A colorful wild rag does more than make a fashion statement—it serves hardworking horsemen and -women well in cold weather, under a blazing sun, or in a number of situations where a short strand of rope can’t be found.

I love clothes. They cover all the literal and figurative bases—from form and function to personal style and protection from the elements. They also can make a big statement to the world as people go about their business. 

I especially love useful clothing. We have our boots because they are durable, keep our feet from running through a stirrup, help prevent snakebites, and they slip on and off when needed. We wear pants to cover our legs and protect them from the elements and chafing. This led me to think about what’s the most versatile piece of clothing a cowboy or cowgirl wears.

The answer, undoubtedly, is the scarf, also known as a neckerchief, handkerchief, or, as so many in our world refer to it, the wild rag. 

Wild rags come in many colors, sizes and patterns
Wild rags come in an array of colors, patterns and sizes to fit the style of any cowboy or cowgirl.
Photo by Ross Hecox

Wild rags come in many different colors, patterns and sizes. They’re generally made of silk or polyester, and can be as bold or as subtle as the wearer desires. They provides warmth when the temperature drops and relief from the heat (as well as curbs neck wrinkles) when the sun is blazing. I’ve also used mine as a dog leash, a temporary gate holder or a way to catch an extra (gentle) horse when I had brought only one halter. It makes a modest and fabulous appearance on everyone—from the roughest of cowboy crews to the fanciest of wedding guests. 

The wild rag has a long history with the American cowboy, stemming from the mid-1800s. Back then, cowboys cut old flour sacks into square-shaped scarves, and the trend caught on and evolved through time.

There are many ways to wear a wild rag: wrapped twice around the neck with the ends tied a square knot, draped loosely over the chest and secured with a simple knot in the back or a buckaroo knot tied in front, or fastened with a scarf slide (which is another fashion statement all its own). As long as it works, there isn’t really a wrong style, although some methods are more practical than others. You can’t have too many wild rags either—it’s best to have a selection from which to choose. 

Wild rags are a functional part of a cowboy's attire
A wild rag is a functional and fashionable component of a cowboy’s wardrobe. It warms and cools the body and can be used in a pinch in a variety of situations.
Photo by Ross Hecox

We have a whole box of wild rags in my house. A lady who bought a horse from me gifted me a lovely blue and yellow scarf. She told me she just didn’t wear that sort of thing. I was excited about it because it was pure silk and I liked the color combo. However, my husband, Luke, swiftly swiped it and added it to his string of wild rags. It quickly became his favorite and he wears it even now, almost daily, for work. It’s been sweated in, froze over, sneezed in, left on fences and tied on saddles. When I told that lady how much we use it, she laughed and informed me that Italian fashion designer Donatella Versace’s daughter gave it to her when she was her acting teacher. A far cry from an old flour sack, no doubt! 

Tying on a wild rag on a child's neck
Kelli Neubert ties a silk scarf around her daughter’s neck.
Photo by Ross Hecox

Call it what you will—scarf, wild rag, bandana or otherwise—but I call it completely necessary for cowboys, cowgirls or anyone who likes to combine practicality with fashion. 

I’m sure that’s what Versace figured when they made Luke’s, too. 


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