Cowboy Fashion Is Hip Again And People Will Spend Big Money To Look The Part (2024)

JACKSON — Mary Sullivan of Colorado says she’s not normally one to “pull the trigger” on an ultra-expensive cowboy hat, but last weekend she was one of dozens of customers swarming the Western-chic Kemo Sabe hat shop.

The shopping trip in downtown Jackson, Wyoming, was a little after-marathon reward for Sullivan and two friends, Megan Prez and Anne Marie Cress.

“It seems like a very expensive hat, so honestly, when I walked in, I wasn’t sure if I would buy such an expensive hat,” Sullivan said. “But it’s been a great experience. They’re all very helpful.”

That help starts the moment a customer strolls in the door at the upscale and trendy spot at 165 Center St., with full-on smiles from duded-up sales associates and a take-you-by-the-hand immersion into all things Western.

The happy ending to this true West tale is a fully customized piece of Western cowboy or cowgirl art that makes a statement no matter whether it’s hanging on the wall or sitting on someone’s head.

High Dollar Hats

But be warned, pardner, that slice of cowboy culture can be mighty expensive, if one isn’t careful.

The Stetson hats at Kemo Sabe, for example, start at $350 at the bottom of the price escalator.

But there are also real beaver fur hats — quite stylish by the way — that retail for $895 by themselves.

Try one on and see if it isn’t a better fit.

But the bill can really crank up with extravagant and expensive accessories if one isn't careful.

Of course, any hat needs a nice hat band to look truly authentic. Those can go as low as $65 for something like the Buffalo Cape Hat Band.

If you’d like something more interesting, there’s the black snake vertebrae hat band, set with moonstones and diamonds.

That’s going to cost you more than a good bottle of whiskey, though.

The tag on it is $2,250. And it’s not even necessarily the upper end when it comes to Kemo Sabe bands that could go around your cowboy hat.

The store carries chains made of emeralds, rubies, pyrite — whatever your heart might desire.

After the hat band is chosen, there are soft and shiny silks in all kinds of colors, because who doesn’t want a pop of color or two for their hat?

And then there’s twine for both texture and color.

The silks and twine run a mere $10 each. A steal!

Is any hat really complete without a hat pin or a brim pinch, though?

These start around $135 for a sterling silver crescent moon, for example.

Or if you want a golden arrow, you can get shot through the heart for a mere $1,195.

And then there’s plenty of subtle — and not-so-subtle — things your Western head-topper says about you. That includes everything from the shape to how distressed the hat looks.

The latter can be achieved artificially with just a little burning, if desired.

Smart Cowboys Or Cowgirls Set A Budget

When buying a duded-up cowboy hat, it’s perfectly OK at any point in the process to let the sales staff know you’ve got a budget in mind.

They were more than happy to steer customers to selections that fit one’s budget when Cowboy State Daily visited the Jackson Kemo Sabe store.

It’s also good to realize that a customer can still walk away from a creation at any point in the process, right up until something permanent is done to the hat.

Branding the hat with initials or personal symbols, for example. That is the point of no return.

There will be a puff of acrid, burning-leather smoke and a quick and painless “sssss” that lets you know you’ve just bought a new hat. Whether it cost a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, it’s yours.

Sullivan and her friends ultimately walked out of the Jackson Kemo Sabe store wearing beautiful big cowboy hats and huge smiles, ready for any Western adventures that might come their way.

For them, it was really all about the fun of the experience.

And that’s what it’s about for most of the shoppers in the Kemo Sabe store, or any of the three other hat stores in Jackson that offer a similar concept.

Western Moment To Shine

The West has been having a big resurgence lately, with shows like “Yellowstone” and “Longmire” ratcheting up the popularity of cowboy couture.

On top of all that, there have been blockbuster country music projects like superstar Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter.”

Her debut country album exploded several streaming records, including Amazon Music, where it had the most first-day streams for a country album by a female artist ever.

But the popularity of Western couture can’t be blamed on any one show or musical album.

It’s been building for quite a while now, according to Kyle Theret, owner of the Encounter Hat Shop in Jackson.

Like Kemo Sabe, Encounter offers a fully customizable hat experience. It might even have a little more customization than Kemo Sabe in some respects, given that Theret can use a 3D printer to design any kind of brand a customer wants for the final stamp on their creation.

When Theret started his hat-shaping business in 2016, most of his customers were what he described as “real cowboys.”

They had their beat-up, well-worn Stetsons for everyday work. But they wanted something “duded” up for special occasions.

“We’re doing these hats for everybody now,” he said.

And there’s no end in sight.

“We started out with real cowboys, but then I was doing high fashion,” he said. “We’ve done Paris Fashion Week and things like that. Then ‘Yellowstone’ came out, and there’s been all the music since then.”

Theret has a hat shop in Denver too, but the Jackson market is better.

“It’s the perfect place for a hat shop,” he said. “We get people traveling all over the country who have that sense of style. Real cowboys come to us because of the quality of shaping. But then we’re also able to attract people from cities who want to wear the hats back home. It’s the perfect combination for us and what we do.”

Putting Some Cowboy Spirit On Your Head

People are in love with the spirit that cowboys and cowgirls portray. There’s that independence, that don’t-mess-with-me attitude, that I’m-going-to-do-whatever-it-takes moxie.

It’s what makes a hero or heroine in any cowboy tale utterly irresistible. Who doesn’t want to put a little piece of that on their head, even if it’s only for a moment, and even if it’s in a trendy town with more tourist traps than rattlesnakes in the desert.

Making that spirit real “takes more than putting on a hat,” said Cowboy State Daily agriculture columnist and rancher Dennis Sun.

Not that he would tell someone not to wear a cowboy hat if they want to, he added.

