Fashion Statements: urban cowgirl | Calendar | Chicago Reader

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Fashion Statements: urban cowgirl

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Attorney Carin Kogan came galloping down Michigan Avenue saddled up in cowboy couture. Her trappings yippee-yi-yayed a tune called Urban Cowboy as she followed the path beaten by the fall Glamour and Mademoiselle stampede. She even managed to follow all three commands of the drive: go west, dress like men, wear cows.

But our Fashion Vigilantes, always on the lookout for mavericks, were suspicious. Was this outfit branded OK Corral or did it ride out of the Badlands? They lassoed her look to study the markings up close.

Riding tall in the saddle is a dress western shirt with the traditional contrasting yoke and embroidered curlicues. It's the sort of getup roughriders usually save for rodeos; a plain old curve-pocket snap front does fine for serenading stray cattle. Of course, Kogan's covered buttons and twill slacks tip us off she's no country caballero but a smart city slicker dressing the part.

Ranch meets range in the hunting jacket, a style created when early frontiersmen, wearing loose open-collar "farmer's smocks," trampled over Native Americans in their fringed deerskin tunics. The more cowboys and Indians got to know and loathe each other the more their clothes began to look alike. By the early 1800s the American buckskin hunting jacket, a hybrid of the two styles, was de rigueur for cowboys, Indians, and Europeans imitating the latest New World fashion. Today, the suede or leather construction, dropped shoulder line, and fringed capelet haven't budged a stitch.

Our high rider stoops to the swamp for the finishing touches. The loafers, another look wrangled from Native Americans, are stretched from crocodile skin. A narrow band of lizard skin slithers through the belt loops. And tiny alligators crawl from ear to ear.

Does this outfit draw some creepy parallel between the extermination of the Indians and the ongoing slaughter of endangered species? Does it turn a blindered eye and shrug a heavily fringed shoulder at such unnatural selection? It seems a good bet. In this Columbus-centric year the Fashion Statement reads like a backlash against politically correct animal-rights activists and bleeding-heart anti-imperialists: "I prefer my earth round and my animals flattened."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yael Routtenberg.

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