The evolving style of men's rodeo chaps
Chaps have been a mainstay of cowboy gear for over a century. Designed to protect a working cowboy’s legs from thorny brush, they quickly became a standard element of every cowboy’s uniform. In rodeo, most chaps are purely for show, though some have been modified over time for the increased safety of rodeo participants.
When cowboys began competing at rodeo roundups in the late 1800s, they wore the narrow-legged “shotgun” style chaps they already wore on the range. As rodeo became more of a show in the early 1900s, competitors began wearing flamboyant “woolie” chaps made from angora goat hair. "Batwing" chaps also grew in popularity in the 1910s. With a wider leg than other chaps, cowboys liked the way they flapped in the arena.
Modern chaps were modified from the batwing design. While more streamlined, they still flap in the arena, and are usually elaborately designed with leather tooling and fringe. Oftentimes they are branded with the logos of corporate sponsors, which is indicative of big-business rodeo.
Pickup men help bronc riders dismount, release a bucking horse’s flank strap, and escort bucking horses and bulls to the exit gate after a ride. For added safety, they wear heavy chaps that are padded with shock absorbing foam.
Courtesy National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, OK
Clothing and Accessories
Time Period: 1866 - 1936
Exhibit: Rodeo! The Exhibition
This artifact is currently on view.