Pictures of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling dressed retro-kitsch cowboys, respectively, that were taken from Barbie’s set, quickly circulated online. The two blond leads of Warner Bros.’ live-action movie will bring the most recognizable variations of Mattel’s fashion doll to the screen, will let us in a reflective tale set in the plastic and painfully flawless world of “Barbieland.”
The first uniforms worn during filming harken back to the “Barbie Gran Rodeo” collection from 1981, which featured the country version of Barbie dressed in a cowboy bonnet and bubblegum lipstick to tame her platinum blonde hair. The film’s aesthetic, which is already a year away from its planned July 2023 release, appears to be based on a specific pink-schocking interpretation of the Country/Western aesthetic, conjuring a cowboy world that has always enchanted the fashion industry but that, beyond its vintage charm, also has a complex story to tell.
With the clothing of the best-selling fashion doll in the world from 1980s, the rodeo look, which has always been a representation of exploding masculinity from the time of John Wayne to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, will have a camp “translation.” However, in the 70s Dolly Parton, was the western-style blonde doll before Barbie. With her sequins, shocking pink suits, and cottony hair, the Tennessee country singer erased the rurality of the cowboy with a series of outfits that romanticized the Wild West while also conjuring up both traditional and modern imagery. The Ukrainian designer Nuta Kotlyarenko, who became a citizen of the United States under the name Nudie Cohn, created this look for Dolly Parton as well as for Elton John, Elvis, and Liberace. She is responsible for virtually all of the western suits covered in fringe and crystals from the 1960s and 1970s, leaving a legacy that continues today. Miley Cyrus’ godmother successfully infused her signature style into the pop world with plaid blouses and plunging necklines.
As can be seen from the several movies with John Wayne interpretations, being a cowboy had actually always been associated with exhaustion, extreme physical exertion, and financial hardships in a background of rural living and countryside scenery light years removed from today’s western-glamour image.
From the 1960s onward, spaghetti westerns, gave a popular vision that presented a harsh and occasionally brutal world, far from the romanticized West of Americans, which revolutionized the cowboy figure’s image and propelled the idea to the height of popularity. The “ugly, dirty, and bad” westerns film with Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone, as well as the camp of American country artists who instead declined their shapes in favor of baroqueisms made of embroidery, crystals, and bright colors with descents that continue to this day – such as the style of Lil Nas X – are evidence that the western aesthetic captured both the traditional imagination of menswear.
From the middle of the 1960s onward, the underground scenes saw a comeback of western style among the first LGBTQ+ communities, which eliminated the notions of toxic masculinity through innovative, radical, and bold clothes. This was due to the materialization of the imagined camp. With movies like Rio Grande, which represented the genre’s latter stages of development in the 1950s and 1960s, the western had already deviated significantly from its historical roots to become an ornamental musical romance.According to Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp, the sexual revolution of those times was all about kitsch and parody. All those alterations to working-class male clothes, especially the cowboy hat, found themselves in the camp’s sights along with the Art Nouveau furnishings and Istrian makeup. This was made possible by a movie that, in 1971, anticipated The Secrets of Brokeback Mountain’s setting and sparked audiences’ interest. George Englund’s Zachariah, a Western film, was about the camaraderie of two young cowboys who will go on to be dubbed the “antiheroes” of the genre.
Zachariah was the first movie in history to spark discussion on homosexual issues, which had never been discussed in a newspaper before, amid sentiments of peace and love. From that point forward, rural aesthetics started to take on unforeseen meanings, first shaped by prejudice, then blending with the fashion of street centaurs to give rise to new subcultures based on homosexual fantasies.
The term “cowboy” has finally achieved a permanent place in the world of fashion at the turn of the new century, leaving behind the many kitsch references and provocative clichés. In addition to the The House on the Prairie-inspired costumes worn by Chanel during the Pre-Fall 2014 show and the cowgirls “who can’t do without bows” from the SS10 collection, Karl Lagerfeld offered playful and overtly feminine interpretations of western aesthetics. Hedi Slimane was inspired by Californian fashion, but he made the cowboy one of the main suggestions for his reinvention of Saint Laurent, preferring an androgynous and sophisticated approach that defies any gender preconception. It was during his leadership that the Wyatt boot was developed, in which the boho-Losandian style known for its wide-brimmed hats, fringes, and oversized clothing was introduced.
The codes of western aesthetics have been permanently grafted into the language of contemporary menswear by Slimane’s revolutionary stylistic work, which exported it from its original American fashion culture and romanticized the connections it had with surfing, rock, and in general with that reinvented imagery of masculinity typical of the work that Slimane performs.The Wyatt boot, for instance, had the advantage of fusing western culture with mod and rock ideas by taking the sole and heel of cowboy boots and grafting them onto the traditional English Chelsea Boot. Slimane thus succeeded in persuading hundreds of thousands of men to wear heels without even realizing it. Three of Slimane’s most iconic collections stand out at Saint Laurent’s SS15, with leathers, amulets, and fine fabrics that elevate the cowboy style to an unattainable concept of luxury. The cowboy boot that Slimane redesigned for Celine, the model of which is named Jacno, was present at Celine’s final Paris fashion show.
All of this was also on display during the recent men’s fashion weeks, where the country trend was represented by clothing and accessories that distanced themselves from the notion of the traditional herdsman in order to approach a flowing and priceless atmosphere that was much more like to Ken’s attire. Let’s start with the chaps, which is short for “chaperreras,” the gauchos’ overpants, which, starting in the middle of the 1970s, rose to prominence as a significant symbol of sexual liberty and one of the main accessories of the leather and BDSM subcultures.
In actuality, the transition from the “Gay Rodeos” of the 1980s to Prince’s lace chaps in 1991 was swift. Chaps, who were given the most strength by Jean Paul Gaultier, were the stars of Thom Browne’s most recent collection. They appeared in a highly sensual denim form as well as in the psychedelic ranch of the SS23 in Casablanca, which was surrounded by pastoral embroidery and worn with matador attire. Then, on the most admired catwalks in the fashion industry, a prohibited accessory with a contentious past makes a comeback to set the rules and dispel the absurd stereotypes that have surrounded the cowboy look for decades. And even though transgression now seems to have been theorized in every situation imaginable in terms of fashion, the image of the outlaw cowboy will always be alluring.