So you've assembled the perfect outfit comprised of stylish boots, dynamite denim, a western shirt, and the all-important Stetson hat, but how do you set yourself apart when everyone else is wearing something similar? Accessories. With a myriad of neckties, hat bands, bolo ties, fringe jackets and belt buckles to choose from, there's plenty of possibilities to help you stand out in a crowd of cowboys.
The bolo tie, most frequently worn on a braided leather cord, was introduced into western fashion in the 1940s and has been called the bola tie, cowboy tie, lariat tie, western tie, and gaucho tie, among others, which perhaps adds to the mystery behind these ties. Their origin can be traced back to Manny Goodman, an owner of a New Mexican Indian craft store called The Covered Wagon.
Goodman would clasp together a bandana and use a silver conch to hold the ends together and adjust the fit. Some people used a string instead of a bandana around their necks and the bolo tie was born. Historians look to the American pioneers wearing bandanas or modified ties around their neck during the mid to late 1800s. In the early days, Native craftsmen would produce the ties and by the early 1950s, traders and silversmiths would solder decorative silver plates onto the fronts of the bolo ties. The ties began appearing in western outfitter catalogs and marketed as a "Slide-A-Tie" in stores.
Matching the rugged nature of the west, the bolo tie was launched into the mainstream during the 1950s after the rise in popularity of western films and TV shows. Characters like Cisco Kid and Roy Rogers were recognizable figures due to their bolo ties. The tie made its way from being exclusively a western accessory to becoming popular in the 1980s rockabilly and new wave scenes, along with some Hollywood celebrities. Most notably, John Travolta sported a bolo tie in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy. In the 1990s, the tie's popularity made it overseas as Japan, Korea and China produced elegant, handmade bolo ties.
Much like the various monikers it goes by, the bolo tie has a variety of types and styles that are a fusion of a variety of cultures. The southwestern region of the U.S. claims its Native roots by incorporating turquoise into its design. Argentina takes credit for the use of three leather straps, known as a lariat tie. In the United Kingdom, the multicolor ties were popular in the 1950s with stylish Teddy Boys. Despite the style variations, like a traditional tie, the bolo tie has always been worn underneath the shirt collar. The bolo slide is the area where creativity shines, with an endless amount of options to style the piece. Some slides are geometric, which others are shaped like animals or natural scenes. They can be engraved, textured, or smooth and comprised of stone, metal, or plastic. To finish off the bolo tie, the tips allow the string to slide through the slide with ease.
Every cowboy has a hat that compliments their outfit, but not every cowboy stands out in a crowd. A hat band is a must-have accessory to achieve originality. It's a misconception that Native Americans, who were known to use horse hair to make ropes and bridles, were the creators of this fashion accessory.
To unlock this mystery, you actually need to look behind bars, where braiding horse hair was a popular hobby at the Montana State Prison. Horses were always kept on prison farms so their hair was readily available and prisoners had plenty of time on their hands needed to make the intricate pieces of American folk art. Inmates would produce and sell their hand-made pieces to earn money for tobacco or to save for their release from prison. In addition to the monetary benefit, inmates would gain a sense of pride producing something that is valued by others.
The hat band is usually made up of geometric patterns based on a diamond shape. The intricacy of these pieces cannot be understated, with an inmate working about six weeks to complete a simple braided band. While an elaborate band might take four to six months and would require 40,000 half-hitch knots. Other prisons around the western U.S. caught on and other styles, colors and pattern came into play. Today, the tradition is still kept alive by the inmates of Montana State Prison, whose horsehair bridles and bands are on sale at the prison outlet store in Deer Lodge.
The ultimate self-expression fashion accessory of the western wear outfit can arguably be the belt buckle. Being associated with the military, brass belt buckles were originally seen as an ornament for men in the 19th century. Originally, cowboys didn't even wear belt buckles. They wore suspenders because they were practical and functional for the essential duties of the cowboy.
But by the early 20th century, western style belt buckles became more popular as a fashion accessory after they were romanticized in cowboy movies and were awarded as prizes at rodeo events. And thus began the era of the fashionable cowboy belt buckle. The buckle often states the wearer's name, initials, brand, a flag, eagle or special saying. Centrally located, the belt buckle is the defining touch of the entire western wear outfit. When shopping for a buckle, handmade buckles are the most highly sought after and the highest priced on the market. These buckles often feature precious stones or metals and the artistry that goes into crafting a perfectly-made buckle. The leather belt should compliment the buckle and match the color of the cowboy boots.
If you have a stylish shirt, fabulous fitting jeans and brag-worthy boots, then it's time to take your western wear game to the next level by adding a bolo tie, horsehair hat band and a personalized belt buckle. Whether working on your ranch or entertaining friends and family, take the time to find accessories to personalize your western wear look and express your style.
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