“It’s America,” he said. “You can do that if you want to.”

He even thinks it’s kind of cool that people are getting with Western culture.

“It doesn’t bother us or anything,” he said. “You’re kind of recognized on the one hand, you know? And a (cowboy) hat seems to be pretty common now. You see them all over anymore.”

Still, he mused, wouldn’t it be odd if he walked around town with a blinged-up welding hat on?

“I’m not cutting down being a welder,” he said. “But I wouldn’t walk around town with a welding helmet on and say, ‘I’m a welder,’ and feel good about it.”

Would-be cowboys and cowgirls are also wise to be careful, Sun suggested.

“We do kind of laugh at some of the hats they buy,” he said. “And then you’ll notice down the road, some of them will have the hats on backwards!”

That’s happened with a few politicians over the years, Sun added.

“Years ago, a Secretary of the Interior was running around the country with his hat on backwards,” he said. “So, there’s a little humor in that for those in the cowboy world.

“But, you know, it’s good for the Western stores and the people making the Western clothing and hats. So, we’re all for it from that standpoint.”

Keeping Cowboy Culture Authentic

With so many desperate to be cowboy chic, it’s natural to wonder how to keep cowboy culture authentic.

It’s something Wyoming singer-songwriter Ian Munsick, with his motto of bringing the West to the rest, has thought a little bit about.

“The most important thing we can do to protect and preserve cowboy culture is to document REAL cowboys and cowgirls,” he told Cowboy State Daly in an email. “So much of what we see on social media and television in relation to the cowboy way of life is generated to make money or gain popularity.”

Those are two things that directly contradict what being a “real” cowboy is about, Munsick said.

“In this modern world we live in, people are craving the connection between mankind and the earth more than ever,” he said. “Places like the West, and specifically the Rocky Mountains, are the epitome of that lifestyle, so it’s no wonder we’ve been getting an influx of transplants.”

That makes education more important than ever, Munsick suggested.

“We have to educate folks on what a cowboy is and what being a Westerner is all about: respecting the land and respecting your neighbor,” he said.

Annaliese Wiederspahn, who restored the historic C.B. Irwin Barn in Cheyenne and is from a ranching family, is another who has been thinking about the recent popularity of cowboy couture and what makes a cowboy real.

She’s coming at it from a more historical standpoint, having studied figures like Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show, and C.B. Irwin, who had the world’s second most popular Wild West show.

“We sort of attribute it all to John Wayne and Hollywood,” she said. “But I think it undersells how much of even what was done by John Wayne and Hollywood and the genre of spaghetti Westerns was a play on what was originally done by people like Buffalo Bill and Charlie Irwin.”

She has mixed feelings about what she sees with the popularity of cowboys and girls and the West.

“There was time where the cowboy was getting pooh-poohed as being too hypermasculine or whatever, and it was out of vogue,” she said. “Which was so unfortunate, because culturally it’s so good and wholesome and awesome. To see it in the crosshairs of the cultural zeitgeist I think can be a good thing. But once again, how it’s shaped will sort of tell the tale.”

She hopes it will lead to Western stories that are more well-rounded that show a more modern context.

“I don’t think the West is a thing that ended when they put up fences,” she said. “There’s a little bit of that where the West is the West of yore, and everything we think about with it is just culturally stuck there.”

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What’s A Real Cowboy Anyway?

On the other hand, it can be difficult to pin down what a real cowboy or girl is, state Senate President and multi-generation Wyoming rancher Ogden Driskill told Cowboy State Daily.

“Cowboy authentic is kind of in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “Southern cowboys wear flat-top hats and you got, basically, Mexican culture with big saddle horns, and they probably think they’re more cowboy than what we are wearing, the more Wyoming style that’s, in our opinion, a more traditional cowboy style.”

Scarves around the neck, neatly tucked into a shirt, vests, boots — all kinds of items can fit in with cowboy style, Driskill said.

“Culture is a big part of it,” he said. “And I’ll tell you a funny story, but we were at a very high-end party on the other side of the state, and I showed up in my best cowboy gear, with a cowboy hat, my best boots and a white shirt and vest.”

No sooner did Driskill appear, however, than some of the second-generation ranchers at the party were scoffing at his gear.

“They proceeded to tell me that I wasn’t a cowboy,” Driskill said.

After Driskill asked them a few questions about how long they’d been in Wyoming, he asked if they knew how long the Driskill family has been in Wyoming.

“Our family’s been here for six generations,” he told them. “We’re who trailed the cattle here.”

Driskill’s family trailed cattle from Texas to the region around Devils Tower.

Pretty soon, others in the party joined the conversation, talking about their views on how “real” cowboys dress.

“So, it’s really interesting to hear the image and idea of what somebody thinks a cowboy is or should look like,” Driskill said. “And ironically, I will tell you that some of the best cowboys I know today routinely wear slip-on shoes and baseball caps. You would not know they’re a cowboy unless they’re going to an event somewhere.”

Overall, though, Driskill sees the popularity of cowboy gear as a good thing for Wyoming, however one might define “authenticity.”

“This is huge for Wyoming,” he said. “Wyoming is the Cowboy State, so anything that’s big with cowboys is a big deal for Wyoming.”

Cowboy gear, and the cowboy ways that go with that gear, have staying power, he added.

“The gear’s part of the culture and part of the people,” he said. “And they’re functional. You don’t see a whole lot of cowboys with skin cancer because it covers their head, and it keeps them out of the rain. Nearly all the cowboy gear is functional in some way, and it’s come through hundreds and hundreds of years.”

Renée Jean can be reached at

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Cowboy Fashion Is Hip Again And People Will Spend Big Money To Look The Part (2024)


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