Wild West trend gets the Beyoncé boost

The pop star might be responsible for the surge after her latest album

13 May 2024 - 09:13
By Sandiso Ngubane
Beyoncé 'Cowboy Carter' album cover.
Image: Supplied Beyoncé 'Cowboy Carter' album cover.

Years ago I wrote an article stating I don’t see any evidence to support the idea that Beyoncé has had an influence on fashion that is measurable against her peers such as Rihanna. I laid out my case well, supporting it with facts about clothing sales and what, until then, had been her less than admirable record regarding style.

It was probably in about 2015 so I don’t take any of that back, but I do have to acknowledge things have changed a lot since then, and it has everything to do with her latest album, Cowboy Carter

“This ain’t Texas”, she sings on the lead single, Texas Hold 'Em. The lyrics ring loud in my mind as wide brim hats, bolo ties, boots, denim, fringed accents, leather trims and other Western, cowboy-inspired fashion staples proliferate the mainstream. If it isn’t Texas — per Beyoncé — it sure looks as if the trend some have referred to as “cowboy core” is making a return, with the entertainment juggernaut that is Beyoncé giving it a jolt of new momentum.

You may have heard about the 32-time Grammy winner’s latest album, considering it has been breaking music industry records since its March 29 release. Cowboy Carter became Spotify’s most streamed album in a single day, a record recently broken by Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department. For the purposes of fashion, let’s aside set the numbers and look at the cultural impact instead. 

Beyoncé nodded towards the trend starting with 2022’s Renaissance. In some visuals from that album run she is perched on a horse (earning her the “Horse Lady” social media moniker), wearing a silver-sequinned wide brim hat. The disco cowboy vibe was a fixture of her many wardrobe changes on the Renaissance Tour, and fans at every stop followed suit with their own interpretations, largely sticking to denim or metallics regarding fabric and colour.

She carries the aesthetic — and perhaps explores it more fully — in the current era. On the cover of Cowboy Carter she wears red, white and blue leather. The album marks her full foray into country music, having teased the genre with Daddy Lessons, a song from her 2016 project Lemonade.

Solange Knowles
Image: I-D Magazine, Tim Walker Solange Knowles

Black cowboys

As a Solange Knowles fan, I must note it is Queen B’s younger sister who first dabbled in Americana from a visual perspective. She explored such themes and aesthetics in the visuals accompanying her 2019 LP When I Get Home.

“I did a Calvin Klein campaign that centred about Americana,” Refinery 29 reported her saying at the time.

“I remember getting the mood board and seeing interpretations of Americana. Not even on any controversial sh*t, it was just funny to me because all the cowboys I know were black.”

In case your curiosity is peaked, you can read more about “The Lesser Known History of African-American Cowboys”.

At about the time of Solange’s album, Americana influences were showing up in menswear, and the Wild West was experiencing a resurgence in popular culture. Think the HBO series Westworld and Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road hit single, which like Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter raised issues about racism in country music. 

The trend may have caught on more fully were it not for the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, which necessitated lockdowns around the world and changed the course of fashion trends towards a more relaxed aesthetic. It seems to be catching fire now.

From Pharrell Williams' Louis Vuitton Western inspired collection.
Image: Supplied From Pharrell Williams' Louis Vuitton Western inspired collection.

Wild West styling made a triumphant turn on the runways with Pharrell Williams’ sophomore collection for Louis Vuitton.

“It was an honour to get a chance to do something about the West and Western workwear vibes,” he told reporters at Paris Fashion Week earlier this year.

“When you see cowboys portrayed, you see only a few versions. You never really get to see what some of the original cowboys look like. They look like us, they look like me, they look black, they look Native-American.”

Vogue magazine reported on the show: “Leather and denim ensembles were embroidered, fringed and flowered, accented by horse-riding cowboys and cactuses. The key takeaway were the accessories, from cowhide patterned bags to bolo ties, intricate belt buckles and, of course, classic cowboy hats and boots.”

As recently as two weeks ago, retail journalists were reporting a surge in sales of Western boots after what CNBC termed “the Beyoncé bounce”. Sales were said to have jumped 20% week-on-week since the release of Cowboy Carter.

Though she isn’t the originator of the trend’s renaissance, her star power has much to do with the mainstream trajectory. Never mind country music’s newfound fans, people I can’t imagine would have ever cared for the genre before she, Solange and the likes of Williams reminded us of the wide-ranging cultural influence of African-Americans.