Wild West Character Costume Ideas

Wild West Character Costume Ideas

Annie Oakley – Annie Oakley was a sharpshooter discovered by ‘Buffalo Bill’ when his Wild West Show stopped at New Orleans on its 1885 tour. Her story was dramatised in ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, the stage-show which brought Ethel Merman to fame. Contemporary pictures show her with a wide-brim hat, fringed buckskin-style outfit, long skirt and hunting rifle.

Calamity Jane – Martha Jane Canary (or Cannary) who lived from 1852 – 1903 was a frontierswoman and professional scout.  Nicknamed ‘Calamity Jane’, she was a hard-drinking woman, who wore men’s clothing, used bawdy language, and was handy with a gun. She dressed exactly as a cowboy would and contemporary portraits show her in a buckskin two-piece outfit, with traditional hat. Her portrayal by Doris Day in the 1953 film musical featured a similar outfit, with fringing and cavalry-style kepi headgear.

Davy CrockettOne of the early pioneers (and at one stage possibly the best known) would have been Davy Crockett (‘King of the Wild Frontier’). He was the subject of a popular Disney TV series of the 1950s/60s and was famed for his ‘coonskin’ hat. He lived from 1786 to 1836 and died fighting on behalf of Texas, at the battle of the Alamo.

Doctor - ‘Doc’ Holliday, one of the participants in the gunfight at the OK Corral possibly springs to mind here. Doctors on the Frontier had very little medicine and often had to improvise cures. Some took up secondary careers – notably as undertakers!

Gambler – Gambling was a popular pastime in the West. Professionals who had honed their skills on the river-boats of the Mississippi and elsewhere followed the prospectors on the Gold Rush to the West to help in the ‘redistribution of income’. There are several outfits on the market but the basic outfit might consist of fancy waistcoat, frilled shirt, frock-coat or jacket over pin-stripe (or similar) trousers.

Preacher  – The preacher seen in most westerns has a standardised look –  a plain black suit (or long black coat) with a round, flat-brim hat, plus, of course, a ‘dog-collar’. A pair of wire-rimmed specs (or pince-nez) may also help the impression.

Prospector  – In the California Gold Rush of 1849 a range of nationalities were involved in the ‘stampede’. The typical prospector had a somewhat dishevelled image – battered hat (often used as a makeshift gold pan or drinking vessel), shirt, trousers (somewhat ragged), worn boots, plus prospecting equipment such as rock hammers, spades, etc.

Southern BellesThe most recognizable Southern Belle is probably the fictional figure of Scarlett O’Hara from Margaret Mitchell’s book ‘Gone with the Wind’, which was turned into a film in 1939. Wear a Victorian style day or walking dress. This can be enhanced with the use of petticoats or crinoline (frame) underneath.

Victorian style lady costumesWomen in the Wild West still wanted to look glamorous and the fashion of the time would have been for dresses in the Victorian fashion.

Wild West Showman – Probably one of the most influential showmen of the Old West was Buffalo Bill (real name William Frederick Cody). His cowboy themed travelling Wild West show which toured Britain, Europe and America featured the legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley.  His costume would have been based on a buckskin jacket and trousers.

Western Costume Ideas

WESTERN COSTUME IDEAS

AMERICAN PIONEERS – Frontiersmen and Women
It was a hard life for the American Pioneers with both men and women having to be equally hardy and adept at defending both life and property. For the true pioneer woman, the costume consisted of a plain high-necked long dress with bonnet and apron. Although patterned materials were used, these tended to fade after harsh and repeated washing. In the West, practicality was a consideration and for horse-riding, younger women developed ‘skirts’ which were rather like baggy trousers or skirts with buttons.

Also from the Old West (and a good source of reference) were the series of stories about the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ from Laura Ingalls Wilder. These were based on her childhood experiences growing up in a Pioneer family and were turned into a TV series which ran from 1974 through to 1983.

BANDITS AND OUTLAWS
Bandits and Outlaws in Western movies were often seen wearing a Mexican poncho, sombrero, bullet belt and moustache. However, not all bandits and outlaws were necessarily Mexican. To move away from the stereotype, why not try a long duster coat over traditional cowboy garb and go as an outlaw?

