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Rodeo Ready or Rodeo Rookie? Depends what you’re wearing

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Written by Horse Rookie

Wondering what to wear to the rodeo? (Spoiler Alert: It takes more than boots, chaps, and cowboy hats to fit in!)

Aside from the occasional trail ride, I didn’t dip my boot into the western world until well into adulthood. When I moved out to Montana, bought a cow horse, and started saying “dude,” it was clear I’d caught the western bug bad. The local stampede rolled around that summer, and I wasn’t about to miss my first official rodeo. (I couldn’t wait to wear my gorgeous Old Gringo Cowboy Boots!)

Your first rodeo can be an unforgettable experience, and it’s easier than you think to fit in. Here are 8 rodeo fashion essentials you’ll love wearing long after 8 seconds is up. (Read on for our full rodeo fashion guide.)

  • Cowboy Boots: Kicking up your heels is a lot easier in the right boots (e.g. leather, heels, pointy or square toe).
  • Blue Jeans: Ladies and gents break out their best blues for the rodeo, and most attendees error on the snug side.
  • Cowboy Hat: When it comes to tipping your hat, cowboy style s the only option for true rodeo fans.
  • Button or Snap Western Shirt: Plaids, stripes, patterns, and paisleys are all fair game as long as it’s collared with buttons or snaps. Bonus points for fancy accent stitching.
  • Leather Belt: Whether you need help holding up your britches or not, a leather belt needs to be part of your rodeo outfit.
  • Silver Belt Buckle: While not societally “required,” a sweet silver belt buckle helps complete the look.
  • Statement Jewelry (Ladies): No rodeo outfit is complete without at least one piece of statement jewelry like a chunky turquoise necklace or leather bracelet.
  • Neck Scarf (Gents): Complete your look with a tasteful neck scarf. If it’s blazing hot, a handkerchief stuffed into a back pocket is a handy accessory.
western girl

Photo Credit: Brittney Chambers

Now several years into Montana living, I still love to hit up the local rodeo each year with family and friends. (I’ve even been invited to try out for the mounted drill team… stay tuned!)

Simply put: This ain’t my first rodeo (anymore), and the fashion guide below will make sure it doesn’t look like it’s yours either.

Check out our Rodeo Essentials Amazon List for everything you need for the big event!

Rodeo Attire & Why It Matters

If there’s one pattern I’ve noticed across all sporting events, fans go for ambiance and socializing as much as they go to watch what happens in the arena. Rodeo is no different.

Gravel crunching under your boots, the scent of freshly popped kettle corn, and the pinging of dirt against metal bleachers as the pickup men race down the fence to rescue a bronc rider is all part of the experience.

Feel like something is missing? Why Don’t Western Riders Wear Helmets explores why many rodeo riders unfortunately don’t protect their noggins.

For spectators across all walks of life, a rodeo is also the perfect excuse to flaunt their favorite western fashion. That’s why you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you show up in khaki pants and a polo shirt. (Gasp!)

But, with a little guidance, you can put your own personal touch on some rodeo fashion classics and fit right in. Read on for our full rodeo fashion guide!

Begin with the Boots

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Boots are (quite literally) the foundation of any great rodeo outfit. While you could throw on your favorite pair of everyday ranch boots, complete with four years of dirt and the unmistakable eau de manure, most rodeo fans take it up a notch.*

You’ll see folks rocking their best boots for the big day–the “fancy” pair they save for special occasions like church, weddings, and nights out on the town.

At least five of my friends own Old Gringo’s Bonnie Western Boot and LOVE them.

For me, that can only mean one thing–it’s time to get out my Old Gringos. To say that I love my Old Gringos would be an understatement. (That’s probably why I own three pairs…)

They live in a special corner of my closet, pristine and protected. But, when the rodeo rolls around, I’m heading to a wedding, or I want to look extra cute around town, these are my go-tos.

Because Old Gringos are super high-quality boots (and priced accordingly), I’ve had the best luck getting a good deal on Amazon. That’s where I bought both my Gabachos and Cabazorros. (Check out the Old Gringo collection at Amazon for yourself.)

My third pair of ankle boots have been discontinued, but are very similar to the Old Gringo Glamis Short Boot.

Check out our 9 best boots for western riding if you plan on swinging into the saddle yourself!

*There are exceptions to this “rodeo rule.” Competitors and volunteers typically wear their everyday boots because they’ll be riding, trudging through dirt, and no one is going to be looking at their boots when they race past on a bucking bronc!

