How Western Fashion Became Bedfellows with Streetwear and Barbiecore
The Western trend is tightening its lasso around fashion.
Boot Barn president and CEO Jim Conroy in May called fiscal 2022 “one of the best, if not the best, years I’ve seen in my entire retail career,” as the retailer reported a record $1.5 billion in sales, breaking the billion-dollar mark for the first time. Each of the 52 weeks of fiscal 2022 saw sales growth greater than 55 percent on a two-year basis, with women’s apparel, boots, hats and accessories outperforming all other categories.
Sparked by a corral of pop cultural influences ranging from Dua Lipa’s 2021 rodeo-themed music video for “Love Again” to Beyoncé’s denim-clad Ivy Park x Adidas collection to Wrangler’s 75th anniversary, retail analytics firm Edited reports that consumer searches in the past year have “swelled for all things western,” including chaps, denim and cowboy boots.
Year over year, Free People grew its cowboy boot assortment by 179 percent in spring and Nasty Gal by 908 percent. Meanwhile, Zara introduced 13 styles in Spring/Summer 2022 versus zero the year prior, Edited reported. The Wild West is filtering onto the runway as well with Dries Van Noten serving Western shirting and shorts with cowboy boots, and Thom Browne closing out his Spring/Summer 2023 with fringe-embellished tweed chaps and coordinating cowboy hats.
Oscar-winning director Jordan Peele’s latest sci-fi thriller “Nope” has also beamed Western fashion back into the spotlight—but with a twist.
“Last year, we saw the Western trend receive an unapologetically sexy revival backed by Beyoncé, Lil Nas X, and Dua Lipa,” said Karis Munday, a retail analyst at Edited. “Now, we can expect Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope’ to shake up the aesthetic by blending modern elements with traditional styles.”
“Nope” mixes traditional Western style with a progressive streetwear edge. In the film, costume designer Alex Bovaird centered looks on accessible items like grungy jeans, hoodies, baseball and soccer jerseys, and worn-in baseball caps paired with cowboy boots. Ditching conventional ranch style, protagonist “OJ Haywood,” played by Daniel Kaluuya and his sister “Emerald,” played by Keke Palmer, favor graphic tees in their quest to maintain their family’s horse ranch. OJ wears an Air Jordan T-shirt, while Emerald sports a Prince T-shirt and Rage Against the Machine band tee.
“Viewers will be more inclined to mimic the authentically cool portrayal of the western trend versus its originally more gimmicky counterpart,” Munday said.
The film’s interpretation of Western may be the direction where retailers should go next. While chap-style jeans are a favorite among attention-hungry celebrities, Edited points to more wearable items to capitalize on the trend.
Washed denim and double denim are proving to be the foundational pieces for men’s Western looks. Edited reported that washed denim accounted for 51 percent of total jean styles from April 1-June 30, with baggy fits overtaking skinnies. The S/S ’23 runways added fuel to fire with Alyx, Prada and Greg Lauren giving “Texan tuxedos” sartorial makeovers.
Despite a recent downturn of new arrivals, several large retailers like Zara and Asos are investing in paisley, a print “commonly associated with bandanas” and “synonymous with the cowboy aesthetic.” The print is also key for Spring/Summer 2023 coordinates, like the ones seen on Amiri’s runway.
Men’s Western boots with square toes and short heels have the most commercial success, but there’s room to grow. “The cowboy boot style is in its infancy stages with the high street customer,” Edited stated. For a riskier consumer, the firm suggests swapping “square toe options for a pointed toe,” as seen from Y/Project and Celine.
Retailers are also encouraged to update the basic neutral-toned paneled shirt or overshirt with contrasting colors, embroidery and piped seams. In general, details like fringe, embroidery and studded belts give new life to men’s jackets, tops and jeans.
The next rendition of Western for women calls for corsets and miniskirts—‘It’ items that pull double-duty by fitting into festival and Barbiecore edits.
Retailer investments in corset tops grew 238 percent versus the same three months to June 30 last year as they homed in on regencycore and sexy dressing trends, but the lingerie-inspired piece also feeds into Western themes, Edited stated. Satin, lace and denim fabrications are among the most popular for corsets, but the firm noted that next year’s updates should include elongated bodices and lace-up closures.
The piping-hot miniskirt is proving to have legs. The Miu Miu-approved silhouette grew 15 percent in options between April 1-June 30 versus the same period last year, with denim styles up 42 percent and crochet and knitted styles newly emerged for the first time.
“When planning next year’s assortment, consider upselling with coordinating tops and opt for new design details, including low-rise styling, as investment gained momentum this season,” Edited stated about the skirt.
Accessories take a more thematic approach with cowboy boots and cowboy hats being the most important items for the women’s market.
Black and brown cowboy boots currently are the most favored colorway. The boot’s transitional appeal and growing popularity help it ward off discounts, even though the options have increased 567 percent year-over-year, Edited stated.
With the basics covered, Edited suggests retailers “take cues” from Jeffrey Campbell who saw majority sellouts on longer-length styles as well as rubberized wellies, which can offer consumers a lower-cost option for festival season.
“For retailers wanting to layer on more directional options, bank on pink hues to tie in with the release of Barbie next year to capitalize on its promotional opportunities,” the firm added.
While cowboy hats only make up 8 percent of “headwear newness,” Edited reported that options jumped 333 percent compared to last year as the “trend bubbled up across mass and mid-market retailers.” Straw fabrications in neutral colors are the most popular, but there are opportunities for retailers to add more color and embellishment for festival, Barbiecore and vacation edits.
Though cowboy hats make a big style statement, Edited warns retailers to think small when it comes to placing volume on the accoutrement, noting that sell outs have been minimal.