Western clothes are the category of men's and women's apparel that derives its unique style from the 19th century during a time known as the Wild West. Most of what we relate to as western fashion today comes from that era and from old movies depicting cowboys, ranchers, and outlaws.

Today, western clothing encompasses both historically accurate reproductions of frontier clothing as well as updated versions made popular by fashion designers who began incorporating western inspired elements into their clothing lines as early as the 1980s.

For many, western clothing represents a practical, utilitarian form of ranch dress, but for others, it represents a kind of nostalgia reminiscent of days gone by—an uncomplicated, relaxed way of dressing that is synonymous with country life.

Elements of strong western influence remain visible in fashion today in the ever-popular Stetson hat, cowboy boots, and rodeo chaps, but the fundamentals are found predominantly in classic western shirts, jeans and skirts.

Western Shirts

Western garments were born from a need for practical, functional clothing that could hold up to extreme wear.  Historically, flaps were designed to cover shirt pockets to prevent tobacco from being dropped or bounced out during riding. Extra fabric was added to the yokes on shirts to ensure durability and warmth, and a snug fit helped to reduce the risk of being caught on saddle horns and barbed wire.

Today, Western shirts have retained many of these unique characteristics, and now boast stylized curved yokes, long sleeves, pearl snap button closures, pointed pocket flaps, and of course, their body conscious fit. 

Western shirts may also showcase heavy embroidery, decorative piping, and curved welt pockets for added interest.


The iconic jeans first made popular by Levi Strauss & Company is a classic staple of Western dress—in no small part to its durability, now as much as it was then.  Jeans are manufactured using denim, a heavy cotton twill weave. Twill fabric is woven with a diagonal pattern, which imparts jeans with their characteristic strength and durability.  

Although jeans were originally only worn by men, the need for rugged practical clothing for women working in blue collar jobs pushed department stores to stock blue jeans specifically for women; however, it was not until the 1930s that they became “fashionable”.

Cowboy cut jeans are characterized by a tighter fit around the lower leg which easily accommodates a boot but does not widen to a full bootcut style.

Today, jeans have become an essential part of Western fashion in no small part because of their versatility. Jeans are manufactured in various colors, sizes, and styles, designed to fit people of every age, gender, background, and body type.

Whether cowboy cut, mid-rise, high-rise, boot cut, straight leg, skinny, or curve hugging, denim jeans are a critical element of Western dress.   As for studs and sparkles--ladies only, please! 


Split Skirts

In the 19th century, women’s skirts were floor length which impeded a woman’s ability to participate in recreational activities and sports such as horseback riding or bicycling; however, the women’s movement of the 1880s instigated a campaign for rational dress that was equally functional.

In response to the need for practical clothing for women, split skirts were created.  These early styles, referred to as culottes, had pleats or wrap-around skirts to disguise the pant element.

The initial designs were actually pants that were constructed so as to maintain the illusion that they were still a skirt.  They provided women with the flexibility of pants but with the modesty of a skirt.

Today’s versions, although greatly simplified, are generally referred to as Gaucho Pants and remain a popular, comfortable, and flattering alternative to jeans for women of all ages.

About the Author: Connie Heinrich is an entrepreneur and owner of the e-commerce boutique called Urban Filly Apparel that specializes in Western-inspired gaucho pants for women. 

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