Best Rodeo Boots for Ladies

Leave those knee-high numbers at home. Mid-calf boots are your best bet, though you can swap in ankle boots if you decide to wear a dress vs. jeans. (More on that later.)

Stick with real leather, and pick boots with a bit of accent stitching for visual interest.

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BTW, “beauty over pain” shouldn’t apply to cowgirl boots. Pick a boot that’s comfy so you can focus on fun, not foot pain!

Check out 20 Fashionista Tips: How to Wear Cowboy Boots in the Summer for more advice about how to look your best.

  • Only the Best ($$$): You already know what I’m gonna say. Go with Old Gringo, and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. This brand is built to last for many years and are impeccably crafted. Plus, they fit in perfectly whether you’re cruising in your truck on backroads or strutting around the big city, so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
  • The Midway ($$): If you want a brand-name boot that’s authentically western but doesn’t break the bank, go with Ariat. (I have a few pairs of Ariat riding boots, and they’ve hold up very well.) If you’re more of a low-key fashionista, you might prefer their subtle designs anyway. Ariats always look super cute poking out from the bottom of your boots.
  • Gets the Job Done ($): Looking fashion forward on a budget is a bit harder, but it can be done. Ropers are my go-to boots when I don’t want to spend a lot of money but still want a boot that’ll survive regular wear without falling apart. The styles aren’t as fashionable, but you can make up for it with the rest of your outfit.

Find our favorite boots for each of these brands on our Rodeo Essentials Amazon List.

Note: Remember to check out our 9 best boots for western riding if you plan on swinging into the saddle yourself.Comfortable Cowboy Boots

Best Rodeo Boots for Gents

Per usual, guys have it easier. You can keep it simple on boot design, and don’t stray too far out-of-the-box. Stick with a classic western style vs. work boots, and stick with brown if you want a more versatile boot you can wear again in the future.

As with women’s boots, comfort is key. If you want to focus on having a good time, you can’t be hobbling around on pinched toes and rubbed-raw heels.

You can’t go wrong with Ariat boots. These are arguably the most popular western men’s boot–and for good reason. They’re classic, comfy, and undeniably country.

Their Rambler boot is a great place to start, but I also love-love the look of their Midtown if you prefer a shorter boot.

New to riding in general? Check out our blog about What to Wear Horseback Riding to dress the part.

Best Rodeo Boots for Kids

I don’t have kiddos of my own, but I still know a good kid’s boot when I see one. If you’re heading to the rodeo with a little buckaroo, here are three great children’s cowboy boots:

  • Roper Fringe Boot (Sad they don’t make it in my size!)
  • Smokey Mountain Jolene Pull On (Decorative stitching reminiscent of Old Gringos.)
  • Ariat Kids’ Workhog (You can’t go wrong with Ariat quality and comfort.)

Find each of these recommendations on our Rodeo Essentials Amazon List.

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Denim Dos and Don’ts

All jeans are not born equal, especially when it comes to proper rodeo attire. Yes, you want to be comfortable. No, that doesn’t mean you should pull on your oldest, saggiest pair of blue jeans from your closet. Remember, we’re talking rodeo!

rodeo-wear-jeansSimilar to boots, fans typically wear their nicer jeans. After all, you’re there to have a good time (not rope a steer), socialize, and embrace your inner cowgirl or cowboy. You want (your butt) to look good doing it.

For me, I prefer a dark wash bootcut jean when I head to the rodeo. The darker color helps my shirt color pop, and dark wash looks great with boots. These Ariat jeans are my favorite style these days.

Denim Dos for Ladies:

  • Snug Fit: It’s time to show off your figure (whatever your body style!) with a nicely-fitted pair of jeans. Super baggy or shapeless denim does you no favors. If you can’t find the perfect fit, simply opt for a stretchier denim.
  • A Little Bling: If you like a little bling, consider your back jean pockets your canvas. (Front pocket edge bling is OK, too.) Bling jeans are totally appropriate and encouraged at the rodeo. Shine on!
  • Bootcut: My everyday riding jeans are stretch skinnies I can tuck into my boots. But, I prefer a bootcut jean when I’m hanging out at the rodeo.

Flying Monkey Super Soft Dark Wash Skinny Jeans are my go-to riding jeans and tuck into my boots smoothly.

