In the early 1980s, I was a young reporter at the Colorado Springs Sun (since subsumed by the Gazette).
One summer--perhaps in conjunction with the annual Pike's Peak Rodeo--the order came down to "dress Western" for the day.
I was a business/financial reporter, and my usual working dress was khaki trousers, button-down shirt, tie, etc. On the staircase, someone--maybe the head of advertising--confronted me about my failure to dress as per the memo.
"Look," I said, "I'm a Colorado native, born in the San Luis Valley. If I'm wearing something, it's 'Western.' Now, if you don't mind, I've got work to do."
Cheap sophistry, to be sure, but he had no comeback for me at the time.
Even though it was invented by commercial interests in the 1940s, I have no problem with "Western wear," as long as it is not turned into a corporate dress code.
What other part of the country has a true regional look? Hawaii, maybe. Coastal Florida. Wisconsin (plaid on plaid).
Take the bolo (also "bola") tie, another product of the 1940s. I think I picked up my first one when I was 21, working on a sort of arty Taos, New Mexico, construction crew, and I needed something to wear to dress-up events, like poetry readings at RC Gorman's gallery.
Of course, an event like that, sponsored by a gay Navajo artist . . .. whatever you wore was always on the edge between hip irony and "Western". That's Taos.
So I had my cheap stabilized turquoise bolo, and later my more expensive turquoise bolo, not to mention the 1980s hip, ironic, cast-resin longhorn steer bolo, perfect for Austin music venues, had I ever gone to Austin.
I steered away from the massive beadwork variety, generally worn only by Indian tribal council members and certain anthropologists, and also from those proclaiming membership in any organization.
This being America, bolo ties became politicized on several levels. Some East Coast fashionista once said they reminded her of shriveled genitalia, which comment led, as I recall, to some diatribe about retirees in Sun City, Arizona.
A recent photo of Sen. George Allen, R-Virginia, showed him wearing one at an informal fundraiser. Democrats seem nervous about the "Country-and-Western" connotation, unless they are Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colorado). (Note top left photo.) You figure that everything a politician wears has some calculated connotation.
Is it OK to just "dress Western" now and then?