Here in Britain, we've been sold the myths and romanticism of the American West so often that we've come to expect it, despite the incongruity of it all. Lee claim to be the "genes that built America", whilst Levi's latest advertising glut includes glossy images of "original wearers" such as "Julius, 69, rancher, Colorado".
However, there's one brand that has carved out a unique place in rural America's workwear and fashion markets. Essential cowboy and cowgirl attire these days includes a good pair of boots, a trusty set of spurs - and a pair of Wrangler jeans. They're endemic in the US, and are in many ways a symbol of the modern West, where the past meets the present and roping and branding sit quite comfortably alongside satellite dishes and pick- up trucks.
Today's Wranglers were originally designed in 1947 by a chap called Rodeo Ben. They were also designed for a purpose, and with particular people in mind. It's all in the name.
The double-stitched seam was moved to the outside leg, to avoid painful chafing during long hours in the saddle. The bottoms were cut to fit over boots, and the legs were cut long to keep the jeans on the boot whilst riding. This practical measure has become a point of fashion too - ankle- flapping Wranglers are not de rigueur.
Since the mid-Seventies Wrangler have been the official jeans of professional rodeo riders. They're endorsed by champion bull-riders such as Ty Murray, and big-time stars of New Country such as George Strait. They're everywhere. Living amongst ranchers, ropers and the rodeo fraternity, I readily succumbed to the inevitability of what to buy and set off for a large Westernwear outlet, in Missoula, Montana, to get myself kitted out.
It's easy to get distracted from the serious business of denim acquisition in a place like Western Sportsman. There are glitzy outfits, belts, buckles and more checked shirts than you can shake a stick at; boots galore, and plenty of hats and horse tack.
There were other brands of jeans in the store. But the sheer range and volume of Wranglers was staggering. An alarmingly friendly assistant, with a big, silver-grey hairdo and a fringed Western dress, managed to seem as if she really cared and delivered practical advice like I've never heard - "They'll shrink up maybe half an inch in the leg, honey, so go with long; we wear 'em long out here, you know". It's also reassuring that "out there", it doesn't matter how big you think your bottom is. They've always seen a bigger one.
I left 20 minutes later, unflustered, less than $30 poorer, and having undergone an enjoyable, distinctly Western and totally painless experience.
Back in London, I can't wear my new jeans for riding and wrangling, but that doesn't matter. And if in a year or so I need another pair, I'll gladly do the whole thing again. Unfortunately, the pounds 300 air ticket may just sour the thrill of it all.Reuse content