How to dress C&W

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The Independent Culture
Britain's Country and Western clubs are places where you can feel seriously underdressed if you're not careful. Go into a C&W joint anywhere from Cornwall to Caithness and you'll find women set up as Annie Oakley lookalikes, squaws, or as saloon girls in red taffeta dancing dresses. The average C&W male, meanwhile, comes dressed in all sorts of cowpokery; checked shirts, waistcoats, bandannas and stetsons are only the basics on which are based a thousand subtle, and sometimes authentic, variations.

So when he's signed up to spend a year travelling among, and writing about, Britain's lost cowboys, what can a man do but join the posse and get clad in the relevant gear? From London the direction is, of course, west, to Hounslow, where Mr and Mrs Chadha (Indians of course, though not that sort) own and run a store called Weststar. Weststar is 20 per cent joke-shop, but Country FM radio blares out on the in-store stereo in the other 80 per cent, and the place is awash with everything an aspiring cowboy could possibly need.

Stuff to wear is what first catches the eye - tasselled suede jackets, cattleman western shirts with embroidered confederate flag motifs, leather waistcoats; not to mention racks and racks of bolos - shoelace ties - the sine qua non of the smarter cowboy's evening-wear. The other essentials cover the boys' extremities - Weststar has beautifully-tooled boots for one end and a range of stetsons and 10-gallon hats for the other. For about pounds 10 you can even have a full Indian head-dress; in off-yellow plumage, the shop sample had a slightly homemade look.

There are plenty of weird bits and pieces of paraphernalia to be picked up, from General Custer toby jugs to throwing knives, from tomahawks to John Wayne photographs, from Civil War replica caps to Last Rebel brand cigarette papers. It becomes a bit of a challenge to find anything without a slogan. "Ride to Live, Live to Ride", says a bucking bronco belt-buckle; an Indian pow-wow T-shirt offers "Invaded But Not Conquered"; while available for bumper-sticking is the redneck rallying call, "If Guns Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns".

The shop sells guns, of course, though not the sort you do any real damage with. Some are for the general user - there is a stock of air rifles, for instance, and some pretend magnums and other blank-firers. But what really catches the eye is the stock of western replica pistols. Almost all western clubs run shoot-outs or quick-on-the-draw contests; Weststar supplies guns, the barrels of which have been blocked up but then drilled out, or "filtered". As a result, the gun can emit a spark small enough to harm no one but big enough to make a loud bang and burst a balloon at three paces.

"The business is doing well," Mrs Chadha says; the upsurge of interest in line-dancing has helped, of course, but the holsters and Indian beads and all the other western stuff sells well, too. When the Chadhas travel to festivals, no one is surprised any longer at Asian involvement in so redneck a scene; C&W people recognise their interest, she says, and ignore their colour.

Unfortunately Mr Chadha is not in when I call, but his wife tells me that, when she first met him he was "really into" the western scene. I'll have to go back. I feel like I've just missed meeting that mythical western figure, the Indian cowboy.

Weststar is at 167 Staines Rd, Hounslow, Middlesex (0181-570 6575). There are independent dealers nationwide including: Rawhide, 6 Albert Rd, Southsea (01705 822640); Ken's Western Store, Epping, Essex (01992 522473) and Eddie G's at Watford Market (0181-428 3554)

Stephen Walsh is currently researching and writing 'Heartache Spoken Here: Country and Western Journeys' for Penguin Books

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