A version of this story originally published on Nov. 30, 2016.
Of all the big-top, bronco-busting, barrel-racing affairs across the country, NFR is by far the most fashion forward.
“The thing about the National Finals Rodeo is you can wear anything and it doesn’t matter,” says Shane Proctor, winner of this year’s Professional Bull Riders Iron Cowboy series. “My wife wore a tutu to (NFR) a couple of years ago.”
It’s true, says Jessi Proctor, a professional barrel racer. “In 2011, tutus were huge. Everyone was wearing tutus.”
For women who aren’t competing, “you kind of go all-out for NFR,” she says.
NFR is the prime fashion event on the rodeo calendar, women who aren’t bound by the more utilitarian dress code of competitors should let their sartorial instincts soar, Jessi Proctor adds.
Kendra Cates, a UNLV rodeo competitor, and no slouch in lassoing a chic outfit, agrees.
“Cowboy chic or Western chic is what it’s called,” Cates says, and it revolves around basics such as flared-bottom jeans, skirts and leather jackets.
“There’s really no limit to what women can wear if you’re just going to watch,” she says.
Cates suggests that women — and maybe even men — attending their first rodeo and wondering what to wear might get some ideas from social media. But in the end, she says, “have fun. There’s no dress code.”
So don’t sweat it. Cowboys and cowgirls are a pretty relaxed bunch. But do know that the difference between rodeo veteran and tenderfoot can hinge on a few basic details.
Here’s a breakdown of the classic cowboy look. And, even in that category, there’s plenty of latitude for individuality.
A cowboy hat is the quintessential piece of Western wear and choosing among the varieties can be confusing. Cates notes that a rodeo rider’s hat can signal the events in which he or she rides as well as, Proctor says, the part of the country that a cowboy hails from.
For the rest of us, choosing a hat shape and style comes down to personal preference.
A good guideline is to wear a straw hat in the summer and a felt hat otherwise, and have it shaped professionally to your own style and facial features, professional bull rider Tyler Harr says. But don’t buy a hat off the rack and especially not, Cates says, from a mass-market retailer.
“As far as women go, you see a lot of unique hats at NFR,” in styles both cowboyish and not — fedoras, anyone? — and in colors — teal, lime green or pink perhaps — that might not ever be found on the range, says Jackie Hobbs-Crawford, a professional breakaway roper.
Also, wear the hat for a while before rodeo day arrives. “You can tell who wears a hat on a daily basis and not on a daily basis,” Harr says. “You don’t just pull it off the shelf and put it on.”
While the shape, design and material of a boot can be a function of what a cowboy does and the events in which he rides, they also evolve to the whims of fashion.
Square-toed boots are popular among both men and women who compete, Hobbs-Crawford says. “You might see a few ropers who still wear a rounded toe … but square toes are more in fashion right now.”
Boots can be made of materials ranging from leather to ostrich to snakeskin and alligator. “I’m kind of fond of ostrich, because the break-in period is really short,” Harr says.
And pointy-toed boots? More, ahem, “of a fashion statement,” Proctor says.
Jeans are a simple part of a rodeo spectator’s wardrobe, but there are many companies that make rodeo-style jeans, Harr says. Ariat, the brand he wears, offers a variety of stonewashed jeans that “give a much more comfortable look than just old-school denim jeans.”
Choose a pair that’s loose enough to permit mounting a horse but tight enough so it’s not baggy in the back. Whatever the brand or style, it’s most important to make sure the jeans are starched and pressed.
That last is key, says Proctor. “You want them starched and pressed. Nothing is better than that.”
Sharp appearance aside, a pair of jeans can, if worse comes to worst, be worn two or three times before a rewash, restarch and repress, Proctor says. That surely would come in handy for always-traveling rodeo cowboys.
For women, Hobbs-Crawford says plenty of skinny jeans will be worn in the grandstands of the Thomas & Mack this year. But, among traditionalists and competitors, Harr says, “skinny jeans have not made it into Western culture yet and, hopefully, they won’t.”
The belt buckle
If you’ve ever won a rodeo belt buckle, wear it to the NFR proudly. If you haven’t, just wear a nicely tooled leather belt-buckle combo.
A button-down denim shirt — or, for a retro traditional look, a button-down with pearl snaps — with the sleeves rolled down is a classic rodeo look.
“But you’ve got to have it starched and pressed,” Shane Proctor says. “You want to look clean, but if you need to go up and ride a horse, you can do it.”
And, he says, an untucked shirt is “a big giveaway” of a newbie.