Denim Don’ts for Ladies:

  • Excessive Ripping: You can get away with some light (intentional) rips, but don’t wear jeans that look like you were attacked by a tiger on your way back from concessions.
  • Black Denim: I understand “blue” jeans come in other colors, but not at the rodeo. It’s blue or bust, so save your creativity for accessories.
  • Torn Hems: Those jeans with the scruffy, filthy seam where your boots have torn them apart for years? Leave ‘em at home.

Denim Dos for Gents:

  • Snug Fit: You’re not going out for beers at the tavern with the guys, you’re going to the rodeo. A rodeo teeming with cute cowgirls 🙂 This is the time to snug up your jeans (at least a bit) and dress for the occasion.
  • Medium or Darker Wash: Medium or dark wash should be your go-tos, and they’ve got to be blue. None of those “other denim” shenanigans.
  • Bootcut: Maybe you’re a dude who can pull off skinny jeans with the best of them, but bootcut (or straight leg if you’re a bootcut-hater) is the name of the game at the rodeo.

Denim Don’ts for Gents:

  • Cuffs: Please don’t cuff your jeans. It may be fine (sometimes) in daily life, but not at the rodeo. Buy a pair of pants that actually fit. No cuffs required.
  • Cracks: The rodeo is a crack-free zone. That’s what belts are for. Pull. Up. Your. Pants.
  • Cargo Pockets: This isn’t a construction site. Leave your cargo pants at home.

Find each of these recommendations on our Rodeo Essentials Amazon List.

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Hold Onto Your Hats

The rodeo is one sporting event where no one sitting behind you will ask you to remove your hat so they can see better. No only are you welcome to flaunt your favorite hat, you’ll enjoy seeing a wide variety of other hat styles and materials on display. 

Photo Credit: Erin Brown

Fur Felt / Wool Felt Cowboy Hats:

If authenticity is your top fashion priority, go with a fur felt cowboy hat from a trusted brand like Stetson. They’ve been making hats for more than 150 years, and they’re the most popular cowboy hat brand in (dare I say) the world.

You’ll see a LOT of Stetson hats at the rodeo.

Stetson also makes high-quality wool felt hats. In fact, my favorite cowboy hat is the Stetson Gallatin Crushable Wool Felt Hat. The dark sage/grey color goes with everything, and the subtle leather band is adorbs.

Plus, as the name implies, it’s made to get smashed, stepped on, and rolled before going back to its original shape as though nothing happened.

Talk about a perfect cowboy hat for traveling…and rodeo fans with kids!

Wondering what size you wear? Check out this sizing chart from Stetson.

Straw Cowboy Hats:

If you’re not sure a full-on cowboy hat is for you (yet), straw hats are totally fine. A popular choice for ladies and gents at the rodeo, you can find a wide variety of shapes and styles that are typically less expensive than the fur felt and wool felt hats.

straw western hat

Photo Credit: Brittney Chambers

This was the first hat I ever bought in Montana, and I still have it to this day. It’s my first choice for summertime when you want the breeze cooling you down as much as possible.

Plus, the adjustable chin strap helps it stay on if the breeze picks up more than you expected.

Baseball and Trucker Hats:

It seems like a “cowboy” hat would be the only acceptable style at a rodeo. Though they are the most popular, to be sure, it’s also OK to wear a regular baseball hat or trucker hat if you prefer.

I’m a little obsessed with the design of this trucker hat for guys.

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Rodeo Shirts: Got You Covered

So you’ve won the rodeo trifecta and have the perfect boots, jeans, and hat. That’s a great start, but now it’s time to complete your look with the perfect rodeo shirt.

horseback-riding-wear-rodeo-shirtDepending on the weather and your personal preference, you can choose a long-sleeve button-down or snap shirt or a fun western/rodeo tee. Both are equally acceptable, and you’ll see plenty of each in the stands.

If you want to really look the part, however, you’ll want to go with a button-down or snap long-sleeve shirt.

Find all our favorites on our Rodeo Essentials Amazon List.

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Best Rodeo Shirts for Ladies:

You’re looking for plaids, paisleys, or solid colors with fun accent stitching or (a little) bling. My favorite shirt brands are Ariat, Panhandle Slim, and Cowgirl Up. (I literally just looked through my closet, and all except one of my western shirts are from those brands.)

