Monday, May 04, 2009

May 4, 2009
Here's a question we of the clothing obsessed persuasion argue about incessantly: when did batwing chaps come into general usage?

The so-called batwing chaps are those really wide leather protective leggings, like these:

This photo is from an early Western movie, probably in the twenties or thirties. In recent years (1980s on), chap wearing cowboys in Western movies have been restricted to showing only shotgun chaps, like these:

They are called shotgun chaps because the legs are straight like the barrels of a shotgun.

Almost nothing makes a wardrobe expert snicker more than an actor wearing batwings in a Western. "Oh, that is so wrong. Cowboys didn't start wearing those until the 1920s," is how the usual wardrobe expert sniffs upon seeing this egregious gear in a period Western.

Well, then how do you explain this letter from Frederic Remington to Powhatan Clarke in 1889?

Remington mentions that these chaps—they are clearly batwings—have been in Arizona for some time (Remington had been in Arizona in 1887 and says, "There are a lot of cowboys in your country (Arizona) and you ought to be able to pick them up without much trouble.") So, by my calculations batwing chaps were being worn by cowboys in the mid-1880s, clearly inside the heyday of the American cowboy.

And yes, Remington used these "chapperras" for his famous painting: "A Dash for the Timber."

"Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right."
—Old Vaquero Saying

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