My heroes haven’t always been cowboys. Contrary to Willie Nelson’s sentimentalities, my favorite cowboy flew a twin-engine Cessna T-50. Schuyler “Sky” King named his aerial steed “Songbird” and captured crooks in the not-so-old west.
Wonder what Schuyler King and his niece, Penny, would have thought, were they to buzz Memorial Park last month as the Salt Grass Trail Riders converged on Houston? That trail ride ushers in rodeo season for our corner of the state and, for a few weeks, all of Houston resembles a sound stage from the movie, Urban Cowboy.
Let me share with you a secret from the “Things Men Wish Women Knew” Department: I don’t like to dress up like a cowboy. Never have. The boots hurt my feet; the jeans are too tight, and the hat makes my head sweat.
I realize that, for some women, the sight of a be-denimmed derriere above a sharp set of snakeskin Noconas, capped by a wide-brimmed beaver hat, is the epitome of Southern style, if not swag. There’s irony in such objectification, but little comfort.
Cowboy boots, as we know them, originated with Spain’s vaqueros of the 16th century. Their smooth sole and pointed toe were intended for easily stabbing into a saddle stirrup, and if necessary, the lace-less design allowed for quickly slipping out of said stirrup, if one’s mount became unruly. Somewhere along the line, top stitching was added, the leather shaft acquired additional decoration, and the heel grew about an inch. There are some mighty pretty boots being made today, but I don’t own a pair. I don’t ride horses.
John B. Stetson is credited for creating what is today’s classic cowboy hat. The Stetson was wide-brimmed to keep the sun off your face, and water from running down the back of your neck whilst a-horsetop in the rain. It was made from beaver, rabbit, or some other varmint, so it would last in the elements.
The Stetson rim was curved upwards to stay out of the way of a spinning lasso, and the crown added a pinch in the front, so the cowboy could easily grab onto it on his way out of the saddle (see aforementioned comments on exiting a horse.) Cowboy hats are very stylish in Texas. Cowboys even wear them inside their pickup trucks, despite a king-cab roof and tinted glass.
I don’t drive a truck; I drive a convertible. That Stetson likely would take off like The Flying Nun in my car.
Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis patented putting metal rivets into men’s denim work pants in 1873. The blue jean was born, and “Billie Jean” moon-walked across the stage in sequined glory 109-years later. The first jeans were loose-fitting and wore like iron. Today’s denim jeans often look sprayed on, and the kids prefer them to look worn-out. I like mine boot-cut and comfort-fit. No starch.
Rodeo fashion this year will faintly resemble the origins of western wear. Oh, all the elements will be there — jeans, boots and hats. Most real cowboys, however, will spurn the fancy stuff for practicality and comfort on the job.
When I go to the rodeo, I wear jeans…with a pair of leather lace-up sneakers and a ball cap.
Brent Clanton is a native Houstonian and member of Texas Radio Hall of Fame. He is now outnumbered two-to-one by his wife, Darlene, and their three-pound Yorkie, Sophie.