Alternatively, you might want to be a goody rather than a baddie, so why not go as a Bounty Hunter?   He or she was usually a loner who spent the time tracking down outlaws in order to earn a living. They were often in it for the money rather than offering a ‘community service’. Some developed their skills to eventually market themselves as ‘detectives’, which was perceived as a more respectable profession.

CAVALRYMEN
In many a western film, a desperate situation was often ‘saved by the cavalry’. In practice, keeping the peace between the native American Indians, and the white settlers who coveted their land was an impossible task – there was an average of one soldier for every 66 sq. miles of territory to be patrolled. Clothing issued to the cavalry were leftovers from the Civil War stockpiles, so might not fit that well (good excuse for an ill-fitting outfit!). The style of uniform had changed during the civil war with unionists and confederates adapting their look dependant upon availability of materials. The ‘Uniform’ of a cavalryman basically consisted of light blue wool trousers, dark blue heavy wool jackets with choke collars, grey flannel shirts, knee-length boots, tops turned down and hats according to troop.

COWBOYS AND COWGIRLS
Cowboys
The Wild West saw a wide assortment of different cowboys, each with his own look. In spite of the wide range of ‘off-the-peg’ costumes available, many people can put together their own cowboy outfit with the help of a few accessories.  Most traditional western cowboys preferred plain styles and dark colours and cowboy hats are essential. The only relief from the sombre image was the brightly coloured kerchief worn around the neck. Chaps – leather-style breeches in open or wraparound style may also be worn.  If you are going with a partner, the use of a horse costume might also be of interest.

Aside from the more traditional cowboy images, there are also fictional cowboy heroes you can choose from, such as Woody from Toy Story or The Lone Ranger, with his Native American sidekick, Tonto.

Cowgirls
Technically ‘cowgirls’ as such, did not exist, as the real Wild West made no distinction between the sexes. Women who worked ‘out on the range’ wore the same practical clothing and did the same sort of work where possible. All were equal and many developed their own ranching and droving businesses. In the world of costuming there are, of course a large number of excellent cowgirl costumes available, some of which are based on skirts and tops rather than the typical jeans look.

INDIANS
Nowadays it is more PC to call them Native Americans rather than Indians and Squaws.  There are a variety of costumes on the market, some more covered up than others. We also offer a range of Indian accessories such as weapons and headdresses.   

Native Indian Brave (Male) – This is one costume where you might want to skip authenticity – an Indian brave on the warpath was truly stripped for action, wearing only a breechclout (a strip of narrow cloth which passed through the legs and over a belt, hanging down at the front and back) and leggings (two side-fringed trouser-leg-like items which attached to the same belt). Although vests were worn at other times, they were too hot to be worn in action and could be a hindrance in battle. An alternative to the Breechclout was a form of apron consisting of two squares of decorated cloth tied at the hips. There are plenty of more practical outfits more suitable to our colder climate on the market.

Native Indian (Female) – The term ‘squaw’ is frowned upon, being synonymous with ‘prostitute’ in native language. Despite the likes of famous female Indians such as Pocahontas and Minnie Ha-Ha, females were very much second-class citizens, more like property than equals to men. On the other hand, being vital to the survival of the tribe, they were the most fiercely defended by an Indian male, aside from his headdress and hunting weapons.  As above, Native Indian female costumes available on the market may put practicality over authenticity.

LAW ENFORCERS
Marshall - Federal Marshalls were State/National Law officers, whose roles were similar to that of the Sheriff.   Amongst the famous marshalls from the wild west were Wyatt Earp and ‘Wild Bill’ Hickock.  A dark Victorian style suit and hat.
Sheriff – The sheriff was the local law enforcer.  An outfit for a sheriff is not much different to a standard cowboy. The addition of a star Sheriff’s badge helps to create the look. Sheriffs typically tended to dress in dark colours, notably black.

SALOON BAR PERSONNEL
Barkeep/Bartender – A stalwart image from Wild West films – usually seen handing (or sliding) drinks to customers and diving for cover at the first sign of trouble. A bar-keep apron, possibly work with a waistcoat. and table-clean cloth might come in handy!

