Vintage Cowgirl Fashion: The Toughest Clothes in the West

Cristen Conger

Although the golden age of rodeo lasted from 1919 to 1929, says the National Cowboy Museum, that cowgal style has stuck around both on and off the ranch since. popped in and out of fashion long after. In 2005, for instance, New York Times Style section reported on the cowboy boot fever du jour, describing the Western footwear as "a moderately subversive statement." But kicking around in a pair of Fryes is nothing compared to the head-to-toe cowgirl style, featured in LIFE magazine in April 1940.

With so much detailing on that long-collared blouse and pristine piping on the pants, those duds couldn't have come cheaply.

The interior article profiles Marge Riley, a Wyoming ranch dweller with a closet full of "fringed suede jackets, brightly colored chaps and knee-length split skirts." Riley started making her own cowgirl fashion and opened shop in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Riley's boutiques were one-stop shops for well-heeled customer to pick up suede-fringed getups, along with studded belts and hats. How so much suede mixed well with warm climates, I'll never know. Then again, I've only been on the back of a horse one time so maybe I'm just now cowgirl enough to get it.

Those outfits are nothing, however, compared to Wild West performer Lulu Parr. Parr joined up with the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show, and allegedly earned the title "Champion Lady Bucking Horse Rider of the World." Well hot dawgee! That feat is even more impressive if you consider that Parr would've been riding buck while wearing something like this:

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