The Denver Post - Western Wear Fans Add Flair with a Pair of Boots or a Whole Outfit

Western wear fans add flair with a pair of boots or a whole outfit

As they stepped off the escalator at the Denver Mart for the annual Western wear show over the weekend, visitors got an eyeful. Showrooms at the wholesale market were full of apparel in bright colors and patterns. Serape stripes were ubiquitous. Ditto for leather, fringe, ponchos and conchas.

Boots were studded, sanded, embroidered and dyed in every shade imaginable. Hats had tooled-leather trim and beaded bands. Silver belt buckles featured gold overlays, filigree work — and real rubies.

Pity the poor cowpoke who decides to show up at a party in plain jeans and a solid shirt, right?

Then again, no one expects anyone but a Western fashion fanatic to wear a number of these things at once. The point is, there are a lot of options out there if you want to add some Western flair to your wardrobe, and you don’t have to be a bull rider or a competitive barrel racer to want to adopt elements of the look.

Designers at the 92nd annual show produced by the Western & English Sales Association tended to refer to their clothes as suiting a “Western lifestyle,” or being “crossover,” meaning that you can wear a snap-front shirt with your contemporary jeans, or a pair of studded and inlaid cowboy boots with a classic dress.

“The customer for our women’s line tends to be eclectic in how she dresses,” says Stacie Westerhausen, merchandising vice president for Stetson apparel, which Karman Inc. in Denver is licensed to manufacture. “She’s not as likely as the Stetson guy to wear Western from head to toe.”

Other designers agree. “There’s a Western element, but it’s city and sophisticated,” says Tasha Polizzi, whose line is sold at such stores as Cry Baby Ranch in Denver. She suggests topping a favorite pair of jeans with a poncho in a tribal pattern or wearing a fringed skirt with a suede blouse. “It’s all in the mix.”

Ann Tobias, who started her Roja women’s line four years ago after spending the early part of her career designing evening wear on Seventh Avenue, is on a similar course. “My customer is anyone who doesn’t want to look like everyone else,” she says. “She’s a creative person and doesn’t follow trends.”

Tobias says she went back to her New Mexico roots in designing colorful knits and floral-embroidered blouses to wear over leggings and tights. Her ponchos were inspired by the serapes woven in Saltillo, Mexico, but done in a lustrous bamboo-wool blend fabric.

“Everybody has their meat and potatoes, but the new stuff puts spice into a retailer’s window,” said Steve Weil, president of Denver-based Rockmount Ranch Wear. He added a number of prints to his collection of men’s and women’s shirts and broadened the range of silk scarves and ties the company offers.

“We’re expanding in areas that show spikes, and our prints have done that, with ikats and Hawaiian patterns. We’re always looking for something fresh and innovative that’s not being done,” he said.

The company has also introduced shirts inspired by John Denver, snap-front styles in floral prints reminiscent of looks the late singer wore when performing in the 1960s and ’70s.

“The family asked us if we’d do them, so we’re introducing a limited-edition line,” said Weil, noting Rockmount has done similar ventures in the past with such performers as Hall & Oates.

Rockmount pioneered the use of snaps in Western shirts, a practice many manufacturers use today, including Stetson apparel. While Stetson started as a hat company, the brand now includes boots and apparel for men and women.

Retailer Shari Ross, owner of Tough Luck Cowboy in Boulder, said the designers she buys from had better offerings at the Denver market than she’s seen in recent seasons. She looks for details that set a garment apart from the ordinary when choosing menswear, stocking shirts by brands like Rockmount and Ryan Michael.

“They’re not just your everyday cowboy shirts; they have Western flair,” she said.

Ryan offers such details as snaps in the shape of buffalo nickels or stars, Navajo-inspired embroidery and whip stitching. Fabrics range from washed cottons to silk and linen blends.

Ross also wrote orders for footwear at the market, because that’s where an outfit starts for some customers.

“They don’t want plain brown boots,” Ross said. “They want something fun.” For that customer, she said she always keeps red boots in stock, and will be selling such styles for fall as Old Gringo’s shorty boots with a sanded suede finish and faded flowers.

Customers who love boots build a wardrobe of them, says Daniel Amado, vice president for merchandising at Lane Boots, which offers dozens of new styles each season. Boots will be embellished with overlays, embroidery and multiple colors as a reflection of what’s been happening on the fashion runways, Amado says.

The company added styles festooned with silver studs and crosses designed in conjunction with the high-end Western fashion brand Double D Ranchwear, some of them fetching over $900 a pair.

Price isn’t an object for some collectors of special Western pieces, such as the belt buckles and sets created by Texan Clint Orms. Orms crafts intricate works in silver, which are engraved and often overlaid with gold and precious gems, such as rubies.

Among his clients is fellow Texan Jimmy Walker, a professional golfer who wears Orms belts on tour. Walker waved to the crowd after making a winning putt at a recent golf tournament, his Orms buckle on display.

Proving you don’t have to ride a horse to appreciate Western style.

Suzanne S. Brown: 303-954-1697, or


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