Galloping across the Great Plains on horseback, feeling the heat of the sun on your neck, and watching the horizon as it stretches out in front of you… the romanticism of the westerns has captured many imaginations!
Including fashion designers, who have often turned to the cowboy image for inspiration.
Western inspired dresses came back in a big way in the 1950s, and the carefree fashion hasn’t left us since!
Find some ways to enhance your wardrobe using Western style with this guide.
14 Incredible Western Dresses To Add Cool To Your Wardrobe
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Annie Oakley is one of the best known female sharpshooters, a woman who could shoot a cigarette out of her husband’s hand!
She came to fame when starring in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, and performed in front of European royalty.
Annie Oakley epitomizes what so many of us love about the American West: a chance to break away from convention, and enjoy freedom!
Annie Oakley dresses need to be comfortable to move in, without the ruffles and puff sleeves that were in fashion at the time.
Touches of fringe and embroidery hint at her connection to the cowboys, and to the wilder side of the Wild West.
It was the pioneers who traveled west, crossing vast distances to discover new lands — and, hopefully, bigger fortunes. If you were a pioneer, your clothing tended towards simplicity.
After all, you were spending most of your time far away from civilization. You need clothes to keep you comfortable!
Thanks to this simplicity, many pioneer style outfits can still add a new look to your wardrobe.
Cinched waists and flowing skirts created an attractive silhouette, but were easy to move around in.
Paisley originated in Persia, takes its name from a town in Scotland, and is often associated with the American West — that’s a lot of travel for one pattern (find out more about paisley here)!
Still, it’s easy to see why everyone wanted a piece of paisley. The swirling forms and bold designs are immediately eye-catching.
Paisley print bandanas became popular with the American revolution, and received another surge of popularity with the hippies in the 1960s.
This pattern is still closely linked to the Wild West.
Bonnets were a pretty big deal for the women roaming around the Wild West. This headgear was intended to preserve modesty, as well as dress up an outfit.
Bonnets have fallen pretty far out of fashion now, so you might want to leave it out of your western dress up.
Unless you really are roaming the Great Plains, and then you might appreciate how the bonnet keeps the sun from scorching your head!
Close your eyes and picture a cowboy shirt, and you’re probably imagining something with a yoke.
The yoke is an extra piece of fabric beneath the collar, and it’s often seen in a contrasting fabric.
The yoke was added to shirts for a really boring reason: it made them more durable, and cowboys didn’t have much time (or material) to fix a broken shirt.
But it helped that the yoke looked really cool, as well.
The Western yoke transforms a boring shirt into something with a little yee-haw, and it’s still a must for any budding country singer.
Things get hot in the American West! Even more so in pioneer days, when you couldn’t turn on a hand held fan, or take a quick stop at the nearest air conditioned store.
So, women needed clothing that was lightweight and breathable.
It also wouldn’t be completely unusual to see a dress with a split (although you probably wouldn’t spot bare legs underneath).
You’d need this if you planned on riding a horse, or tackling the rough terrain.
Western styles came back in a big way in the 1950s! You couldn’t turn on the TV without spotting the latest cowboy show, and Westerns dominated at the cinema.
The cowboy was seen as the ultimate representation of Americana, and these influences snuck into fashion.
Fabrics such as check and gingham recalled the casual style of the American cowboy.
Pairing gingham with the popular swing skirt toned down the flare of the dramatic skirt, for a more wearable take on the look.
What is it about the puff sleeve that seems so romantic? They’re completely impractical, but that billowing fabric is hard to resist.
Paired with an off the shoulder top, it’s a fun contrast of modest and revealing.
The puff sleeve still manages to look surprisingly modern — some things really never go out of style.
Wear a puff sleeve with jeans and a fringe jacket for a daytime take on the Western look. Or go for a flowing skirt, for something a little more authentic.
Embroidered floral designs are commonly associated with Western styles.
In the American West, much of this embroidery would have been inspired by the other cultures the American pioneers came in contact with.
Particularly the people of Mexico, who often decorated their clothing with bright floral designs.
Floral embroidery can be a fun way to add a touch of Western inspiration to your wardrobe. Try it on a dress, or look for the classic cowboy boot featuring an embroidered pattern.
We all love the western look because it makes us think of freedom and adventure. Plus, it’s a really good excuse to wear cowboy boots (not that you need an excuse).
Ruffles and smocks are a fun way to play with the Western style in a way that’s still contemporary.
The smock might seem like a fussy style, but it was originally created by working people.
The strong and durable stitching of the smock dress could stand up to hours spent on the plains, so you wouldn’t need any sudden repairs!
Country music singers have adopted the dress of the cowboy to recall the heritage of the music.
But one thing you’re very likely to see on a singer — and less likely to see on the cowboy — is rhinestones.
These sparkly and shiny stones are country music staples, and have been since the 1950s. They were originally adopted to help country music superstars shine, even for those in the cheap seats.
And we love the way they add dazzle to an outfit inspired by workwear.
We tend to associate the 1950s with glamour and elegance, and even casual styles had a certain refinement.
Women in the 1950s loved the cowboy look, using checked patterns, buttons, and piping to recreate the Western look they saw in films and television shows.
Throw on a pair of boots, and this is still the perfect look for a cute and casual day out. Even if you don’t have a barn dance to attend!
Mexican embroidery uses intricate patterns to create a visually stunning effect.
Many cowboys originated from Mexico, and even those who didn’t were impressed by the brocade style designs often spotted on Mexican clothing.
In the bright heat of the sun, the best clothing is breathable, durable, and unfussy. Cheerful embroidery can be used to add visual interest to simple clothing designs.
By adding embroidery, cowboys and girls could keep their clothing comfortable, and looking good. The same style concepts work today. Keep the shape simple, add embroidery, look good!
Fringe might seem like the most impractical thing you can do to a piece of clothing, but in the American West, it actually served a surprising purpose.
Fringe helped water to roll off the fabric and disperse, so you could dry faster after a heavy rainstorm. And if you were hunting, fringe added some slight camouflage.
With fringe clothing, your outline was less distinct.
Fringe was worn by women such as Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, and quickly became a defining image of the American West.
While the water wicking properties might not add much to your wardrobe, the carefree style of fringe still brings an attractive finish to a garment.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Styles Are Associated With The American West?
Life in the American West was tough, so clothes needed to be durable. This resulted in some surprisingly fashionable choices! The yoke, fringe, and smocking were all useful, and looked good.
When Did Western Styles Become Popular In Fashion?
The American West never really went out of fashion, but it came back in a big way with the cowboy films of the 1950s.
Many of the Western looks were adapted by hippies in the 60s, and the cool of the cowboy hasn’t gone away since!
How Can I Add Western Style To Enhance My Wardrobe?
For a simple way to add some Western fashion to your wardrobe, look for Mexican embroidery and paisley prints.
The cowboy is effortlessly cool, and Western styles still have a hippie charm that can enhance your wardrobe.
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