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4 facts about Western wear

Rodeo drive.

USPS will release its Western Wear stamps on July 23.  Here are a few facts about the four items of clothing featured on the stamps:

1. Cowboy boots were designed to be functional. When Americans headed West after the Civil War, men’s boots were often military footwear ill-suited to the new environment. The cowboy boot was designed to be strong, sturdy and cheap, and to make getting around on horseback easier. Among the adaptations were the Cuban heel — to keep feet steady in stirrups — and a scalloped leather upper, the easier to pull the boots on and off.

2. Cowboy hats are based on sombreros. Like so much of Western wear, the cowboy hat was based on the apparel of vaqueros, or Mexican cattle herders. Hatmaker John Stetson took inspiration from the sombrero, creating a felt hat with a smaller brim that still kept out the sun. His 1865 Boss of the Plainscaught on like a prairie fire.

3. Western-style shirts have Spanish roots, too. The yoking was inspired by the pleated guayabaras worn by vaqueros, the fitted shape was a holdover from Civil War uniforms and the fabric was denim because of its sturdiness. It was a paragon of practicality: Its longer length kept the shirt from coming untucked, and flaps kept pocket contents inside should the wearer hit a bumpy patch on the trail.

4. Levi Strauss helped popularize belt buckles. Buckled belts were a military tradition, and the only cowboys who wore them were veterans of the Civil War. Everyone else wore suspenders. Strauss broke suspenders’ hold over cowboys when the company started selling jeans with belt loops. The Texas-big buckles came after, designed for rodeo balls and other “fancy” occasions. The designs got bigger and bolder in Hollywood, and today, they still capture imaginations, and are prized as awards in cowboy competitions.

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