QUEERING THE COWBOY
ARE COWBOY HATS THE NEXT BIG QUEER FASHION STATEMENT?
Are cowboy hats the next big queer fashion statement? Well it looks like they already are. Leading the pack of country influenced fashion stars is Lil Nas X in his breakout single 'Old Town Road', featuring country music icon Billy Rae Cyrus. This spring American pop star Slayyyter has sported several cowboy hats in her video for the aptly titled 'Cowboy', and how could we forget this time last year during the first lockdown Netflix binge the self-proclaimed 'most prolific breeder of tigers in the United States' Joe Exotic hit our screens with an abundance of camp cowboy clothing and paraphernalia. Saddle up as we go on a trail of queer ownership, western fashion and a plethora of questionable cowboy related colloquialisms.
When we think of queer ownership, naturally we think of ballroom and the vogue scene (cue a Vannessa Hudgen’s meme of 'I'm so into voguing right now'). With categories like ‘butch queen’ and ‘femme queen’, this latest western fashion trend looks like it could have come straight from the ballroom scene for ‘Cowboy Realness’. Voguing, the queer dance style that was inspired from what was seen on the covers of Vogue Magazine and translated to the runways of ballroom - is a perfect example of how we as queer people have to take it upon ourselves to perform inclusivity in predominantly ‘straight’, dominated spaces. This method of interjecting 'queerisms', into parts of hetero-normative culture has been vital in opening up space for queer representation and maybe this western fashion trend is yet another iteration of this decade-old queer ownership.
The first stop in our Wild Wild West adventure starts with the OG women of country music who have their roots in camp. Reba McEntire, Shania Twain and of course Dolly Parton, all scream drag at first glance. When we think of these women and their styling it's beautifully adorned costumes, rhinestones and wigs so it's easy to see the correlation between that and queer culture (and why they have such big gay followings). Both Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus have given their consistent support to LGBTQIA+ people and also frequently features drag queens in their music videos and live performances.
Maybe we're a little too big for our britches in saying that country-western music and culture has directly influenced a whole generation of queer people today, but girl just look at that sourcebook! One of the world's most popular drag queens Trixie Mattel has taken queering the country-western to glittering new heights. She does so both through her aesthetic by referencing the glamorously ostentatious elements of classic country artists and also through her country-western music. Is she the first openly queer country musician? No, but she is the first drag queen to do so while also integrating queer themes into her country music and this year we've seen Drag Race UK star Bimini bringing the cowboy hat to the UK main stage.
It's come to that time on our trail where we have to pause for a moment to remember two icons that revamped their images with a cowboy turn. 2000's 'Music' saw Queen of Pop Madonna return to the top of the charts with an album full of western infused dance pop. 2016 saw Lady Gaga and the infamous Joanne era. The moment Gaga appeared wearing that baby pink cowboy hat with white trim on the cover of her album 'Joanne', the gays couldn't have turned on her faster. Who knows if she had come out with the Joanne era in 2021 perhaps it would have been a different story. Maybe the queer icon was just too early for her time with that one, ah Gaga, always the revolutionary. Justice for Joanne! And finally 2018 came Kylie Minogue's 'Golden' era. The Australian darling recorded a country disco album in Nashville and side stepped her way through the hit single 'Dancing'. While these women are not technically queer, they are of course major queer icons and their influence is undoubtable.
Lil Nas X is an obvious standout when it comes to this trend. Known for subverting expectations in the world of rap and doing away with the traditional performance of heteronormative masculinity that rap music generally perpetuates, Lil Nas X brings effeminacy to his public persona. It wasn't until his rap–country hybrid 'Old Town Road', where he came out and truly embraced his queerness in the public eye.
This came to sparkling fruition with his 2020 Grammys red carpet look. Oh that beautiful head to toe Versace Barbie pink cowboy LOOK! It featured a buckled leather harness over a mesh top, a cropped leather jacket, matching leather pants and pink cowboy boots. Of course this was completed with a cowboy hat and two silk scarves tied around his wrists. A powerful statement of owning his queerness after coming out but also embracing the pre existing camp elements of traditional country western dress.
Then we have Irelands own CMAT, although the musician doesn't identify as queer, she is definitely an outspoken LGBTQIA+ ally. CMAT has been a lover of the cowboy aesthetic from the get-go, from her more literal exclamation of love for the cowboys in her 2020 song 'I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby!' to her 2021 music video for the song 'I Don't Really Care For You'. During the dreamy western hoedown-esque dance break,CMAT is dressed in angelic white country western-inspired clothing, paired with, you guessed it, a cowboy hat to match.
And alas, that brings us to our destination in this country-western adventure! Maybe we'll see a lot more queer folk embracing country music in the future with even queerer cowboy fashion moments – and to that we say YEE-HAW!