The Best of Western Horseman Awards are finally here.
The most recognizable symbol in the world is the cowboy hat. To some, they all might look the same, but those of us in the West know the nuances of the crease, materials, colors and wear can tell you everything you need to know about what kind of cowboy someone is. The same can be said for a pair of boots or the crease of a pair of jeans. What makes a cowboy or a cowgirl is what’s in their heart, but what they wear is how we recognize them from afar. Here are the 2023 Western Horseman Best of Apparel winners.
Best of Accessories Winner: Montana Silversmiths
Montana Silversmiths is celebrating 50 years of artistry in 2023. The brand, which specializes in silver buckles and jewelry, truly captures the spirit of the West in each of their pieces. They craft custom buckles, romantic Western jewelry and even have licensed collections with brands like the American Quarter Horse Association, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Dale Brisby, “Yellowstone” and more. For cowboys, I love their cross necklace collection and their Classic Legacy Weave Crossing Paths Cuff Bracelet, which is masculine yet elegant but somehow still understated enough for everyday wear. My personal favorite piece is the Always and Forever Cuff Bracelet. It’s simple and timeless, it will never go out of style, and the pop of turquoise at the end of the cuff on either side gives it a unique Western flair.
Best of Accessories Runner-Up: Gist Silversmiths
If you asked many performance horsemen what their most prized possession is, they would likely point to a Gist belt buckle. The intricate designs adorned with jewels and the word “champion,” makes these buckles some of the most sought-after accessories in the Western industry. For the non-competitor or for those who are looking for some everyday pieces, Gist also offers ready-to-wear buckles and jewelry. Gist has been an arena icon for more than 50 years, and their legacy is sure to hold up for at least 50 more.
Best of Accessories Honorable Mention: Lucky Chuck
Lucky Chuck has top quality boot socks you need whether you’re headed to a roping, working cattle or stepping out to dinner in the stockyards. Good boot socks are hard to find — they have to be durable but light enough so they are breathable and high enough to protect your calves while being stretchy enough that you’re comfortable. It’s a tall order, but Lucky Chuck gets the job done. The fun, bright designs make them all the more enjoyable, and you can even get them in a monthly or quarterly subscription, so you always have fresh socks to ride in. The socks feature antimicrobial and odor-fighting properties — good news for everyone who likes to spend their summer days horseback.
Best of Clothing Winner: Wrangler
There is no more recognizable symbol in the West than the Wrangler W pocket. The history behind this brand is lengthy and impressive, and while they continue to innovate and collaborate to remain the most popular denim brand in the world, they have never veered from ensuring Western enthusiasts get everything they need from Wrangler denim. Beyond classic denim jeans, Wrangler has a remarkable selection of Western shirts, T-shirts, blouses, cargo pants, jackets and more. They represent everything there is to love about the West — legacy, history, durability, innovation and more. A standout this winter will be their Men’s Wrangler Cowboy Cut Sherpa-Lined Corduroy Jacket in the color “Potting Soil.” It’s a classic Western style that works for both men and women and is as functional as it is stylish.
Best of Clothing Runner-Up: CINCH
CINCH is truly a brand for the Western outdoorsman. Whether you’re hunting, riding, farming, camping or otherwise, the CINCH market is one that’s highly targeted, and they absolutely come through in servicing them. CINCH Western shirts are what I see the most in both the rodeo and the performance horse arena. They’re built to stay tucked in, they always look crisp and they’re extremely breathable. The variety of colors and patterns makes them accessible and fun for every rider no matter your age, gender or horseback discipline.
Best of Clothing Honorable Mention: Ariat
Ariat is transitioning from utility brand to Western fashion.A brand that has historically been known for its comfort and flexibility, something horsemen and horsewomen truly needed for long days on the ranch that became uncomfortable in rigid clothing, is now leaning into fashion trends, bright colors and fun designs. The brand feels more youthful and versatile than I have ever seen it, and I am excited to see what’s to come. I predict this winter and into spring we will see a lot more young cowboys, cowgirls and rodeo fans donning Ariat designs, both in the arena and out on the town after the rodeo. My current favorite is the Ult HR Jazmine Wide Jean for women — it’s a timeless pair of jeans that looks great with everything whether you’re work- ing horses or having a fashion moment. I am also loving the Ariat x Sendero collection for both women and men — it’s unique from any other brand right now, and the designs are so fun.
Best of Hats Winner: American Hat Company
American Hat Company is an icon in its own right. The company began in 1915 and introduced the first waterproof straw hat, and they remain the only company to produce waterproof straw hats today. When the company was going bankrupt in the early 2000s, Keith Maddox purchased it and “bet the farm,” restoring it to its glory despite many setbacks and hardships. Maddox loved the Western lifestyle and American Hat Company as much as anyone possibly could, and his perseverance is responsible for the success of these great hats. Though Maddox died in 2019, his wife, Susan — now affectionately known as “The Hat Queen” — has stepped into the role of keeping the legacy alive through high-quality hats. American Hat Company is, of course, an American-made product known for its durability and quality materials. The hats are handwoven and go through a rigorous inspection process before they are shipped. The straw hats are double-lacquered and double-pressed, and the felts are hand-finished. They are built to withstand sunshine, rain, mud and everything in between, and while there are many American Hat retailers around the country, I am partial to The Best Hat Store located in the Fort Worth Stockyards.
