Beyoncé and a New Class of ‘Hat Acts’ Are Helping Cowboy Core Ride Again

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Beyoncé is just one of many artists embracing cowboy culture in fashion and in music. - Credit: Mason Poole*
Beyoncé is just one of many artists embracing cowboy culture in fashion and in music. - Credit: Mason Poole*

The Western revival is underway. After a decade of bro-country sounds and style, where 808s and baseball caps outnumbered steel guitars and Stetsons, country is looking west for a refresh. Record labels are signing artists like Ian Munsick, Catie Offerman, and Tyler Halverson, who grew up around horses and cattle. Festivals are being held on actual ranches. And stars are stepping out, hats to boots, in fresh-off-the-runway Western wear. Even songwriters who play cowboys on TV, like Yellowstone’s Luke Grimes, are dropping country albums.

The pop world is saddling up, too. Post Malone and Lana Del Rey are making country turns, and Bruno Mars is dressing cowboy on Instagram. But it’s Beyoncé who is at the fore of the movement, emphasizing the core culture by titling her country album Act II: Cowboy Carter. “I did a deeper dive into the history of country music,” she said. “It feels good to see how music can unite so many people around the world, while also amplifying the voices of some of the people who have dedicated so much of their lives educating on our musical history.”

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According to accessible-fashion brand Boohoo, TikTok videos tagged #cowboy recently hit over a billion streams in a month, while Google searches for “cowboy hat” and “bolo tie” spiked more than 200 percent and 566 percent, respectively, on the day Beyoncé dropped “Texas Hold ’Em” and “16 Carriages.”

Halverson, a South Dakota native who makes what he calls “Western Amerijuana” music, says adopting cowboy style is essential to country. “The boots and hat go a long way,” he says. “Before we even start singing, you already know a little bit about this person.”

Beyoncé used cowboy fashion at the Grammys to telegraph her country pivot, rocking a leather Damier skirt suit from Pharrell William’s Western Louis Vuitton collection, a bolo tie, and a crisp white Stetson.

“We noticed it,” Stetson’s marketing boss Tyler Thoreson says. Immediately, the brand reached out to Beyoncé’s stylist and began making custom headwear for the singer. When she asked for a crimson hat, artisans broke the brand’s neutral-color rule.

“We don’t normally sell a red hat, but for Beyoncé, we made it happen,” Thoreson says.

COMPTON, CA - JUNE 07: The Compton Cowboys, with Randy Savvy riding lead, prepare to leave Gateway Towne Center, for the start of their Peace Ride, culminating at Compton City Hall, on Sunday, June 7, 2020. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
The Compton Cowboys, with Randy Savvy riding lead.

But Beyoncé, who grew up in the rodeo mecca of Houston, is doing more than sparking a fashion trend with her Cowboy Carter looks. Her platinum-blond hair, spurs, turquoise, and fringe are helping to course-correct the erasure of Black and brown people in country culture.

Randy Savvy, the leader of the Compton Cowboys, a California community group that introduces inner-city youth to horse culture, says the Western aesthetic is not foreign to Black history, despite how it’s been depicted in entertainment.

“What Americans view as cowboys, they think about John Wayne films or the Marlboro Man, but that is only one fraction of what the culture really is,” Savvy says. Beyoncé seemingly used the red Marlboro font for one of her Cowboy Carter shirts.

“We as Black people, every time we’ve entered a space, we’ve turned it up a notch,” says Savvy. “In country music, you got Beyoncé now putting that stamp on stuff.”

Halverson, for one, welcomes it. “It’s expanding horizons,” he says, “and getting country music in front of audiences that it normally wouldn’t be in front of.”

This story is part of Country’s New Cowboy Era, a look at trends in country music that’s running in Rolling Stone’s May print issue.

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