The Maasai, an East African tribe, are known for a rite of passage that involves killing a lion; this allows a young man to graduate into adulthood. They are also known for maintaining their culture in the face of modernity. It is to tell a member of this tribe anywhere in Kenya or Tanzania because of their dress; a cloth sarong usually colored red, and sandals made out of old car tires. The material that makes the latter is the only thing that has changed for a long time, for the most part, members of this community have maintained their historical clothing.
In contrast, very little of what Americans traditionally wore has survived to this day. The white ten gallon hat is one example. While most people think that was what most traditional cowboys and cowgirls wore, a notion derived from Westerns, this is actually not the case. The size and design of this head covering would have been extremely inconvenient when riding, as it would have been constantly blown off.
Stetson hats have an interesting history, and are said to have started off as a joke. John, their original designer, is said to have made the first one from thick beaver felt as he prospected for gold in Colorado. Apparently, he did this as a way of showing others how to make cloth out of fur without tanning it.
He preferred felt for its ability to withstand renovation, maintain shape and for its lightness. He went on to make an extremely large specimen out of spare hides that he had, and wore it for the remainder of the expedition.
He made an extremely large hat from some spare hides, and wore it in one prospecting expedition as a joke. Over time, he became attached to it for several reasons. One was that it kept the sun out of his eyes; the high top trapped air that acted as an insulator, keeping the head cool. The large crown could also be used to carry water.
Another item of apparel closely associated with the Wild West is the coonskin cap. Originally, this was made out of the entire skin, including head and tail, of a raccoon. Later versions were made out of the hide only. Originally the preserve of Native American Indians, they were adopted by American and Canadian hunters because they were warm, and also very durable.
Denim pants are also closely associated with Westerns. Originally, pants in the Wild West were made out of wool, with canvas being used in the summer. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Gold Rush was on, and denim overalls became extremely popular due to their low cost and breath ability. Levi Strauss added copper rivets to the design, and by the end of the century, most ranchers and cowboys had adopted the design.
Denim pants were birthed in these conditions. Made out of canvas, they were perfect for both prospectors and cowboys alike. The herders eventually added leather chaps, which were sometimes made from hides with the hair still on. These ensured that the canvas lasted longer, and kept feet from being bruised by cactus spikes. These items of historical clothing have evolved into the widely popular jeans.
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