top of page
Screen Shot 2020-07-08 at 10.42.29

The Cowboy & the Small Town Girl

Cowboy Attire

I stared at the new boots Jack was wearing. They were bright orange, maybe even tangerine-colored.

"What color did you say those were?" I asked him again, shading my eyes.

"Benedictine Tan," he replied confidently.

"They're orange, Jack."

"No, they're not," he said defensively, the pitch of his voice rising. "The label said Benedictine Tan!"

"Jack, your kids go to Texas A&M. They live and breathe maroon. Those boots are screaming University of Texas orange. How can you wear those?"

He answered through gritted teeth, "They're Benedictine Tan."

I had pushed Jack's next to the last button labeled, 'You ought not go there.'  The last button was labeled, 'YOU'D BETTER START RUNNING!', and I'd finally learned through the years not to push that one. But it didn't stop me from thinking that [the late & great] Bill Cotulla, Jack's die-hard Longhorn Sunday School teacher was going to be so proud of Jack wearing those orange boots to church.

Jack was braver than most cowboys when it came to wearing color. He had some great-looking colorful shirts in his closet, but more times than not his working attire was a khaki shirt and Wranglers. Most cattlemen and cowboys I know dress conservatively, wearing long-sleeved cotton shirts, dangerously starched jeans (the old-timers wore khaki pants, too), dark or tan boots, and straw or felt hats with a decent shape and crease, unless the hat had a hundred stories behind it. Then the more beat-up, the better.

Blue jeans have always been the cowboy's choice of trousers because the price was right and they lasted a lot longer than most other types of pants. But then the fashion moguls discovered jeans, and like everything else that becomes fashionable, the price shot through the roof. Remember what happened to fajitas-- that cheap cut of meat? Same thing. And look at pickups, a cowboy's working vehicle. Jack's last pickup cost five times as much as as our first house cost; that is, before we took the wheels off that palace and remodeled it.

Sometimes a movie gets it right when it comes to depicting a cowboy or cowgirl, but more often than not, Hollywood tends to dress their actors like the old country western singers out of Nashville. They assume all cowboys and cowgirls wear rhinestones and carnival cowboy hats as normal attire.

I'm not a cowgirl, so I don't feel comfortable even in conservative-looking hat and boots. Years ago Jack bought me a beautiful gray felt hat and some tan, wing-tipped boots to wear to the stock shows and rodeos, or for the times they worked cattle. I felt like I was wearing a Halloween costume, and that someone would start laughing at me when they realized I no more belonged in those clothes than a football player belonged in a tutu. I felt that it was glaringly obvious to everyone that I was not a cowgirl, especially since the boots made me walk funny, like I was about to pitch forward at any given moment.

It's my own personal conviction, but I always thought that in order for me to wear cowboy clothes honestly, I had to have lived the part, whether that meant I had done ranch work with actual cattle or participated in rodeos, or handled and shown livestock. And although my husband and children have, I haven't. I'm sure there's an unwritten law, though, that allows every Texan to look Texan if they want to. I imagine foreigners are disappointed when they don't see every Texan wearing jeans, boots, a Stetson, and a pistol strapped to one's side. Oh, and a saddled horse parked outside.

One day I found another pair of boots sitting, no glowing in the closet. I could swear those boot tops were bright yellow, but I'm sure not going to be the one to tell Jack.

At times you can't tell that man anything, but that's another story...



boots: n. 1. a sturdy covering of leather, rubber, or the like, for the foot and part of the leg; 2. the cost of one pair of these boots is equivalent to my buying 20 pairs of women's shoes on sale; 3. "But they last forever," Jack says. So why does he need eleven pair? 4. what cowboys hope to be wearing when they die.


fajitas: n. 1.  a word not found in the English dictionary (at the time of this writing); 2. couldn't find the darn word in the Spanish dictionary ether; 3. probably from the Spanish word faja; when combined with 'itas' means little strips; 4.  the cut of meat originally known as skirt steak, that tough piece of meat cut from the beef flank; 5. now fashionably over-priced.


felt (as in felt hat): adj. or n. 1.  a type of cowboy hat made of a non-woven fabric of wool, fur, or hair, matted together by heat, moisture, and great pressure; 2. in determining the quality, the larger the X, the higher the quality; 3. a warmer hat to wear in cooler months; 4. it's legal to wear a felt hat while working cattle any time of year, though, because it holds up better than a straw hat in a horse wreck, or being run over by a bull, or a brawl, or such things.


khaki: adj. or n. 1. a sturdy beige cotton cloth used in making pants and shirts; 2. normally used in military uniforms; 3. often worn by cattlemen; 4. my cotton-farmer grandfather wore khaki pants and shirts, too.


straw (as in straw hat): adj. or n. 1. a cowboy hat made of some kind of straw; 2. in determining the quality, the larger the X, the higher the quality and tighter the weave; 3. cooler to wear in warm months; 4.  if you want to see a cowboy get mad, mess with his hat.


Texas A&M University: n. 1. used to be The University of Texas' second biggest rival (will A&M ever write UT out of their fight song?); 2. Mascot: Aggies; 3. Colors: maroon & white; 4. where there are more traditions per square foot than any place on the planet; 5. where the degrees my son and daughter wanted weren't found, but that's where they wanted to be; 6. "Gig 'em, Aggies!"  


University of Texas: n. 1. Texas A&M's former biggest rival and now misplaced subject of their fight song; 2. Mascot: Longhorns; 3. Colors: Benedictine Tan & white (jk— I know it’s burnt orange); 4. where the degrees of study my children wanted were found; 5. where my granddaughter proudly attends; 6. ”Hook 'em, Horns!"

Wranglers: n. 1. persons in charge of handling the horses on a ranch; 2. a brand name for jeans made of denim (sturdy, cotton twill) fabric, usually blue; 3. after James Dean wore them in Rebel Without a Cause,  blue jeans became a symbol of rebellion for city-slickers in the fifties and sixties; 4. blue jeans  were always normal wear for cowboys and rural folks; 5. blue jeans became fashionable from the seventies on, which shot the prices sky-high. 6. Dang fashion moguls.

Donna Van Cleve

December 2020

Humor, Family History

Author's note: I wrote this in 2000, but edited a few places for 2020.

bottom of page