By Melissa McBride, Owner & Designer at Wild Grace
Earlier this year, we lost one of the memorable actors from my very earliest television watching days. Watching Robert Conrad’s portrayal of the inventive character Jim West, “James Bond on a horse”, in The Wild Wild West was intriguing. What does this have to do with fashion? My impressionable creative mind was collecting elements of design. For me it wasn’t so much the storylines (and definitely not the violence) but rather the costuming of western characters coupled with the meticulously tricked out sets that drew me to the screen. Remember that hummable theme song? West’s matador-ish clothing style that seemed to almost be sprayed on, his pencil rolled black felt telescope crown hat, those dive in blue eyes (had to mention), and the spy gadgets? Even the stylized and clever opening freeze frame cartoon-like drawings made a lasting impact as I developed my own art skills and sketching style. There’s a long list of similar shows that started my love affair with all things western. If this reference is before your time, have fun reflecting on what may have influenced your own personal style!
After years of incorporating boots, jeans, turquoise, fringe, and hats into my wardrobe, I sort of stumbled into living out a dream. I spent almost a dozen wonderful and action-packed years as a western store owner in The Cowboy Capital of the World…Bandera, Texas. “Gunslinger” provided me with the opportunity to supply fabulous western wear to not only locals, but to worldwide travelers who had chosen Bandera as a vaca destination for some of the same reasons it appealed to me. Over 100 countries were represented in sentiments and well wishes written in our shop guest book. Bandera is known for its sprawling ranches, laid back lifestyle, rodeos, many parades, community spirit, and the authentic town folk…a cast of colorful characters. This small cowboy town with a big personality is nestled at the edge of the Texas hill country.
For years I enjoyed the creative outlet of being able to co-design some of the merchandise for Gunslinger. This fall, I’m seeing hints of western in mainstream fashion, so I’m pulling out some old fav pieces from that season of life, discovering some new trends, and starting to design a few accessories for a fresh “New West” collection. In doing so, I’m paying a bit of attention to the screen again. As one example, I’m taking visual notes about what I’ll term “Yellowstone style” (reluctantly admitting that to y’all and I do find myself covering my eyes and ears…and good grief/thank goodness for fast forward). Cattleman shaped hats with dresses and boots at the office. Beth’s blue hooded blanket patterned coat that fans are buzzing about. Monica’s jean jacket with the thunderbird detail. Chunky turquoise cuffs. Bolos. Snap front shirts. Long prairie dresses. Vintage plaid. Feathers and beadwork. You don’t have to be “western” to add a few touches. Sometimes combining complete opposite styles makes a better, more playful and exciting fashion statement.
Wardrobe editing for fall in a fiscally responsible mindset, I’m digging into my closet and jewelry box to utilize pieces I already have and love…like my absolute hands down favorite Phase One concho belt. It boasts years of wear and I like the patina, so I expose only a teasing glint of the silver with a polishing cloth. Other favorites include statement size turquoise rings, affordable long strands of beads in shades of aqua and agave, gold mixed with turquoise, stamped silver earrings, Love Token’s pearl and espresso deerskin lariat, a Richard Schmidt+Bonedust collaboration…a bold “see it from the curb” inlaid turquoise graphic thunderbird cuff. The matching pendant is centered on strips of two well-loved bandanas. Thrift store finds include a bleached then dip dyed cargo jacket, a couple more scarves…one is an abstract floral in a brilliant shade of turquoise. Found a pair of silver cuff links with faceted cactus green stones for my French cuffed shirts and a child’s sterling belt turned hat band, with the added spunk of a dramatic feather. I’m falling for cheetah again. I adorned a Paris purchase from a few years ago…a spotted felt chapeau…with a large needlepoint concho pin. Chelsea Collette Collection’s lariat with a mini oval concho on buttery soft leather doubles as the hatband.
I’ve often described my style as “tough & tender”, a visual and functional dichotomy of mixing clothing, textures, and accessories. A fall staple that is a tough and an almost indestructible timeless piece that gets better with age, is the beloved denim jacket. The classic indigo version celebrates 140 years as it first arrived on the scene at Levi Strauss in 1880. Most of us already have at least one…or two…or three versions of the denim jacket. It’s easy to accumulate several in various shapes and shades and they’re just hard to give away. They affectionately and individually become indispensable, trusted, tried and “true blue” wardrobe besties. They can be toughened, urbanized or tenderized with various accessories, morphing into a plethora of diverse fashion personality statements.
Although I like that oversized, borrowed from a boyfriend look, one of my favorite darker wash denim jacket silhouettes that I tend to grab the most has the slightest hourglass curve (with a teeny amount of stretch) which tenderly flips it from ranch or trucker cool to feminine flair. I’m filling the yoke with a collection of sterling and turquoise pins. I’m loving shades of green this season, so the other retro scarf is a graphic mix of lemon, lime, kiwi and avocado. A modern gold chained lariat with giant blistered pearls tumbles down in contrast to the dark denim.
A sturdy double stitched jean jacket or shirt paired with a hat seems to tauntingly whisper “restless…adventure…back roads” etc. Cogs start turning. Images of “fun” immediately intertwine with the rich spirit of Americana and the freedom of wide open spaces. I’m remembering why I like to keep a bag packed. Flashback to Susan Sarandon’s beat up “traded for sterling & turquoise” Resistol hat with the “ripped off denim sleeves turned skinny bandana” in Thelma & Louise.
This wanderlust is wanting to head west to Santa Fe soon to meet up with old friends and meet new ones! A handful of years back, I initially met Dallas jewelry designer Dian Malouf at her trunk show on the plaza. Not only has she designed about 10,000 pieces of iconic jewelry, but she is a talented storyteller of south Texas ranch history and rumors. She gifted me with a copy of her beautiful coffee table book, Seldom Heard…a collection of fun, factual, and colorful short stories which visually unfold in black and white. I always enjoy a good story! Also full of hat shapes and ranch imagery, I’ll combine these references with hundreds more as I continue to scout ideas from both the mythical and historical wild west for my New West design adventure. Looking forward to sharing “part two” of this story.
Happy trails and blessings!