Growing up on the outskirts of Elk City, America, I was encircled by cowboy and so-called “western” culture. I was raised by a father who was a retired rodeo clown. I spent my childhood weekends out on my grandparents’ dairy farm. My best friend living two houses down was a champion barrel racer. I even worked for 7 years at my mom’s western wear store located on Main Street right off of Route 66.
But for someone who was surrounded by the boots, grit, and (for some damn reason) rhinestones so associated with the cowboy way, I never immersed myself in it. Instead, I spent the first 22 years of my life quietly observing the culture from within as if I were a tourist in my own homeland. When in reality I was just an angsty know-it-all kid who thought Green Day was punk rock. And though I have since come to understand how the culture I so avoided still managed to shape me into who I am today, there is one thing I will never comprehend:
Why in the hell do people wear those big ass belt buckles?
Belt buckles have been synonymous with western culture since the 1920s when Levi Strauss jeans became common everyday workwear for the common everyday working man. Yes, cultures have been wearing belts for hundreds of years. But the only reason the buckles became everyday wear in the 1920s is because for the first time people were wearing belts over suspenders. But that still doesn’t explain the big ass buckles, now does it?
Well according to True West Magazine, which is probably a credible source, big ass buckles originated in old wild west movies to “dazzle” audiences. Later, buckles started being awarded as trophies in rodeo championships and men began to wear them as a form of street cred when they went out on the town. Hey, I’d stay away from some dude rep’in a Champion Steer Wrestling 2014 belt buckle. Mostly because I don’t want to hear him talk about it for the next 45 minutes while gesturing to an area too close to his crotch for comfort.
Though it makes sense to want to wear your trophy out on the town, it still doesn’t explain the gaggle of Huey baseball cap and tight jeans-wearing 23-year-old dudes from Edmond with lifted trucks and daddy’s money grinding their belt buckles on the back of some unsuspecting woman in OKC Cowboys. Why the hell do they have big ass belt buckles? Well my friend, you can thank John Travolta for that.
Yes, that John Travolta.
And that John Travolta.
And that John Travolta. Apparently, he only lets people take pictures of him from one side.
According to Rolling Stone, much of the western wear we find to be so familiar today really wasn’t that mainstream until the 1980s. Before that people wore flannel, wide brimmed hats, and boots because they needed the utility and protection to work, not to attract some Kappa Kappa Gamma at the Tumbleweed in Stillwater. But in 1980, America flocked to the movie theater to watch Bud and Sissy start a dumpster fire of a relationship while riding bulls at Mickey Gilley’s bar in the film Urban Cowboy.
Not only does Rolling Stone credit the film with the start of the pop-ification of country music. But it also started the mainstream western wear trend that still exists today. After watching the film, America began to idolize the stereotypes of the “cowboy” way of life, with all of its toughness, grit, and big ass belt buckles. So next time you decide to wear your Montana Silversmiths belt buckle depicting the American flag and the words "cowboy way" out on the town, you can thank John Travolta for the opportunity to dress so cool.