Western Fashions Down But Not Out


Ask Johnny Angell if all Western fashions are going the way of the bolo tie in terms of must-have popularity, and he'll respond with a wry grin and an even wryer story.

"The last time I heard any such thing," said the manager of Corral West Ranch Wear, "was during a meeting with (a local, high-profile business leader).

"(He) showed up in Dockers and Baas shoes, and said he wanted to know why there was a decline in the popularity of Western clothing. As we left the meeting, my district manager said to me, 'Now, I want you to explain something. That guy represents Payson, right?'

"I said, 'Yep.'

"'And, the Payson rodeo?'

"I said, 'Yep.'

"'And he's dressed like he just stepped off a golf course in Scottsdale?'

"I said, 'Yep.'

"'And he wants to know why there's a decline in Western clothing?'

"I said, 'Yep.'"

After adding a "go figure" shrug to his punchline, Angell continued.

"Yes, I suppose there has been an overall decline in sales, simply because our culture is becoming more and more homogenized. But since Corral West now has 92 stores nationally, and is planning to add 30 more in the near future, I sure wouldn't say Western wear is dying out."

That, said Angell, is partly because his wares are not marketed to a single demographic.

"There are two kinds of Western wear," he said. "There's functional attire, which real cowboys wear year-round, and there's pseudo-Western attire, which people wear to emulate something. Not a week goes by that some guy comes in and asks for a hat like the one Garth Brooks wears."

And usually what buyers are trying to emulate, he said, is fantasy rather than historic fact.

"So much of what we know about 1880's clothing is completely bastardized by reruns of "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza" on TV. Very few people dress like that. People think that every woman who worked in a saloon wore a can-can outfit. That's just not the truth."

Fortunately for Western clothing stores, made-in-Hollywood untruths can be quite profitable.

"When 'Dances with Wolves' came out, our company saw a huge spike (in sales)," said Angell. "When 'Tombstone' came out, sales went through the roof. Everybody and their brother was buying Western wear.

"But Western clothing is a lifestyle. It has nothing to do with fashion. For example, the whole center of my store is filled with what looks like cowboy hats, but they're not. They're Western hats. A cowboy is an occupation, and a cowboy hat is what he wears on the job."

Fortunately, Angell said, there are still enough cowboys in Arizona to keep his business brisk.

"About 85 percent of our sales are to working cowboys, and only about 15 percent are to tourists. And 10 percent of those are foreign tourists. Why? Hollywood.

"As long as there's a Hollywood, we'll do fine."

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