A Brief History of the Western Belt Buckle

Western attire is characterized by several easily recognizable accessories. There is, of course, the classic cowboy hat and boots. No western outfit is complete without those. Rugged jeans and shirts with snaps and perhaps a bolo tie are also standard. One of the most noticeable accessories is the oversize belt buckle that the wearer displays with pride. In fact, they are often given as prizes to rodeo event winners. How did these extra-large buckles become so popular?

Roots in the Military

There is a large assortment of western belt buckles in vogue. Most are metal but there are other materials such as a bronco leather buckle. The trend started during the Civil War. Members of the cavalry wore large, shiny buckles as a standard part of their uniforms. This practice was adopted from European military tradition. The buckles were a great symbol of the pride they had in their service and their cavalry units. After the war, when rodeos became popular, veterans wore their buckles while competing and often had new buckles made in a similar style but depicting western themes.

Influenced by Hollywood

Cowboys and rodeo became part of show business with traveling shows such as the one run by Buffalo Bill Cody. In the 20th Century, the film industry began and westerns were a popular genre right from the start. Early silent stars like Tom Mix were fitted with large, ornate, silver belt buckles. This continued as other western stars such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers become icons. The flashy buckle became firmly associated with cowboy attire. Rodeo stars were quick to adopt the trend and what prize could be better for the best ropers and riders than a big shiny buckle.

Oversized belt buckles are now firmly established as an essential part of western wear. The bigger and shinier the better. It’s like a trophy always on display for a rodeo star.

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