Rodeo is riding, roping and fashion

Friday, February 14, 2003

Call it rodeo fashion or western couture.

But no matter the words, it's the clothes that will matter to many at the 15th annual Show Me Center World Championship Rodeo, which begins tonight and runs through Sunday.

Because making a style statement at the rodeo can be just as important for spectators as it is for competitors, it takes a good mix of the traditional and the trendy in choosing the right western clothing, said Lisa Sparkman, owner of Circle S Saddle Co. in Gordonville.

Rodeos often require competitors to wear long-sleeve, collared shirts and jeans. Some of those in the audience this weekend will be following along in true cowboy spirit.

"It's really about honoring the tradition," Sparkman said. "Western-wear people are very particular about their clothes."

The cowboy way

Dressing like a real cowboy isn't hard, but there are some unwritten rules to follow.

"If you don't want to look like a tourist, wear your cowboy hat straight down across the forehead, not propped on the back of your head like a pageant queen," Sparkman said.

Rodeo contestants typically wear straw hats in the summer and felt hats in colder months, but some stick to their favorites year round.

Professional rodeo roper Kadin Boardman, 25, of Jackson, will wear his favorite black and gold Resistol hat in this weekend's calf and team roping events.

"I have others, but this one is about all I'll ever wear," he said.

Some people pick hats the way others choose hairstyles.

They may keep the same hat for years and years until they find the "right" new hat, Sparkman said. But others want to emulate their favorite country singing stars.

"If George Strait or Alan Jackson come out wearing a new hat, I'll have people coming to the store with a picture of it they cut out of a magazine," she said.

Jeans are to a cowboy what a nice suit is to a stockbroker.

"You will never see a competitor in jeans without heavy starch and a crisp crease down the legs," Sparkman said.

Competing cowboys usually wear dark blue or black jeans. Women may wear other colors for competition, as long as the jeans are in good condition.

Western jeans differ from fashion jeans because of the boot cut, or slight flair at the bottom of the leg. Tight-fitting Wranglers are widely considered the epitome of the cowboy look, but relaxed-fit and loose-fit varieties are available. Some of the women's brands also include low-rise waists.

Wrangler and Cinch are the top-selling brands for men. Women's top brands include Wrangler, Cruel Girl, Law Man and Rockies.

The point of bootsCompetitors don't typically wear pointed boots, Tonya Crites, barrel racer, said. But there is such a wide variety of styles, from formal to farm wear, that anyone wanting a pair can find something for any occasion.

Crites, 35, goes for the more top-of-the-line ostrich leather boots.

"Contestants like to wear ostrich because they're so comfortable and for the prestige," she said. "They're tough, but a lot of choosing the right boot for you boils down to your taste."

A typical ostrich pair can cost more than $400, whereas prices for cow leather boots range from $139 to $200, said Sparkman.

Big name boot makers include Tony Lama, Nacona, Ariat and Justin. One of best selling boot styles at Circle S are the blunt-toed ropers with crepe soles, which are creme-colored with double stitching around the edge, she said.

When it comes to maintaining his cowboy look, Boardman prefers more neutral patterns and colors. He isn't tied down to any one style, and sometimes even mixes a designer shirt with his more traditional western clothes.

But Crites likes the fancier western clothing options available for women, she said.

"Some girls will wear plainer patterns and simpler shirts, and that's fine," she said. "But for me, I like to wear the brighter colors and the silks."

Crites, a registered nurse at St. Francis Regional Medical center, follows the advice of a trusted friend when it comes to what she wears at the rodeo.

"A world class competitor told me to wear what's comfortable," Crites said. "But she also said you may not always do good in competition but you can still look good doing it."

Still, Crites knows that sometimes less is more.

"A 'wannabe,' that's what most of the people who come to the rodeo look like if they don't know what they're doing," she said.

Trends can come and go in western style just as in other fashions. But today, western wear is as popular as ever thanks to the rise of country music stars and an ever-growing spectator interest in rodeo competition.

"Western style has been here since the 1800s," Sparkman said. "It's always been around. I don't know of any other style that's done that. The western clothing industry today offers a beautiful selection."

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