Roots on the Range
Roots on the Range
The story of Western design begins with Indigenous peoples. Buckskin, elaborate geometric and floral patterns and the use of accents like fringe all originated with Indigenous communities. When colonists arrived in the West, they introduced new elements of style and created new designs as cultures borrowed from each other freely. For example, Cherokee and Metis craftspeople used traditional techniques and decorations on European styled clothing to create the iconic buckskin outfits worn by trappers and mountaineers. The abundance of new resources and lack of access to traditional materials also fueled innovation. Furniture designers like Wenzel Friedrich used abundant cattle horns to make innovative furniture fit for Kings and Queens. Bling also has early roots in the West. Metal rivets and silver coins were used across cultures to decorate everything from firearms to saddles eventually giving way to newer reflective surfaces like rhinestones, sequins and pearl-snaps.
Influencers also play a key role in setting trends and creating new looks. Furniture maker Thomas Molesworth created a new market for Western furniture when he began furnishing lodge-style homes and hotels. Jack Weil founded Rockmount Ranch Wear in 1946 and introduced both the snap closure common on Western clothing and the bolo tie. Couturier Manuel Cuevas dressed Johhny Cash in black and helped create the Western inspired looks of countless stars in Nashville after learning from another Western design legend, Nudie Cohen. Film and television popularized the cowboy version of Western design that is most familiar today, but other innovators were also at work.
Lloyd Kiva New, a Cherokee designer, helped introduce Indigenous ideas into the high fashion world and when he founded the Institute of American Indian Arts he laid the ground work for other Indigenous designers who are working today. Dolores Gonzales helped synthesize native broomstick and tiered skirts with Mexican folklorico styles into the patio dress, which became a must have item in most women’s wardrobes. Western fashion continues to be a major component of most American wardrobes used as a part of a larger design identity.