Sherrie Mathieson, style consultant


West Dressed

By Suzanne S. Brown
The Denver Post

January is typically fashion’s bleakest month. Winter sale merchandise clogs stores, and spring finery is a long way from ready-to-wear.

But as visitors from far and near descend on Denver to get their cowboy on at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo, through Jan. 27, purveyors of Western wear have stocked up for tourists, ranch families and Western fashion aficionados.

Yes, there are such creatures. A handful of local retailers specialize in hip, Western-themed clothing and accessories for customers in the market for fringed jackets and studded jeans, fancy belt buckles and snap-front shirts.

“Once a cowgirl, always a cowgirl,” says Shari Ross, owner of Tough Luck Cowboy in Boulder.

The Dos and Don’ts - Read The dos and don’ts of wearing Western.
“I grew up doing Little Britches rodeos in Boulder County and have always loved it,” says Ross, who opened her store two years ago.

What makes Western wear appealing to her grown-up customers, she says, is that they can personalize their wardrobes with such items as tooled boots or turquoise jewelry.

“There are a lot of fun things on the market that aren’t necessarily traditional Western” but fit into the Colorado lifestyle, she says. “People like to mix it up.”

Nostalgia sells

Roxanne Thurman, owner of Cry Baby Ranch in Denver, takes a similar tack. “We’re kind of cosmic cowgirl around here,” she says of her Larimer Square store, which carries velvet skirts from Double D Ranchwear, collectible silver jewelry by such artists as Coreen Cordova and $1,000-a-pair Liberty Boots. Thurman loves Western wear from the 1930s and ‘40s and looks for designs that recall the tailoring and fabrics of the era.

Both stores also cater to men, selling shirts that are either classic Western-yoked designs by such vendors as Rockmount Ranch Wear, or contemporary silk blend styles from such labels as Ryan Michael.

These store owners and others cater to customers who view Western wear as a lifestyle rather than a trend. And what they’re looking for is something that’s hip rather than hokey, items that feel authentic and are well-made: pieces like a hand- hammered silver buckle, not one that rolled off an assembly line in China. Boots that are tooled rather than stamped. Snap-front embroidered shirts based on vintage designs. Jackets with hand-twisted fringe. They want to wear special pieces, not a head-to-toe Dale Evans getup.

That overdone look gives Western wear a bad image, says Sherrie Mathieson, who spent almost two decades living in the Southwest before moving to the East Coast a year ago.
“People get misguided; they think the Nashville version is what they should wear, or they’ll wear the fake stuff,” says the costume designer- turned wardrobe consultant and author.

Mathieson learned to love authentic Western style and its melding of American, Mexican and Spanish influences, which is why she included examples in her book, “Forever Cool: How to Achieve Ageless, Youthful and Modern Personal Style, For Women and Men” (Clarkson Potter, 2006, $22.95).

Included in her visuals of “forever cool” and “never cool” outfits are Western-wear ensembles, a topic seldom broached in personal style manuals.

Homage to place

Mathieson contrasted a woman in a flowery blouse, broomstick skirt and cheap concha belt as an example of what not to wear, while its hip counterpart is a fitted western shirt and modern jeans.

“My feeling is to at least start off with items that have real authenticity. Get a good pair of boots in a leather or reptile. Find some great pawn jewelry or collect a piece or two at a time that’s high quality,” she says.

“There should be a homage to where you live; embrace the best of your culture,” she says. “Don’t get the superficial, touristy thing. I think most people could find (Western’s) beauty if they were more educated about it.”

Mathieson says she loves the look of a pair of modern boot-leg jeans, a white shirt and turquoise. Or the image of the older woman in her book swathed in a red pashmina shawl and piles of silver jewelry.

What to avoid? “Anything overdone, silly or too blinged out,” the image consultant says.
She has found great pieces in thrift shops, as well as from such contemporary designers as Ralph Lauren. Just avoid the watered- down versions, she says.

Steve Weil, designer and vice president of Denver-based Rockmount Ranch Wear, which is best known for its snap-front shirts, says he has a simple test for whether he’ll put a style in the company’s collection.

“We don’t make anything I would be embarrassed to wear - that’s been my source of inspiration since I began designing in the mid-1980s,” Weil says. “I design with my friends in mind and with the idea that you don’t have to look like Howdy Doody. You can wear a shirt and jeans or boots, or jeans and a T-shirt. It doesn’t have to be more than you’re comfortable with.”

Bill Garrels, publisher of Boulder-based American Cowboy magazine, says our romance with the West is a long-term love affair. “It’s an enduring spirit that people can connect with when they put on a pair of jeans or a Western-yoked shirt,” he says. “It lets you be a part of the lifestyle, even if you live in the city.”

Suzanne S. Brown: 303-954-1697 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Where to get your cowboy on

You’ll feel at home in boots and a hat any day through Jan. 27 at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo, 4655 Humboldt St. Tickets and information at or call 888-551-5004.

Other places to dress western:

National Western Parade, barbecue luncheon and fashion show, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. today, Wells Fargo Building Atrium, 1740 Broadway. Fashions from Corral West will be modeled by downtown Denver executives.

Western Boots and Briefs Fashion show, 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Skyline Park (16th and Arapahoe streets) Models will wear boots, briefs and underwear from such brands as Stetson, Roper and Cinch. Presented by getyourself and American Cowboy magazine.

Country Showcase, 5:30-10 p.m. Jan. 24, Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson St. Tickets $13.75 for general admission; $100 for VIPs. Bull-riding competition, entertainment by the Railbenders and others benefits Concerts for Kids. 303-605-2885

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