This article is part of Texas Monthly’s special fiftieth-anniversary issue. Read about the other icons that have defined Texas since 1973.

When I wrote for this magazine four years ago about the state’s greatest honky-tonks, I ended up inadvertently posing on the cover—my backside to the reader, leaning over the jukebox at a Hill Country outpost while sporting a pair of Levi’s 511s. Several concerned readers wrote to tell me I had made a grievous error: I was wearing the wrong pants. “When I attended high school in Houston, back in the seventies, one tribe of boys sported Levi’s, long hair, and a black concert T-shirt as they drove Camaros to school,” one recalled. “A distinctly different tribe of boys wore Wranglers, boots, and a feed cap as they drove their pickups to school. Without exception, Levi’s were worn by hippies and Yankees. Wranglers were worn by the guys in FFA and FCA.” A hippie Yankee? That stung; I’ve long touted my West Texas oil patch roots with pride. 

Those letters were sorties in a war that has been waged in Texas for a long time. Jeans have been part of our style since the early twentieth century, when they became the de facto wear of cowboys. After Wrangler followed Levi’s into the Texas market, in the 1940s, the battle lines were drawn—and redrawn, over and over again. In 1993, Joe Nick Patoski wrote in these pages that your decision to wear Levi’s or Wrangler “says as much about you as the neighborhood you live in or the kind of pickup you drive.”

But thirty years later, does anyone care? Most Texans forty and under simply don’t worry much about what sort of denim we use to cover our lower halves. These days, Levi’s and Wrangler are both ubiquitous, whether you’re shopping at a Western wear retailer or a Walmart. Admittedly, Wrangler remains closely associated with rodeo, and you can pick up a pair of cowboy-cut Wranglers at just about any Tractor Supply, which is a bonus in rural towns. Yet neither brand has the FFA or the hipster crowd cornered. Wrangler has branched out into pop culture, collaborating with Fort Worth R&B musician Leon Bridges and the queer rapper Lil Nas X on specialty clothing lines. And I’ve got plenty of ranchy friends who are happy to work cattle in their Levi’s—as long as they fit over a pair of boots. 

Which brings to mind another modern sartorial debate: square toe versus round. Now, that’s something worth fighting about.

This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Levi’s vs. Wrangler: It’s All Quiet on the Western Wear Front.” Subscribe today.