Here at Denim Dudes when we think of Rodeo we think of Wrangler. The brand is at the epicenter of American cowboy culture: from ranch workers and barrel racers to bullfighters and rodeo queens.

Gerardo from Ventura, shot by Matthew Reamer

Since their birth in 1943 (an extension of the original company, Blue Bell) Wrangler have had strong links with the world of Rodeo. They tapped local legend, Rodeo Ben, who operated a very successful western wear store in Philadelphia, to develop the 13MWZ jeans, known today at the infamous “Cowboy Cut”. With the help of Ben and his cowboy companions, Wrangler gained the trust of the rising westernwear community, a tie that remains strong to this day.

That first Cowboy Cut not only still exists, its still hugely popular. I even own a vintage pair myself! It has a higher rise, a looser fit and longer inseams giving cowboys the ability to sit comfortably and move freely while in the saddle. The back patch pockets were placed higher up so cowboys wouldn’t sit on their wallets while riding, the belt loops were made slightly larger to accommodate thicker belts and of course those hefty trophy belt buckles! This new style of jeanswear took the rodeo world (and rest for the world) by storm and Blue Bell would now forever be known as Wrangler. 

My very own Wrangler butt, in my vintage pair of 13MWZ’s, shot by Matthew Reamer

Fast forward one year later to 1948, and Rodeo champion Jim Shoulders was signed on to endorse the brand. In 1950 they introduced the first ever women’s western jean, the 80W; which became revolutionary for moving the side zipper to the front. By 1974, Wrangler had become the first and only western wear brand to be endorsed by the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association.  

This year, rodeo is having a big moment in the world of fashion and trend. Stylised interpretations of traditional western dress tap contrast yoke detailing, exaggerated fringing and a nostalgic, 90’s attitude. In his track, Old Town Road, Lil Nas X proudly proclaims he got his cowboy hat from Gucci and has “Wrangler on my booty.” 

Alongside Old Town Road topping the charts, Lil Nas X dropped a collaboration line with Wrangler and western styling was busy dominating the runways, so we were curious to learn more about today’s genuine cowboy. Enter the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas

In 2001, Wrangler became the exclusive title sponsor of This annual event, a sponsorship that still remains to this day.  Alongside the NFR at the Thomas and Mack Center, several other major events also took place in Las Vegas last week; the Bullfighters Only Championships outside the iconic Tropicana hotel, the World Series of Barrel Racing and Breakaway Roping and The World Series of Partner Roping, hosted at several equestrian centers in and around the South Point Hotel. And we can’t forget about Cowboy Christmas, another total, ‘everything western’ take over of the massive Las Vegas Convention Center. 

It’s hard to imagine the typical LV experience full of glitz, gambling and ‘The Hangover’ behaviour sitting comfortably alongside genuine cowboy culture but that juxtaposition is kinda what attracted us. So last week, we rose at the crack of dawn, donned our cowboy boots, our 13MWZ’s and grabbed our photographer Matthew Reamer and went in search of the real thing in the city of sin. As we approached the strip, a dusty field of horses and indigo caught our attention. We swung off the freeway and navigated our way through hotel driveways and side roads until we arrived at a sprawling trailer-town of horse boxes and stables…. and a whole lotta blue denim. This obscure field on the edge of town may not have been the Thomas and Mack Center, but it was certainly where we wanted to be: where there be horses, there be cowboys! 

Even though the competition was intense, we experienced nothing but smiles and comradery within the community. Shot by Matthew Reamer

 

Not your typical LV line-up. Shot by Matthew Reamer

My first takeaway from this experience is that the Western scene is friendly af. Men tipped their hats, offered us rides on their golf carts to the stables, told us about events and venues, hell, we even got offered sandwiches and beer at lunch time! We spent a whole day in a sea of Wrangler asking a lot of questions and soaking up the culture of this unique, tight knit yet huge community. Here’s what we learned:

“Dress sharp, Rope sharp” – Lucas Hogue

We loved this phrase from Lucas Hogue, competing in the World Series of Partner Roping. These people are in competition mode so they may be wearing denim but to many, the Wrangler jean isn’t complete without a clean crease down the center. Many dudes team their perfectly pressed jeans with a clean, smart button-down shirt too. This is the Oscars of Rodeo so it’s important to make an impression! Cowboys use starch to keep their creases perfected, however Lucas complained that this makes his jean less mobile in the saddle and he prefers the feel of an un-starched jean. It’s Vegas though, baby! So despite the discomfort, Lucas was pushing through 😉

A World Series of Partner Roping competitor, starched, creased and ready to compete. Shot by Matthew Reamer

“Stack ‘em High”

A true cowboy cut has to be worn long and ankle stacking is rife in this community. Most Wranglers were worn pretty box-fresh and clean, only accentuating the stacking further. The styling cue has a very simple explanation: when sitting on the horse your jean is naturally going to ride up and cowboys are very particular about how much boot should be on show. For the boots to be neatly covered, the length needs to be that much longer, hence the ankle stacking. Once we’d learnt this fact,  all we could see were stacks.

Stacking at its finest, at the South Point Hotel’s equestrienne center, shot by Matthew Reamer
Denim n leather, shot by Matthew Reamer
Even at a young age, these cowboy babies are effortlessly mastering the art of stacking their Wranglers! Shot by Matthew Reamer

The 20X

We’d heard about the classic 13MWZs and the 936s but spotted a new jean in town, one that, unless you’re at a Rodeo event, or out in the sticks on a ranch, you might not normally see. That jean is the 20X and it’s a modernised rodeo jean. We talked to young and accomplished roper, Lance Stevens, who told us the 20X fit is slightly looser and longer than the traditional Cowboy Cut jean, and after seeing these dudes in action, you can tell they need all the mobility they can get.

Mr. Lance Stevens ready to rope! Shot by Matthew Reamer

True Blue

Despite the dust under our boots, we couldn’t help but notice the vibrant indigo mid-tones of most riders at the rodeo. Raw dark tones were rare, as were worn-in vintage jeans. Instead riders opted for rinsed, tonal mid sky blue with no whiskering or fades. We talked to Vivian Rivetti, the global head of design about this unique shade:

“From our origins in 1947 when we first built and crafted our jeans for cowboys, the indigo cast was a ‘high blue’ mid tone indigo, which was authentic of indigo denim in the 40’s. We are always grounding ourselves around Wrangler Blue when we address new washes and shades. It’s Cowboy Cool, it’s iconic and we cherish it. It is so recognisable and continues to be part of what make a Wrangler Jean a Wrangler Jean, especially for the cowboys! This iconic cast continues to be authentic to us and separates us from the rest!”

Mid-blue perfection, shot by Matthew Reamer
Morty, shot by Matthew Reamer