Have you ever been to a rodeo? Those big events with people riding around on horses wrangling robotic calves, barrel racing, jumping? Whether you are just a casual fan, a hardcore fanatic, or have never been to one of these calf-wrangling, heart-pumping events, we’re going to talk about one of the campiest things of the rodeo: the outfits.
Are you confused? Look at it this way: have you ever seen those people in flamboyant button-up shirts, with huge belt buckles and cowboy boots with spurs? Well, that style of, frankly ridiculous, clothing had to come from somewhere. As suggested by the name “cowboy boots,” it probably has something to do with cowboys, right? Well, partially. To delve into these camp outfits, we’re going to talk some about the background of horseback riding before just getting into a fashion show of the most ridiculously expensive bejeweled shirts.
There are two styles of riding: English and Western. You may think that there isn’t such a big difference between the two styles, but that that couldn’t be further from the truth. English and Western riding differ in everything from the saddle and stirrup length to the classes they compete in. As an English rider myself, I would be way out of my comfort zone if someone asked me to compete in Western classes, not to mention jumping with a big horn (a handle on the front of western saddles) jutting into my midsection. The reverse is also the case: Western riders would feel extremely insecure in an English saddle because, without the horn, it’s easier to fall off. But I digress. The difference that matters most to this article is the uniform worn when showing (riding in a show, or rodeo, also known as eventing).
English riders wear jodhpurs (“close-fitting full-length trousers with reinforced patches on the inside of the leg,” according to Wikipedia), a white polo shirt, an eventing vest or jacket, black knee-high boots, and a helmet, Western riders have a colorful array of shirts, jeans, boots, hats, and even dresses to choose from. English tack can be fancy, with braided or patterned bridles, saddles, or saddle pads, but events require tidy professionalism, and most of the fun stuff is used, well, for fun. In Western shows, the very nature of the rodeo practically demands more flamboyant and fun clothes and equipment.
Some of the more elaborate outfits are worn by Rodeo Queens. These women have to do it all, and by do it all I mean ride, speak, wrangle, engage the crowd—and through it all, they have to smile and look fresh as a daisy. Their costumes play a big part in all this; they range from dresses to leather pants, hats to belt buckles, and shirts to shoes. There are Rodeo Queen pageants, specialized skill sets, and any good Queen has a good attitude. Out of context, these women can be considered camp in their own right. In context? It’s inspiring. You don’t even need to use a camp lens to see the work they put in, and I encourage going to an actual rodeo to see their efforts pay off.
Even smaller, shorter, more casual rodeos can be flamboyant in their presentation. Horse owners with bigger budgets will buy personal trailers to transport their horses to shows, their own personal tack (in flattering colors or with glitzy touches, of course). Some even shell out big bucks for equipment with Swarovski, one of the more popular brands of expensive crystal jewelry and figurines. The company now sells glamorous shirts, bridles, and more embedded with crystal jewels. Flashy? Yes. Camp? Definitely.
Through all this one might wonder: are these clothes even practical? Well, would people ride with them if they weren’t? Probably. Truth is, I have no idea. I don’t have the personal experience of riding in these clothes. But at the end of the day, is it easier to throw on some jeans and a button-up or a shirt and reinforced leggings? We don’t need to think about comfort to appreciate a beautiful, campy parade of colorful clothes, blinged-out bridles, or skilled stallions. We just need to appreciate the show.
- Anna Lisa Goodman '18