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Examining the Style of Rodeo Princesses and Buckle Bunnies

As NOWNESS debuts a filmic investigation into the fashion of Western women, Hannah Tindle speaks to director Lee C. Wallick about sartorial trophies and their cultural significance

The American Western genre is often considered to be an environment immersed in machismo. But filmmaker Lee C. Wallick, whose family hails from generations of ranchers, holds a fascination with strong women in the saddle. “They’re the ones running the show through a dedication to the craft of horsemanship and hard manual labour. So I was interested in looking at genuine Western women, rather than a Hollywood depiction of them”, says Wallick, who with her latest work, has far extended beyond the representation of the cowgirl as a playful and repeatedly sexualised symbol.

Shot in voluptuous 16mm film in the blazing 105-degree heat of a Wyoming, Powder River Country summer, the short chronicles three figures, each a snapshot of female roles within rodeo and ranching culture. There is the young Hannah, applying her make-up in the mirror, competing yet again for the title of Sheridan WYO Rodeo Princess; Erin, a Barrell Racer (competing in the second female-only event in a rodeo, besides the pageant) who has won countless belt buckle trophies in her time; and Pat, a cattle rancher, almost singlehandedly maintaining 20,000 acres of unforgiving landscape, where nature is indifferent to individual plight. With each of these women, we are shown a real juxtaposition between the bright lights of pageantry and the tough realism of daily ranching life; but always the robustness of their character.

There is also a focus upon rodeo dress and the role of the belt buckle as a sartorial trophy to demonstrate achievements – worn either with the crystalline glitz of a rodeo queen’s dress, or boots, spurs and thick denim for the practicalities of riding. A psychological interest in the location of the belt buckle on the body is also prevalent, commenting upon the position of the Buckle Bunnies: groupies who “dress up as cowgirls and come to the rodeos wearing buckles with mini-skirts and boots.” As Lee comments, “I was also interested in the women who fall in love with the cowboys and what the story is for the Buckle Bunnies who actually marry them. They fall in love with this John Wayne romantic ideal, but then what is the reality of that?”

Visit NOWNESS to see more of The Way We Dress: a series where female directors reveal the hidden truths behind women’s relationship with clothes.