Of course, you can never have enough clothes, so there are still a couple on my wish list:

  • Ariat Lottie Snap: A nice black western shirt is worth its weight in gold. The white accent stitching on the shoulders and back is subtle.
  • Panhandle Slim Blue Arrow Print: How fun is this?! Need. Now.
  • Cowgirl Up Vintage Washed Plaid: Rolled-up sleeves with a different accent fabric on super popular in the rodeo scene.

If I’m in the mood for short sleeves instead, here are my top rodeo tees:

  • Vintage charcoal ain’t my first rodeo
  • I love Jesus but I cuss at cows
  • Ride ‘em cowboy
  • Actually, this is my first rodeo
  • Always pick boots over heels

Find each of these shirts on our Rodeo Essentials Amazon List.

NOTE: From time to time, I feel like wearing a nice western dress instead of jeans and a shirt. Just keep your hats and boots to complete the look!Comfortable Cowboy Boots

Best Rodeo Shirts for Gents:

You guys have it easy. Everyone looks good in a nice long-sleeve western shirt! Stick with a classy plaid, solid with accent stitching, or subtle paisley, and you’re good to go.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Ariat Classic Button Down
  • Ariat Fitted Button Down
  • Rodeo Clothing Co. Cowboy Pearl Snap
  • Cinch Modern Fit Plaid

If you’re more of a t-shirt guy, here are my rodeo tees for guys:

  • Sorry for what I said when we were working cattle
  • Trust your neighbor, but brand your cattle

Find each of these shirts on our Rodeo Essentials Amazon List.

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It’s All About the Accessories

Once you’ve got your boots, jeans, hat, and shirt picked out, gents are pretty much done. For ladies, we’re just getting started! Now it’s time to accessorize.

Rodeo Accessories for Ladies:

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  • Jewelry: Arguably the most fun accessories are jewelry. If this is your first rodeo, I recommend a turquoise statement necklace and/or bracelet. (Here’s the silver Navajo turquoise bracelet on my wish list. Santa, are you paying attention?) Or scoop up a thriftier “This ain’t my first rodeo” turquoise bracelet.
  • Jean Jacket: Let me save y’all some time. After buying several jean jackets and hating all of them (boxy fit?!), I stumbled upon the PowerFlex Jean Jacket from Liverpool at Amazon. This is by far the comfiest and cutest jean jacket I’ve ever owned, and I wear it all the time. You can also roll the sleeves (they stay up), wear it buttoned or unbuttoned, and it holds its fitted great. Plus, no ironing required 🙂
  • Purse: The worst feeling is when you’ve gotten the perfect outfit together only to realize none of your purses look good with it. Your best bet is a versatile brown fringe purse. It’ll go with everything, and be fun long after the rodeo lights go off.
  • Belt / Buckle: A leather belt is a must for any rodeo outfit. Bonus points if you add a cool silver or brass buckle. This simple Ariat was my first real western belt, and it was perfect for the rodeo and everyday riding. Or, you can explore the fun colors and designs of C4 belts at Amazon.

Read about why I finally ended my 30-year belt boycott in my C4 Belt Review.

Rodeo Accessories for Gents:

rodeo-wear-buckle

  • Belt and Buckle: Guys, you need to wear a leather belt. You also get bonus points for adding a silver or brass buckle (but not required). This is my favorite Ariat belt for men, but there are plenty of other styles if you’re hankering for something different.
  • Neck Scarf: A neck scarf is entirely optional, but if you’ve got a killer outfit going that seems to be “missing… something,” this could be the answer. You can choose anything from a simple handkerchief to a fancy silk pattern.

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Rodeo Dress Code Violations (a.k.a. What NOT to Wear)

OK, it’s not as serious as all that. But you’ll definitely fit in better if you follow the fashion advice in this article. 

Here are a few things to avoid: 

  • Yoga pants (We have an entire blog answering the question, “Can I wear yoga pants horseback riding?“)
  • Tennis shoes
  • Sandals or flip flops
  • Fanny pack (don’t wear one of these anywhere)
  • Hiking boots
  • Floppy hats (e.g. fishing hats)
  • Cutoff shirts
  • Cargo pants
  • Tees with offensive graphics or vulgar language
  • High heels

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What Else to Pack

Now that you’ve got the fashion quandary well in-hand, here are a few other essentials you should make sure to pack for your first rodeo:

  • Cash (some rodeo vendors may not accept credit cards)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Seat cushion (trust me)
  • Water (if allowed)
  • Snacks (if allowed)
  • Chapstick
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Kleenex
  • Camera (or iPhone)

Check out our article about the 8 Best Horse Cameras so you can capture every special moment.

