This is an idea that has rattled around in my head for a long time. It may seem like a small and insignificant point, a silly bit of semantics but hear me out. In the age when I grew up, most of us saw Roy Rogers on TV, black and white of course. And there was Dale Evans, too. Yes, she was called a cowgirl, even queen of the cowgirls. But wait, how often did she have a key role in stopping the bad guys or any other serious business other than singing along with Roy or maybe the Sons of the Pioneers? She did have a horse and occasionally rode it, dressed in a fringed divided skirt and a pretty clean white shirt under a little bolero cut vest and a hat with a chin strap, usually in a color to match her outfit. Sometimes it had fringe too or those little pom-poms dangling off the edge of the brim. Oh, and boots. Not real high and often red with lots of fancy swirls and curlicues on them.
On the big screen, we were pretty much past the movies where the cowboy kissed his horse and rode off into the sunset leaving Miss Lucy or whoever behind, but the women in the traditional westerns more often cooked, took care of the chickens or milked a cow, maybe help out in the general store and such. If they were a bit shady, perhaps operated a bar or a dance hall. A few had inherited a ranch and usually could not begin to manage it by themselves. Hmmm, okay, cowgirls. I get that. A far cry from cowboys in more ways than just gender.
From the mid fifties on, they got to wear trousers, but what trousers they were!! The every day ladies’ jeans had a zipper down the left hip and were made of much lighter denim than the
Levis, Wranglers and so
on. For dress up, they were painted-on-tight from waist to knee and then flared
into a wide bell.I guess spandex came along about then. In a rainbow of bright
colors, they were usually decorated with fancy yokes just like the ‘western’
shirts of the day with swirls and scallops across the back and down the outside
of the leg. I guess you could ride horseback in them and they looked sharp at
the rodeos but it was still all for show and none for go. Work in them? No way!
I knew there had been real working ranch and western women from the earliest days. They had worn trousers before it was acceptable and worked right alongside their men folk. They didn’t decorate the corral rails or wait to be rescued. Some even rode broncos like the Greenough sisters,
Margie and Alice and others of their ilk. They shot guns,
maybe not as prettily as Annie Oakley or as recklessly as a few of the female
outlaws but they could drop a coyote or a wolf threatening their stock. They
probably did not fuss much with their hair or nails except on a few special
occasions, either. Well dang me. Were these women cowgirls or something else?
|CM Russel painting of a cowgirl|
Out in my real world beyond the large or small screens, I saw women with sunburnt faces dressed in faded jeans or men’s work pants and shirts that belonged to their kid brother or oldest son, a battered Stetson hat just like the guys wore and boots of the same style as the fellows too. Boots that probably had mud or barnyard debris on them. They worked every day, got dirty, got kicked, bit, stomped, bucked off, picked themselves up and went back at it because they had to. They all knew how to cowboy up.
|Yours truly as a cowboy girl|
By the time I was in my middle teens,I was one of them. I hated side zippers and flimsy fabric so I wore regular boys’ or mens’ jeans and mostly shirts to match. My hat might have a chin strap for practicality but there was no fringe or pompoms and my boots were black or brown, undecorated except maybe with “stuff’ picked up from the ground I worked across.. By golly, I was not a cowgirl and neither were the rest of these real western ranch women. We were cowboy girls. We did everything the cowboys did and did it just as well. We wore the same clothes, drank the same strong coffee and maybe even lit up the same kind of cigarettes if we felt like it. Sometimes we cussed, too. When you have a horse step on your foot or a cow butts you when you’re trying to doctor it…I think you have the right. We were cowboys in every sense except that we happened to be female.
There are still cowboy girls today. They may compete in rodeo but that is probably not their main activity. They run ranches and train horses and mules, they haul hay and water and manure. They guide hunters and do cowboy shooting and race sled dogs and often even manage to have and raise children and teach them how to be real working useful people with ethics and courage. Quite a few have put on uniforms and become police officers or soldiers, sailers, airmen or marines. Hurrah for ‘em.
Since there are now also women in construction, railroading, mining, truck driving and the oil fields, some companies finally got wise and started making real work clothes sized and shaped to fit women. They are the same heavy duck or denim or leather. They are not a bit for show and totally for go. I think this is great!
It’s good not to have to cinch in the waist of your
when you get them sized to fit your hips. It’s good not to have to roll up the
sleeves of a slightly too big denim or flannel shirt when the kid sizes are too
small. It’s good to get steel toed work boots if you need them or regular
working type western boots that fit your feet without three pairs of socks.
It’s best to know you have a place in the world and a level of acceptance and
You may decorate your cowboy’s truck on Saturday night –or maybe he can decorate yours--but that’s just for fun. Sometimes you can kiss your horse and ride off into the sunset, too! I for sure am damn proud to be a cowboy girl and I always will be. If a man finds that too intimidating, reckon he is not the guy for me.
They have not adopted my term but here are a few links to check out on cowgirl/cowboy girl history and spirit both back in history and today. A search engine will turn up a lot of stuff but most of it is irrelevant to me!:Too slick and clothes made for DWTS or Vegas showgirls, everything costing a mint which cowboy girls mostly do not have! Let's keep it real, not Collywood (Vail etc.)