THE ENDURING APPEAL OF THE COWGIRL

August 27, 2019

Originally published on August 15, 2017, we are revisiting the exploration into the enduring fascination with cowboy culture and how the cowgirl is America's answer to the femme fatale.

 

Coach, Anna Sui, and Ashley Williams may all have very different brand identities, but they also have something in common - in the last year, each of these luxury designers have paid homage to the Wild West with collections featuring stetson hats, suede, fringe, and cow-print, to name just a few of the motifs that conjure up the "cowgirl" look.  This year, Rihanna also appeared in a spread for British Vogue decked out in full cowgirl mode, and 2016/17 have also summoned the revival of Cher, a style and musical icon known for her heavily-Western influenced outfits in the 1970s.  So what is it about this sartorial symbol that keeps on giving, immortalizing the image of the cowgirl well into the 21st-century?

 

 

Both cowboys and cowgirls alike are indisputably figures attached to American iconography, made popular in movies starting in the 1920s.  Cowboys in particular were made mythic beyond their traditional role as cattle handlers and stood in as heroes, villains, patriots, and outlaws alike.  They are also often associated with violence however, and even racist connotations courtesy of the frequent "Cowboy versus Indians" clashes that have become synonymous with the Western film canon.  

 

Cowgirls, on the other hand, act a lot like America's answer to the femme fatale - dangerous, rebellious, and stepping into a role previously reserved exclusively for men.  At the turn of the century, cowgirls like then 17 year old Fannie Sperry Steele shocked audiences by competing against in rodeo competitions that were equally dangerous and raucous as their male peers.  The defiant, "lone wolf" image of the cowgirl derives from the emergence of rodeo women as unsympathetic to the restrictions placed on them because of their gender.  Since then, rodeo competitions have been one of the few sporting events where women and men compete together; likewise, cowgirls are celebrated for their ability to be aggressive and tough, qualities not often celebrated in women.  This spirit has translated into cultural touchstones like Thelma & Louise, a pseudo-Western movie of the early-90s with subtle cowgirl references and strong feminist overtones:

 

 

The appeal, then, of referencing the cowgirl look and spirit is one of independence, defiance, and a certain unapologetic toughness that women are often discouraged from indulging.  Because not so far beneath Cher's iconic floppy hats and dangling cigarette is a woman who is unafraid to go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump and behind Rihanna's Western British Vogue shoot is one of the most badass pop star of the 21st-century.  Go rogue, go West, and go off.

 

 

 

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