Some Yankees and coastal snob types might be inclined to think that "Texan style" is an oxymoron. And it's true, Texans are probably better known as world-class shoppers than arbiters of taste. But style? Texans have plenty of their own. Beyond oil, championship sports teams, and roots music, Texas's greatest export is the classic Western cowboy style that the state seems to embody. Everybody from Ralph Lauren to Madonna seems to have adopted cowboy duds as the very symbol of American cool and rugged independence. Outsiders may not pull it off with as much natural ease as Texans, but the basics of cowboy style aren't hard to master.
There's the fundamental ranch-hand style, which depends on clothes tough enough to withstand the demands of life on the range: long, snug-fitting boot-cut jeans (preferably Wrangler or Lee) that bunch up at the bottom, worn with a belt featuring a big ol' buckle, scuffed-up calfskin cowboy boots, crisp Western shirt, and a cowboy hat (straw in summer, felt in winter). Taking the basic elements, you can gussy up the look as much as you wish. The drugstore cowboy or rodeo queen look adopts fun and fancy embellishments such as embroidered yokes and sterling silver collar tips. Urban cowboys in oil and banking simply throw more money at the basics, and don boots and hats with their pinstripes for business (and ranch-style gabardine twill pants in place of jeans on the weekends). The boots aren't made of regular old calfskin leather, but of such exotic skin as alligator, ostrich, or eel, preferably handmade and with elaborate uppers. The hat will be a top-of-the-line number from a classic Western outfitter such as M. L. Leddy's in Fort Worth. The belt buckle (along with the tip and keeper) is sterling silver.
For a certain kind of woman in Texas -- the kind that will wear a Western shirt only if it is expensively studded with rhinestones and rubies -- the classic look has long been the one created by upscale Dallas and Houston shopping mavens: big salon-coifed and frosted hair, a wide pearly smile, and an overly precious designer outfit, accented by a cornucopia of fur and jewelry. The Robert Altman film Dr. T & the Women got the Dallas upper-class look of professional shoppers down to a T.
Boots -- Cowboy boots date from the riding boots the Spanish conquistadors and vaqueros wore. They're the most fundamental element of the cowboy look, and almost everyone in Texas owns at least one pair. Real cowboys have everyday boots and dress-up or dance-floor boots. The basics are plain old black or brown calfskin boots, with either a roper (low heel) or a riding or semiwalking (high heel) style. The toes can be pointed, squared off, or gently rounded. The sharp pointed toe is the most authentic, though today many younger ropers go with the rounded style. The tops, which are generally calf-high, can be either V-shaped or straight, but should always have stitched-on pull straps. Boot stores stock a bewildering array of leathers: Besides basic (but smooth, rugged, and inexpensive) calfskin, you'll find showy and more delicate (and often vastly more expensive) exotic skins, such as lizard, eel, alligator, ostrich, snake, stingray, water buffalo, and kangaroo. Generally the most expensive boots a shop will stock are horned-toe crocodile; a pair of those babies will set you back a couple of grand. Boot design can be no-nonsense or elaborately styled, with contrasting uppers, fancy stitching, and piping.
Even more important than look, though, is fit: A boot has to fit properly. It should be snug, requiring you to pull on with both straps and yank off with a touch of difficulty, but not tight. Your heel should snap into place but allow for a little movement. A good boot seller can help you determine the right fit. Don't buy unless you're sure. Texas brands to look for include Lucchese, Nocona, Justin, and Tony Lama.
Hats -- Cowboy hats are serious business. They're worn at all times and not taken off indoors; if you don't think so, check out a Western dance hall on a Friday night, where you'll find cowboys twirling about the dance floor with their best hats firmly in place. The classic Stetson, like the one LBJ wore on the ranch, dates from the 1850s. A cowboy's proper "beaver" dress hat can run $1,000 or more. The key to your new hat is getting it formed, or creased, for that perfect range or courthouse look. A real-life roper retires his white straw hat at the end of summer, opting for a sturdy felt sombrero for autumn and winter -- a seasonal fashion dictum not unlike the one that demands that New Englanders banish white from their wardrobes after Labor Day.
Western Shirts -- Most traditional and urban cowboys go for heavy, pressed-cotton Western shirts in plaids or solids. Fancy Western swing shirts with pearl snaps, contrasting yokes, and little "smile" or "arrow" pockets aren't that easy to find these days. If you want a singing cowboy or fancy honky-tonk shirt, you'll need to either go vintage or shell out big bucks for a high-end designer, such as Manuel of Hollywood (who dresses Dolly Parton and other flashy country-music stars). At its most basic, though, the Western shirt should have a reinforced Western yoke, flap pockets, a full cut, and snapped cuffs. The shirttail is always worn tucked in.
Accessories -- The most important Western accessories are belt buckles, belts, hatbands, bolo ties, and bandannas. For Texan males, hand-tooled belts (often with the wearer's name embossed), hatbands, and especially buckles -- which range from obscenely large Texas state seals, oil derricks, and Jack Daniel's emblems to simple, elegant silver buckles, tips, and keepers -- allow him to express himself. A real Texan never buys a leather belt that comes stock with a buckle. Bolo ties, though still worn in some parts, are a little passé for the average Joe trying to adopt the cowboy look.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.