Saloon Girls – Although they might have appeared as entertainers cum-showgirls many saloon girls could turn their hands to anything that would earn them a living. The main aim was to separate the erstwhile punter from his money. Saloon girls were often employed by the establishment where they worked, but some would not be adverse to a little individual self-enterprise, with the best rising to develop their own businesses.

There are obvious similarities between Saloon Girl costumes and the French Can-can & Moulin Rouge outfits. Most outfits come in a range of permutations of basic costumes and accessories: The basic costume typical consists of a corset or basque, usually in lace and satin-type material with a lace-up front or back, and a separate skirt which may be frilled or ruched and gathered or split to show the leg(s).  We stock saloon girl, can-can and burlesque style costumes and all the accessories to go with them, including feather boas (in a range of colours), fishnet tights and gloves.

Saloon Owner/Entrepreneur – If you are bored with the idea of just being ‘a saloon girl’ why not think about becoming a Saloon Bar owner? In the entrepreneurial Old West, many Saloon bar-owners were female. Some of them offered their customers more than drink and gaming facilities, as well as somewhere to wait before the next gunfight broke out! When looking for role models for this character, one is drawn to the 1930s femme fatale Mae West, and her performances in ‘Klondike Annie’ and ‘Belle of the Nineties’.

WILD WEST SHOW PERSONNEL
Aside from the bonafide showmen who lived to entertain, there were some more unscrupulous showmen and ‘snake-oil’ salesmen willing to part punters from their cash and exploit their credibility. The aim of the showman is to dress to impress and dazzle the audience. Therefore a flashy or ornate vest/waistcoat under a well-tailored frock suit was important to create the right impression. Showmen wishing to peddle medicine or other products might wish to convey an air of authority through use of spectacles, walking cane or other trappings of the rich and knowledgeable.

Western Costumes

Featured

Western Costumes

INTRODUCTION

Here in Essex, the Western theme is a popular one and we stock a great range of western costumes for all the family.  Western/Wild West/Cowboys & Indians (or whatever you like to call it) and its offshoots such as Country & Western and Line Dancing all comprise one great theme which is often relatively easy to do.

There are many great Western costumes on the market available to purchase, including this men’s cowboy costume and this ladies Indian Squaw Costume and we also have some excellent costumes for hire.  However, this is one theme (Pirates is another) where there are so many western accessories available to purchase, that you may be able to put together a costume at home relatively cheaply.

How do you do this? Well, you may already have items in your wardrobe that will work and all you need do is add a western accessory or two. For example, a cowboy or cowgirl could just use a pair of jeans and a check shirt. Then cowboy accessories such as a Stetson hat, bandana (or neckerchief), guns, spurs etc., can be added to create your own unique look.

But, what if you do not happen to possess a check shirt? Or, perhaps rather than just a standard cowboy/girl you want to be a bit more adventurous with your western look? What else can we suggest?

Well, Western Costume Ideas mainly fall into the following groups:

  • American Pioneers – Frontiersmen & Women, Little House on the Prairie type costumes
  • Bandits & Outlaws
  • Cavalrymen
  • Cowboys or Cowgirls
  • Indians or rather the more politically correct Native Americans
  • Law Enforcers – Marshalls & Sheriffs
  • Saloon Bar Personnel – including Saloon Girls and Bordello Madames
  • Wild West Show Personnel
  • Wild West Other Character Costume Ideas

THE WILD, WILD WEST – The Steampunk Crossover

Those with an eye to current costuming trends will be aware of Steampunk, a costuming style involving a mixture of the fashions of the 1900s with elements of science fiction and clockwork engineering as exemplified in the novels of Jules Verne. Looking at some of the multitude of Steampunk inspired designs coming to the market, there is a crossover into elements of Western wear, notably the long frock-coat styles and female corsets. Although a little ahead of its time (the term had not been created then), the film ‘The Wild Wild West’ (1999) featuring Will Smith and Kenneth Branagh, offers an example of Western Steampunk, featuring a giant mechanical spider-cum-battlewagon and futuristic ‘Victorian’ weaponry.

For those wanting to push the envelope in Western wear, these styles may be well worth seeking out.