On a breezy Sunday in late May, I walk into a boutique on Dallas’s Henderson Avenue called Favor the Kind to crack the case on the fashion world’s latest trend: the coastal cowgirl. 

“You’re speaking my love language,” says manager Haley Diaz, age 26, placing two representative pieces on a clothes hook. The top is a tropical-print halter that ties at the rib cage, and the bottom is a white prairie skirt that comes to the ankles. Together, the outfit says, I’m down to party, but not till I pick these wildflowers.

“My mom might say those two things don’t go together,” I tell her, because it’s easier to throw my 78-year-old mother under the bus than admit this criticism is mine. “Exactly!” Diaz says.

She likes it when things don’t go together, she explains, like belt buckles and pearls. Modern fashion is a Spotify playlist, Fleetwood Mac followed by Megan Thee Stallion followed by Dolly Parton (“the OG cowgirl,” says Diaz). Plus, the coastal cowgirl has an appealing flair. “I love when someone dresses like they’re the main character of their life story.”

“The coastal cowgirl” emerged this spring in TikTok inspo videos and endless press releases that fused rugged ranch style with beachside glamour. By early May, as bluebonnets blossomed along the Texas highways, young women strode across shopping malls and parking lots in flouncy prairie skirts and white cowboy boots, Abercrombie jean shorts, and ruffly thrift-store crop tops.

The term “coastal cowgirl” is a bit of a head-scratcher, merging two terrains that do not usually meet. But the internet is a virtual space, freed from geography, and fashion is a fantasy space, freed from practicality, so magazines scrambled to pump out guides on getting the look, though the look could encompass anything from vests and overalls (because “cowgirl”) to bikini tops and tropical wraps (because “coastal”). Like so much these days, it is less of a cohesive idea and more of a vibe. “This is the Beth Dutton aesthetic, and I’m here for it,” reads one comment on TikTok, referring to the feisty, hard-drinking protagonist of Yellowstone.

“I think of it as a mix between cosmic cowgirl and mermaidcore,” says Diaz, 26, who’s wearing a black cotton wrap top with jeans and strappy white sandals.  

Mermaidcore, fairycore, Barbiecore: you’d be forgiven for not keeping up. The proliferation of “core” to describe any microstyle seems to have begun in 2013, when dressing down was dubbed “normcore.” Over the next decade, as the internet cranked up the speed on nearly everything, a word once used primarily by Pilates instructors had been added to two hundred niche fashion categories, according to Aesthetics Wiki, from deathcore to kidcore to cartelcore. Fashion, once the rarified business of Paris fashion houses, had been thoroughly democratized, a DIY game everyone could play.

“There’s also a bit of coastal grandmother,” says Meg Blaylock, 36, also working the floor that day. Ah yes, coastal grandmother: the look of 2022, marked by cozy knits and midi skirts. But “coastal cowgirl” is its sexier younger sister, trading the Nantucket cardigan and Chardonnay for a vape pen and bare midriffs.

Coastal cowgirl first began to cohere in fall 2022, when British designer Molly Goddard, known for some of Rihanna’s best red-carpet looks, sent models down a runway in cowboy boots with gauzy see-through crop tops and skirts with so much fabric they scraped the floor. The Western look had exploded back in 2019 with the yeehaw agenda, a social media trend whose luminaries included Lil Nas X in the “Old Town Road” video and Beyonce in a Stetson and stilettos. Then 2021 brought the cosmic cowgirl: Kacey Musgraves in disco glitter boots and fringed sequin crop tops. 

But the coastal cowgirl is a softer vision of breezy white and faded denim. Some trend stories attributed the trend’s explosion to an Instagram influencer, a blond stunner from Vermont named Paige Lorenze (430,000 followers), who became the everywoman’s coastal cowgirl with posts that toggled between rural splendor and urban sizzle: a snapshot of cows, a selfie in a camo baseball cap, a portrait of Lorenze in lacy white lingerie. 

“Hot” is not a word traditionally yoked to the cowgirl. Martha Jane Cannary, better known as Calamity Jane, buried her curves in thick hideskin jackets and fringed trousers to ride alongside men in the cavalry. Ranch women ditched their corsets but rarely their full skirts, even as they dragged in the mud. Western wear was unfussy and durable, a stark contrast to the delicate silk and lace of the East Coast.

That changed as cowgirls entered the rodeo in the 1920s. Kicky daredevils in red lipstick and shiny satin tops rode bucking broncos and dangled upside-down from their saddles, wowing a crowd still unaccustomed to women in pants. But ghastly injuries and the return of men from the war brought a shift by midcentury to rodeo queens and beauty pageants. By the time Urban Cowboy hit in 1980, the Western look was nostalgia for a lost frontier, the Ropers and wide brims once demanded by ranch work now little more than a city slicker’s fashion flex.  

Down the street at Tecovas—a boot company founded in 2015 by Harvard (and Dallas’s Cistercian Prep) grad Paul Hedrick and popular with a younger demographic, thanks to its lower price points—I chitchat with manager Kayleigh McKenzie, a fresh-faced 26-year-old with long brown hair in a chip clip. 

“I’m wearing coastal cowgirl right now,” she says, stepping back so I can see her outfit behind the counter: A white eyelet top over a white tank paired with Abercrombie jeans and brown ostrich boots, Tecovas’ most popular style, the Jessie.

She learned about the trend on TikTok, where she gets most fashion ideas, and it suited her perfectly, since she grew up riding horses in Morehead City, North Carolina, not far from the Atlantic, making her a real coastal cowgirl. It strikes me that TikTok trends like these give visibility to a swath of people often ignored by a top-down fashion industry that misunderstands the world as Los Angeles, Paris, New York. For more than a century we looked to the cities for the latest fashion. No wonder we started looking in the other direction.

The coastal cowgirl unifies rural and urban at a moment when those two sides feel irreconcilable. Gloriously apolitical, dreamy in fabric and sweep, the coastal cowgirl dignifies both ways of life at once: the pint-size pistol lugging feed to the barn, the fashion plate snapping pictures of sand-covered toes at sundown. If you didn’t have to choose between those styles, why would you?