As sure as you’ll find an honest-to-goodness cowboy in spurs at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, so too will you the finest urban-western duds – from five-figure custom boots to heirloom-quality buckles to a Silver Belly Stetson. It’s as clear as a Corral Club shot of tequila that well-heeled city slickers know how to embrace this three-week invasion of country and western culture in style.
Mary Ellen Verbois’ devotion to the rodeo started in 1974. Now on the Trailblazers and International committees, you can bet she has some gems in her closets. She pulled from an assortment of concho belts with American-mined turquoise and coral accents to demonstrate how a gal can accessorize a simple blouse and jeans.
“We used to dress to the nines. It’s very hard now to wear a total suede outfit,” said Verbois, who said attire has evolved from formal to casual now that the rodeo extends into Spring Break. “I’ve gone through all the changes and the styles. Years ago, it was the Native American squash blossom necklace that was in. Rodeo style has transitioned so much, and now that you have concho belts and jewelry you can take anything and make it western.”
Gerry Waters, a marketing consultant who works with local refugees, is newer to the rodeo scene but has become an avid fan since moving to Houston from England 15 years ago. Her brother-in-law is a professional rodeo cowboy.
“When I moved to Texas, I thought rodeos were just done for tourists in ol’ cowboy towns,” said Waters. “The first time I came to Houston, I went to the rodeo and I was completely blown away.”
She has embraced the culture and fashion. “I’m not a glitzy dresser, and I don’t like a lot of bling. I like earthy, authentic and very strong colors, usually browns, blacks, reds and turquoises. I’ve got some big turquoise jewelry. But I love Emily Armenta – her jewelry is really strong and fantastic for accessorizing with western wear.”
A jacket is a must for Gerry’s getup, and her favorites include apparel by Double D Ranch, suede by Scully or Paparazzi by Biz with intricate embroidered detailing. She is inspired by what others are wearing.
“I love the beginning of the rodeo when everyone is walking in looking their very best. Everybody is different. There are purists who wear tiny skirts and incredible boots and have the beautiful legs in between.”
Her 10-year-old daughter Thalie’s ranch-wear collection is growing too. “I have a jacket with fringes and brown boots that have stitched design on them,” said Thalie. “I have some fantastic leggings that I wear. We have a lot of fun shopping together.”
Fashion has become such a big seller at the HLSR that there is a waiting list for merchants to get a booth. This year, 350 were awarded coveted spots.
Pat Mann Phillips, director of energy services at Revenade, spends countless volunteer hours at the rodeo on the board of directors and as founding chair of the Tours Committee, but her western sense comes from experience on the farm and four decades of helping run a family-owned farm and ranch store.
“My wardrobe is probably considered pretty eclectic because I daily mix a lot of western and or Ralph Lauren-esque clothing into my traditional wardrobe,” said Phillips. “Comfy leggings and a tunic, from just about anywhere, make a great foundation. As long as you have a few good accessories, boots, jewelry, maybe a vest or scarf, you can put together a fun western outfit. Boho looks mix in well. Tunics are popular and everywhere. And don’t forget to check out the sale rack in the men’s department. Consignment shops will often have a good variety of seasonal boots, jackets, hats and handbags.”
Chris and Anne Richardson know a thing or two about style. She is the 2010 recipient of the Pearl Trailblazer Award, which honors top rodeo volunteers, and he serves on the Executive Committee. They have a suite at Reliant Stadium that they entertain in almost every night of the rodeo. Her “rodeo closet” is made up of racks of clothes that take up most of the third floor of her townhouse.
“When you get a bunch of women together, there is going to be fashion that happens,” said Anne Richardson. “It’s a fun environment, and you can get out of your box when you get ready for rodeo. I like to bring out some relics, and they’ll still work. You don’t even have to have a big huge western wardrobe – you can just accessorize to make things western.”
“Sure there is some fancy dress, but western clothes really have a practical purpose,” said Chris Richardson. “They were used for protection of the cowboy – the jackets used to keep him warm, the hats to block the sun and the scarves to protect from all the dust. It’s part of our Texas heritage.”
