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During the 13 years I’ve lived in Calgary, it’s a line I’ve seen crossed every July, when westernwear is regularly taken to the tacky extreme. When the rodeo rolls into town, extra-small plaid shirts fly off the shelves, trash bins fill with denim scraps from cut-off shorts, and bandanas are reinterpreted as tops. It’s a hoedown where the Marlboro Man becomes a shabby mess and Calamity Jane parties in cowgirl panties— enough to make me outlaw all traces of westernwear from my wardrobe. And yet, when I see western done right—like it was on many of the spring and fall runways—a blues-singing cowboy tugs at my heartstrings, pleading to let in just one plaid shirt (and perhaps a pair of suede cowboy boots to wear with skinny jeans à la Charlotte Gainsbourg).
“Cowboy style is about the romance of a lifestyle—something we perceive as carefree, rugged and classic,” says designer Thakoon Panichgul, who mixed bandana-inspired paisley dresses with two-toned cowboy hats for spring. “It’s something we all crave right now.” And he’s not the only designer to think so. Miuccia Prada created elaborate cowboy-meets-folk leather boots for Miu Miu’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection, while Michael Kors accessorized his pre-fall looks with cowboy hats and saddlebags.
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Bustle Clothing’s Shawn Hewson went so far as to base his denim heavy fall looks on the rodeo—in honour of the Calgary Stampede’s centennial this year. “Cowboy is always cool, and cowgirl is always hot; there’s something inherently sexy about that look,” says Hewson, who, ironically, has never been to the stampede. But for me, it was Isabel Marant’s fall frontier-girl collection of yoked cowgirl shirts, quilted jean jackets and frilly skirts—which would not look out of place on a city street—that really made me want to trade in my peplums.
“Westernwear done right is all about subtlety,” says Calgary-based designer Paul Hardy, who is creating a one-of-a-kind cowboy hat for the 100th-anniversary festivities. While I will never be a head-to-toe cowgirl—and I will continue to fight the good fight against bandana tops everywhere— perhaps it’s finally time to indulge in my craving for western style, one Isabel Marant yoked shirt at a time.
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