Passementrie of Santa Fe Lookbook Image, Pisac Ruana.
Fashion trends come and go with dizzying speed. There’s something delicious about finally leaving trends behind and choosing your own style. Easier said than done? Maybe not. Inspiration is everywhere. I found mine among the dry desert landscapes, rugged canyons, and history of the Southwest.
I know what you’re thinking… Is Southwestern style a real thing? Well, why not? The way I see it, Southwestern style has its roots in traditional Western wear and draws heavily from it, but its individuality lies in the history and craft traditions of its inhabitants: Particularly the Native American tribes of the Southwest, the Spanish Colonials, Mexicans, cowboys and pioneers of European descent.
You’ve seen examples of Southwestern style, probably without even thinking about it. Kitsch, over-the-top, and culturally insensitive versions abound at Coachella and Venice Beach. But real Southwestern style? It’s simple, rugged, earthy, durable, and eternal. Southwestern style finds its’ seasonal palette in the sculpted canyons, dry deserts, pueblo villages, fiery sunsets and intense blue skies. Its’ inspiration comes from historic images rather than music festivals. It’s authentic. And it never goes out of fashion.
Sounds good, right?
To get you started, here are ten timeless fashion essentials that form the foundation of a southwestern-style wardrobe:
Southwestern Textile Patterns
Bold, rhythmic, interlocking geometric and striped woven textile patterns are the hallmark of Native American, Mexican, and Spanish Colonial weaving traditions. While the Southwest Pueblo weaving traditions go back thousands of years, and the Navajo (Diné ) traditions were established long before the 14th century, their craft was influenced by each other and the 17th century Spanish settlers who introduced churro sheep and the four-harness loom.
Mexican Saltillo serapes, with their flamboyant colors and central diamond patterns, were common in the Southwest by the end of the 18th century and had their own influence on regional weaving designs. Hispanic weavers in Chimayó, New Mexico crafted striking woven blanket coats with bold geometric designs. Similar print designs can be found in clothing stores today, particularly for coats, scarves, and blouses. Navajo designer Shane Watson uses Pendleton geometric wool prints in garments to particularly stunning effect.
While their history is unclear, it’s thought that the first concho belts were adapted from horse bridle buckles used by Hispanics in Mexico. Native tribes of the southwest, particularly the Zuni and Navajo, eventually produced them for decorative use in hair, belts, and buckles. Jim Morrison of The Doors did his part to drive the late 1960’s and 1970’s craze for concho belts that continues unabated today. Authentic Native American concho belts can be purchased at better retailers such as Mac’s Indian Jewelry in Tucson and AllTribes online.
Ladies Victorian-Era Undergarments
Not exclusive to the Southwest, true, but just think of the “soiled doves” who sported the original “underwear as outerwear” as they enticed cowboys in rough western towns. It’s undeniable that the lacy garments mesh beautifully with retro-Southwestern style. And, well, creamy lace and cowboy boots or denim just look so right. Passementrie in Santa Fe, one of my absolute favorite boutiques in the Southwest, keeps a lust-worthy selection in stock.
Intricately tooled leather saddles, another craft tradition brought over from Spain, attested to the wealth and status of its owners. Over time, tooled leather found its way into belts, wallets, and purses. I have a weakness for the vintage ones that bear the marks of history. Some of the finest examples can be found in vintage stores all over the Southwest, such as Santa Fe Vintage, Wahoo! Santa Fe or Kowboyz in New Mexico. Online, Rockmount has some very fine tooled leather belts; I recommend the understated Black Dancers. Etsy has an ever-changing collection of vintage and contemporary tooled leathers as well.
Native Americans of the Southwest have been using this bright blue stone for over two thousand years. When the Spanish colonials introduced silversmithing to the pueblo Indians, a vibrant new jewelry tradition was formed. Authentic Native American jewelry can be purchased today directly from the tribes at the Santa Fe Indian Market, on sites such as Go Navajo, or from reputable establishments that have strong relationships with the tribes, such as Pueblo Direct.
Buckskin moccasins were originally worn only by Southwest tribes living adjacent to the Great Plains. Hard-soled moccasins, associated with the Western Plains and Southwestern desert tribes, protected feet from harsher, rockier landscapes. A brilliant Apache adaptation with a turned-up toe prevented cactus spines and rocks from piercing the seams at the front. Flash forward a few hundred years to the very British Kate Moss looking fabulous in Minnetonka moccasins at Glastonbury. An authentic southwestern-style pair, as seen above, can be purchased from the San Agustin Trading Company in Tucson.
Cowboy Boots & Hats
The Spaniards had a long tradition of stylish horsemanship which they brought to Mexico. In time, the style moved northward into the Southwest where it was adopted by cowboys. Both cowboy boots and hats were a practical necessity but evolved in style to suit the needs of men who rode long hours in inclement weather through thorny vegetation in rattlesnake country. The traditional cowboy hat, influenced in shape by the Mexican sombrero, kept sun and rain from the wearer’s head. Many of the original hat and boot manufacturers from Texas are still in operation: Stetson, Lucchese, Nacona, Tony Lama, and Justin. The most fashionable hat style today, often seen on Instagram, is the “Boss of the Plains” or “open crease” style hat, as seen below in this striking lookbook image from Passementrie of Santa Fe.
Born in San Francisco as a durable fabric for outfitting gold miners, denim quickly made its way to the Southwest, was adopted by cowboys, and has been a mainstay since. Denim styles have been in constant evolution since then. Try styling skinny jeans (as above) and straight leg jeans with cowboy booties, and bootcut jeans with traditional cowboy boots. If you want to be a Southwestern wardrobe purist, emphasize brands long-famous in the Southwest such as Levi, Wrangler and Lee Jeans. (Extra points for vintage!)
High-Necked Cotton Lace Blouses
Though not exclusive to the Southwest, breezy, high-necked cotton lace blouses were common in the Old West and prized by proper ladies swooning in hot desert climates. Give yours a tough-girl edge by pairing it with faded bootcut jeans and cowboy boots. Ralph Lauren frequently adds stunning Victorian-style lace blouses to his Western-inspired collections. I found my vintage lace blouse at Buffalo Exchange in Tucson.