On cowboys and Republicans

By Phoebe Maltz

This is not debatable: at least in the United States, the left is better dressed than the right. On the left, there are actors and urbanites, French expatriates and young people. On the right, there is an array of less hip types sporting shoulder pads and high-waisted khakis. For every college kid looking perfectly disheveled, a pin declaring that War is Not the Answer on his frayed blazer lapel, there is an overly bathed college man in an ill-fitting button-down shirt declaring his love of low taxes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If there can be hippie chic, there can be cowboy chic. In fact, as those of you who follow fashion already know, there is cowboy chic. As those of you who really follow fashion already know, cowboy chic had its moment and has since faded away like a pair of Wranglers. All sorts of people with little day-to-day interaction with cows–Sheryl Crow, Madonna, and even New York City high school students–were wearing cowboy attire just a few years back. Now, Sheryl Crow wears a sequined antiwar shirt, Madonna’s piped one has disappeared, and New York teens have removed their oversized hats. The look, like all trends, is never gone forever, but is waiting, along with side ponytails and revealed underwear á la Marky Mark, for its next revival.

The red states of America should take this opportunity to reclaim the one stylish outlet they have. Cowboy fashion is the right wing’s best bet if it would like to approach the chicness of the wing to its left. Cowboys wear tight jeans and high-heeled boots, yet come off as somehow butch. That makes the look the very definition of nuance, and thus cutting edge. While the cowgirl look can verge on trashy, when pared down it beats most variations of the hippie and bohemian looks any day.

There is nothing inherently conservative about cowboy clothing. It is often shiny and colorful, and, like high fashion, requires a lean build. A fringed leather jacket looks almost far-left, until one notes the number of animals killed to produce it. The unabashed use of leather in the cowboy wardrobe does not distinguish it from several other looks in no way associated with our nation’s leader. Leather fetishists and James Dean imitators are not known for their enthusiasm for vouchers and school prayer. Clothing vegans are only a small percentage of non-Republican America.

Currently, “cowboy” is a derogatory term, especially when applied to our president. A cowboy treats other countries like misbehaving horses. A cowboy knows nothing of life outside the West. Yet cowboys, unlike preps or bankers, are not known to be members of an elite class, and therefore need not be regarded as oppressors. Thus the cowboy should be the ideal symbol of the compassionate conservative–rough on the outside, sensitive on the inside, and all that. Given the added benefit of the chicness of cowboy style, as noted above, conservatives would do well to shed their Brooks Brothers and Ann Taylor and replace those respectable rags with sturdy jeans and pointed boots.