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Rodeo Basics FAQs

Walking the walk is one thing. Talking the talk is another. Brush up on some of the most common rodeo rookie questions below:

Q: Is there any rodeo etiquette I should follow?

Cheer for everyone! Rodeo is a very supportive sport, and fans show every competitor (and animal) appreciation regardless of performance.

Be respectful. You can have a beer or two, but this isn’t the type of sporting event where you get drunk and belligerent. Rodeos are very kid-friendly, and spectators are there to have fun. Good, clean fun!

Every rodeo opens with the National Anthem. Remove your hat and place it over your heart.

Q: What should guys wear to a rodeo?

This article gives you plenty of advice for men’s fashion, but here’s a recap of the basics:

  • Cowboy boots
  • Blue jeans
  • Cowboy hat
  • Long sleeve button or snap western shirt
  • Leather belt and belt buckle
  • Neck scarf

See our men’s rodeo fashion favorites on our Rodeo Essentials Amazon List.

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Q: What should girls wear to a rodeo?

This article gives you plenty of advice for women’s fashion, but here’s a recap of the basics:

  • Cowboy boots
  • Blue jeans or jean skirt
  • Cowboy hat
  • Long sleeve button or snap western shirt
  • Leather belt and belt buckle
  • Statement jewelry

See our women’s rodeo fashion favorites on our Rodeo Essentials Amazon List.

Q: What do you wear to a rodeo if you don’t have boots?

If you don’t have boots, and prefer not to buy a pair, no worries. 

The best alternative footwear is a pair of Twisted X moccasins.

This brand is a favorite among equestrians, and you’ll still fit in perfectly at the rodeo. Depending on your lifestyle, you may simply get more use out of these loafers than a pair of cowboy boots.

Plus, Twisted X shoes are insanely comfy, high quality, and can dress up or down any outfit.

Q: What do you wear to an indoor rodeo?

For the most part, your rodeo attire can be the same for indoor and outdoor events. If you’ll be inside, though, you don’t have to worry about sun protection. You also likely don’t need to worry as much about what you might step in…

For indoor rodeos, you can’t go wrong with:

  • Cowboy boots or moccasins
  • Blue jeans or jean skirt
  • Cowboy hat
  • Long or short sleeve button or snap western shirt
  • Leather belt and belt buckle
  • Statement jewelry

Q: What do you wear to a rodeo in the summer?

Sun protection is key when you’re attending a rodeo during the heat of summer.

Here are your best bets:

  • Cowboy boots
  • Blue jeans
  • Cowboy hat
  • Long sleeve button or snap western shirt
  • Leather belt and belt buckle
  • Statement jewelry
  • Neck scarf

Also, be sure to hydrate with enough water during the event!

Q: What are the main rodeo events?

Event scheduling can vary from rodeo to rodeo, but you may see these events:

  • Bull riding
  • Saddle bronc riding
  • Bareback riding
  • Barrel racing
  • Calf roping
  • Steer wrestling
  • Team roping
  • Mutton busting
  • Goat tying
  • Pole bending
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Q: What is a pickup rider?

Pickup riders (“pickup men”) are non-competing riders who work at the rodeo during saddle bronc and bareback riding events. Their job is to assist competitors and ensure their safety.

Pickup riders typically work in teams of two and ride next to the bucking horse at the end of the ride and help the rider get off the animal safely.

Generally, one partner is responsible for loosening the flank strap (which encourages the horse to buck) and the other partner gets the rider off the horse.

Q: How do I find a rodeo to attend?

Check out Pro Rodeo Events near you!

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Rodeo Done Right

Once you’ve experienced a real rodeo, you’ll probably get hooked. Not only are these events amazing displays of athleticism and sportsmanship, they’re fun for the whole family.

Hopefully this fashion guide will help you prepare for your first rodeo and feel right at home in the wild wild vest! Oops, we mean wild wild west.

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About the author

Horse Rookie

I began riding horses at age six, and I'm just as infatuated (OK, more!) with the sport decades later. My AQHA gelding exemplifies the versatility of the breed -- reined cow horse, reining, roping, ranch riding, trail, dressage, and jumping. We're also dipping our toes (hooves) into Working Equitation!