Rodeo has been a longtime family affair for the Richardsons. Their daughters, Christan Fuqua and Leslie Denby, both work the Trailblazer committee, along with their husbands. Matt Fuqua is chairman of the Junior Lamb and Goat Auction Committee. Many committees have moved toward vest uniforms, but it’s not stopping men from taking rodeo accessories seriously.
“We have a nice rodeo vest we wear. It’s also a way to show what you’re working on – it’s a badge of honor,” said Fuqua. “I have a couple vests I like to wear, sports coats and jackets, but the buckles are a big deal. Customized belt buckles represent certain levels of money that have been raised.”
This year the Fuquas gifted each other a pair of custom-made alligator boots for their 10th anniversary. Matt actually shot the alligator and saw it through the tanning process. But nothing beats dressing up their three little boys.
“Some of the most fun we have is getting our kids duded up,” said Matt. “They love walking around wearing their chaps and hats, and we’ll get them a rope.”
Brock Wagner, owner of Saint Arnold Brewing Company, decided nothing would be better than custom-made boots with hops on them, the flowering part of the plant used to make beer. He took his idea to Mike Kuykendahl of Tejas Custom Boots in Montrose, who has been making boots for 25 years, and they spent months brainstorming the idea. In the end, it was the normally useless piece of skin from a crocodile’s foot that proved the key. The scales had the same texture as the leaves on the hop cones.
“They’re awesome. People love them,” said Wagner. “I wear them to the brewery a couple of days a week. I have always loved wearing boots. I was the one kid wearing boots to high school in Cincinnati. I have always loved the outdoors and hiking, and I love going to the rodeo and looking at all the livestock – even the chickens are oddly compelling.”
Some of the more glamorous and creative rodeo fashion doesn’t come from ranch-wear stores and instead has a biker edge.
Jacki Cosgrove owns Azuz, a clothing boutique in Rice Village.
“We don’t have any western wear. We have items that you can wear to the rodeo and be in style and current, then go and wear it to brunch the next day. It’s as easy as taking a crocheted hand-dyed dress or a blouse made with chain mail and putting it with boots and jewelry, and you’re ready for the show,” said Cosgrove.
John McAleer, owner of the popular Buffalo Grille, is comfortable in boots and jeans year round. The member of the Judging Contest Committee, Tejas Vaqueros Trail Ride and Valley Lodge Trail Ride is happiest on his family-owned land outside Houston. But he won’t let you label him a bona fide rancher.
“I’m not a cowboy. I’m not a city slicker. I’m in between – I’m a Texan,” said McAleer. “I’ve got about four different hats, and I’ll buy cheap ones. I keep it real simple and classy. I usually wear [custom] M.L. Leddy’s boots with khakis and white button-down shirts. I like dressing just like my granddad did.”
He has lovingly held on to some heirloom pieces like buckles and jackets passed down from his grandparents. “I don’t consider myself a fashionable person at all. But my grandmother used to always get voted best dressed.”
Jason Christopher Maida of Maida’s Belts and Buckles, just back from a big jewelry conference, says the big hype is all about turquoise. “American-mined turquoise pendants hanging off of gorgeous sterling silver beads but stacked up – that is the jewelry buzz right now,” said Maida. “Not just one necklace, but maybe two or three of different lengths.”
Michelle Wasaff, daughter of Mary Ellen Verbois, chair of the Trailblazers Committee, is a full-time working mom of two. Her stylish rodeo fashion sense is all about easy and sophisticated.
“If I’m going to something that calls for cowboy chic attire, then I’m gonna go buy a cocktail dress and pair it with my tall boots because those are more elegant. Then I’ll add a hat with some jewelry,” said Wasaff. “Anything like lace, crochet, or anything with texture always works. Even your work blazer can be made to look western with accessories. Confidence can pull anything off.”
Fashion show March 13
Rodeo-goers are invited to the Rocking the Rodeo Runway Fashion Show in Reliant Arena, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 13. The show is included in your livestock-show admission. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo runs March 4-23 at Reliant Park. See rodeohouston.com.
Editor’s note: Photos were shot at the Louis M. Pearce, Jr. Board Dining Room at Reliant Park.
Want more buzz like this? Sign up for our Morning Buzz emails.
To leave a comment, please log in or create an account with The Buzz Magazines, Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Or you may post as a guest.