Cowboys are amongst some of the most recognizable figures in history. If we asked 100 people to picture a cowboy in their mind, it’s very likely they’d picture very similar images or elements.
Of course, a good cowboy is nothing without their trusty hat, their boots, and maybe even a light bandana around the neck.
However, one of the most often forgotten elements of cowboy attire is chaps. Not many people even know what chaps are, let alone that they even had a name. And even fewer people have a clear idea of what exactly it is that chaps do.
So what exactly are chaps? Why are they so popular amongst cowboys, both in the past, and through to this day? And what exactly is it that they do?
These questions are likely cycling through your head like a herd of wild buffalo, right? Well, let’s wrangle them up and put them to rest, why don’t we?
Join us down below as we explore exactly what chaps are, what they do, and why they continue to be so immensely popular and iconic.
What Are Chaps?
Chaps refer to an element of a standard cowboy outfit which is designed to cover the legs.
They are often worn right above a pair of sturdy pants or jeans, and they very often do not offer any cover for the crotch or bottom area of the wearer.
You might recognize chaps from their iconic flared shape, and the various tassels that hang off of the side. These extra elements can have a function in some cases, but very often they are there for design purposes.
Chaps are designed to have flared bottoms in order to protect the entire surface of a pair of riding boots, to keep them looking great, even in the worst conditions.
Why Do Cowboys Wear Chaps?
So why exactly do cowboys wear such exaggerated coverings over their pants. The general purpose for chaps is to protect the wearer from the outside world.
Working with horses can be extremely dangerous, and while riding them, you’ll likely encounter a lot of varying terrains.
Naturally, as a horse gallops forward, they will kick up various bits of dirt and debris, which could hit the rider accidentally.
Chaps help to protect the rider from facing the brunt of the debris, so that not only do their pants come out the other end looking brand new, but their legs also come out unscratched and unharmed.
Chaps also protect a rider’s legs from scrapes and scratches from taller or higher hazards, such as cacti, or mosquitoes.
This makes them an incredibly valuable piece of kit for a cowboy, and also explains why you have likely seen them worn many times, despite not knowing what they are for.
What Are Chaps Made From?
Chaps have been made from many differing materials over the years. Modern chaps are most commonly made from cow leathers, which are easier to produce, and can be made in larger quantities.
Slightly cheaper chaps may be made from faux leathers, or plastics, to still provide adequate protection without costing too much to produce.
Historically, chaps have been made from materials as far reaching as sheep skins or bear skins, which will have been cut from animals hunted by the cowboys themselves.
Leathers and other products made from these skins can prove to be very durable and protective, and may even prove much warmer than cow leathers.
Why Do Cowboys Still Wear Chaps To This Day?
Generally, chaps are still worn to this very day because of the benefits they provide. Chaps are able to protect cowboys and horse riders from debris and scrapes, and also help to keep their pants clean and free of holes!
And it cannot be denied that chaps are rather iconic in their own right. If you wanted to create a full cowboy look, you’d likely want to include some chaps.
This is another reason that modern cowboys, to this day, still continue to wear chaps. Chaps can really add a dramatic flair to a look, thanks to their wide legs, and the tassels that are commonly found on a pair of good chaps.
Why Don’t Chaps Cover The Bottom Or The Crotch?
This is likely to make chaps slightly more comfortable to wear. The two legs of the chaps not being connected over the crotch or the bottom make it easier for the wearer to move around,
as they are not being restricted by the leather that makes them.
It is also aids in horseback riding, as it allows the rider to be closer to the horse, so that they can get into a more natural rhythm while riding, so that both the rider and the horse are comfortable over the course of a journey.
Chaps are an iconic part of the stereotypical cowboy aesthetic. However, they aren’t just there to look good.
They serve an important role in protecting the rider, while also still being very comfortable and light to wear, so that they don’t feel restrictive, and so the rider can still ride perfectly atop their horse.
Chaps are often made from animal leathers, even to this day, as they are very sturdy, and help to protect the rider from flying debris as they ride, as well as scratches and scrapes from things such as cacti or rocks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do The Cowboys Wear Spurs?
Cowboys wear spurs in order to get closer in touch with their horse. Cowboys can lightly tap their spurs onto their horse to communicate that a horse should speed up, turn, or slow down.
Spurs can be used with a light touch so as not to harm the horse when they are used.
Why Do Cowboys Wear Handkerchiefs Around Their Neck?
Handkerchiefs help to keep cowboys warm, as they can be worn high on the neck, or even just over the chin, to keep winds and cold air from reaching them.
Handkerchiefs can also be worn over the lower half of the face, to keep sand from entering a cowboy’s lungs on a ride.
Why Do Cowboy Boots Have Heels?
The heels of a cowboy boot help to keep a cowboy boot from slipping forward in a stirrup. This helps to keep a rider stable and upright as they ride, which makes a journey more smooth for both the rider and the horse.