Best of Hats Runner-Up: Resistol
Resistol always has been and remains a cowboy brand. Their felt hats are a staple in most cowboy wardrobes at one point or another, and they offer hats for every kind of Western enthusiast, whether you’re horseback every day or simply love the cowboy lifestyle. Resistol offers some of the best felt color varieties of any hat brand — I am partial to the Dunn, Oak and Sage colors, myself. Resistol is also one of the few hat brands that are accessible at a competitive price point, despite their rigorous production process. They are the only hat manufacturer that takes raw fur and turns it into a hat, whereas their competitors typically purchase finished hat bodies. The benefit to this is that when Resistol says something is 20X, they know it’s 20X, because they mixed the fur themselves. Resistol controls their own quality, and that sets them apart. These hats are made by cowboys for cowboys.
Best of Hats Honorable Mention: Bailey Hats
Bailey Hats offers something for everyone. The hats are hand-crafted in the U.S. and their Western styles are felted, blocked and finished by skilled craftsmen at America’s oldest hat factory. There is so much history and legacy that goes into each Bailey Hat, and that makes them really special. Bailey offers some of the most unique styles and shapes on the market that you aren’t going to find on a standard hatrack. I particularly love the Renegade Kiger in the color Green Milieu.
Best of Boots Winner: Justin Boots
Astonishingly, the Justin Boot Company began back in 1879. Herman Joseph “H.J.” Justin traveled to Texas with $5 and a dream to become a bootmaker. By the early 1900s, H.J.’s sons had taken over the bootmaking business and moved the headquarters to Fort Worth, Texas, installing new innovations to the factories that slowly replaced handmade production with machine technology. In 2000, Justin Industries was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway and today remains an icon within the Western community, with its factory being located in El Paso, Texas. Justin Boots offers a little bit of something for everyone — from work boots with water-proof properties, to lace-ups, work shoes, casual shoes and, of course, their iconic Western-style boots for riding. Their vintage collection is a personal favorite of mine and is an absolute homage to our Western heritage.
Best of Boots Runner-Up: Ariat
Ariat boots are known for their comfort. Something about the way these boots are made and shaped truly is just a more comfortable fit for long days. In addition to their comfort, they are durable and stylish and have a variety of materials, toes, heels, patterns and styles to choose from. No matter what part of the Western lifestyle you love, Ariat makes a boot or shoe to support it. Their casual shoe line is a closet staple for the traveling cowboy or cowgirl who need to take off their boots when they’re done riding and throw on a protective, comfortable and stylish shoe to get chores done in. The Hilo Senderos for both men and women are my pick of this collection.
Best of Boots Honorable Mention: R. Watson Boots
Randy Watson has led companies like the Justin Boot Company, Lucchese, Tony Lama Boots and the Nocona Boot Company. For more than 40 years, he has developed close relationships with boot factories and leather suppliers. Watson had retired from bootmaking when brands began to reach out, hoping to work with him to create quality boots. It was then that Watson realized he was ready to create a line of boots he’d be proud to put his own name on. Leaving retirement behind, Watson got to work on R. Watson Boots, a Watson family-owned operation in the small town of Crowley, Texas. At R. Watson, there is as much dedication to family heritage as there is to making great boots. R. Watson makes work boots, Western boots, exotic boots and gear. You can tell just by looking at R. Watson boots that the craftsmanship and quality are unmatched. While each pair is strikingly beautiful, the Nubuck Olive Green Caiman really stands out.
Best of Retail Stores Winner: National Roper’s Supply
National Roper’s Supply, or “NRS,” is truly a one-stop-shop for Western enthusiasts, with sprawling square footage of equine supplies, rodeo gear and Western apparel. Whether you’re stopping in for a new hat, restocking on denim or looking for a great gift idea, NRS has you covered from hat to boots. They have all the iconic brands you love, from American Hats to Kimes Ranch to Bex. They stock the latest trends without sacrificing quality. For men, I recommend shopping for Bex sunglasses. They are durable, fashionable and rodeo cowboys love them. For women, I love some of the options for understated fashion buckles to dress up a belt. I am not a crystals girl, so I love the Paige Wallace Women’s Turquoise Three Stone Buckle. It looks great on a variety of belt colors and materials, and it would be a great accessory when an award buckle won’t do the trick. If you have Western kids in your family, you must check out the toy section at NRS. Their selection of high-quality toys is vast and perfect for the cowboy or cowgirl in the making. My boys love anything by Little Buster Toys!
Best of Retail Stores Runner-Up: Cavender’s
Cavender’s was founded in 1965 in Pittsburg, Texas. They started with three styles of Tony Lama boots and then expanded to offer more. They sold millions of pairs of boots and became the fastest growing Western-wear chain in the U.S. The stores celebrate the Cavender family’s roots — each store adorned with photos of James and Pat Cavender, the founders, as well as their sons and extended family members. In 2019, after James Cavender died, the Cavender family was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame for their excellence and dedication to Western brands, being named the nation’s top retailer for companies like Lucchese, Justin Boot Company, Wrangler and more. They have a little something for everyone in their stores, but staying true to their heritage, their boot collection is always a standout.
Best of Retail Stores Honorable Mention: Boot Barn
Boot Barn has a great mantra about its customers: They feed America, build America and protect America. I love this description of the people who shop at Boot Barn — it shows that this company really knows and cares about the folks who shop with them. Boot Barn specializes in exactly what you’d expect: boots. They have an impressively broad selection of cowboy boots and work boots. They strive to serve the American cowboy, the American worker, the avid outdoorsman and Western lifestyle enthusiasts of all walks. Boot Barns are located across the U.S. in nearly every single state.