Q: I recently got an invitation for a fundraising gala that was to be a weekend-long thing with opportunities to buy art, schmooze, eat, drink, and hand over money. It sounded like great fun; I wanted to go. But there was one thing about the invite that left me a little vexed. The dress code said “Western Chic.” I’m newly imported to San Antonio from Connecticut and was at a complete loss. Did this mean a fringed velvet skirt, mink coat, and cowboy boots? Cashmere Indian caftan and braids? Denim and pearls? In Connecticut, we just wore black. So how, exactly, does a woman dress “Western Chic”?
Marcia L., San Antonio
A: Welcome to Texas! Fringed velvet skirt, mink coat, cowboy boots, cashmere Indian caftan, braids, denim, and pearls? Yes! All at once? Yes! You go, cowgirl!
Congratulations, former Nutmegger, it sounds like you’ve got it all figured out and are going to fit right in. And—the Texanist is just thinking out loud here—maybe we could jazz up this ensemble a smidge by way of a lariat, a big ten-gallon hat, and a pair of snazzy six-guns on your hips—assuming you’ve already acquired your license to carry.
Ha! The Texanist is pulling your leg. You should probably leave the mink at home.
Ha! The Texanist got you again. A hat of five-gallons would suffice.
Okay, enough with the funning. Please accept the Texanist’s apology. He meant no harm. Your query, after all, is an important one. Nobody wants to appear foolish for either overdressing or underdressing at a fancy gala. And this is especially true of a person just making her entrée into a particular social circle.
But people don’t make it easy. As if the dress codes that appear on invitations for various shindigs weren’t already fraught enough—white tie, black tie, black tie optional, formal, semi-formal, casual, clothing optional, and so on—party throwers have seen fit to introduce into the mix the likes of “Denim and Diamonds,” “Boots and Bling,” “Texas Chic,” “Western Chic,” and so forth. Sartorial solutions for a dude are fairly easily found: boots, jeans, and a shirt, with or without a hat. Or boots, jeans, and a shirt and jacket, with or without a hat. Done and done, although the Texanist has long been at the forefront of the movement to bring back the bolo, a sharp arrow he keeps in his countrified quiver.
For the gals, on the other hand, dressing can be a somewhat more arduous endeavor. The Texanist, of course, isn’t himself a Texas gal and can, therefore, only guess. On certain occasions, such as the one at hand, he regards this as an unfortunate state of affairs. Think of how much better equipped a gal Texanist would be at tackling queries related to women’s style. Come to think of it, there are probably a good many situations for which a gal Texanist’s perspective would come in handy. On a personal level, a gal Texanist would certainly be useful in the ongoing peace talks with the Texanist’s spirited teenage daughter—and, at times, her mother, from who she inherited her spiritedness.
But the Texanist, in all his masculine glory, digresses.
You seem worried that the go-to little black dress that worked so well for you at festive happenings in Connecticut might cause you to stick out like a sore thumb at a Western Chic to-do here in Texas. And the Texanist understands your concern. As you’ve likely noticed, subtlety and understatement are not the qualities for which, rightly or wrongly, Texas women are known. This is, perhaps, especially true when it comes to their approaches to fashion, and especially so when they are presented with an opportunity to dress in a manner that demonstrates their regional identity. The mantra for many tends to be “go super big and super loud or don’t bother going at all.”
The Texanist is not suggesting that a get-up consisting of, but not limited to, a flouncy calico prairie skirt, a fancily embroidered Mexican peasant smock, brightly embellished boots, a buckskin kerchief with a silver and turquoise concho cinch ring, two (why not!) low-slung vintage name belts with antique silver rodeo buckles, a bolero hat worn jauntily askew, all dripping with bangles, dangles, and spangles, is the answer. But then again, it just might be. The distaff version of the Texanist would certainly wear it. And look pretty darn fine, if the non-distaff version of the Texanist does say so himself.
The truth is, such an outfit would draw nary a finger point nor even the faintest whisper of disapproval in most corners of Texas. Nope, it wouldn’t raise a single eyebrow. One of the great things about the Texas gal’s proclivity toward a loud fashion sensibility is that it provides for a very large margin of error.
That said, the tenor of your email leads the Texanist to believe that you might prefer to inhabit the more sober end of that margin, rather than going all out and doing as the Texans do. And that’s A-OK. Though Texans are known for possessing powerful pride in the place they call home and an equally powerful love of showing off that pride, we’re also known as a welcoming people. So how should you dress for your San Antonio Western Chic debut? The Texanist suggests using your best judgement and expressing whatever level of Western flair you’ll be comfortable with. And just so you know, the little black dress, if paired with some nice black cowboy boots, would work out just fine.
You have bought your boots, haven’t you?
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.