For some, you might call this a scarf, a handkerchief, a bandana or even an ascot, but in the western world. . . they are definitively known as “wild rags”. And while they might be considered a stylized, fashion accessory, cowboys of old considered them as necessary – an article of clothing with purpose. When worn around the neck, they were protection from the weather and the elements, but they could also serve to rig a broken saddle or bandage a wound, or wash the dust off the trail. A wild rag was an essential to the wardrobe of the cowboys and cowgirls.
150 years ago, cowboys would use old flour sacks and cut them in squares to tie them around their necks. Today’s wild rags come in a multitude of colours and fabrics, but silk and polyester are favoured with the natural silk fibres being preferred in the hot summer months. And while they may not be quite as functional as the wild rags of the old west, they are still an iconic garment of the hardworking horse and cattle men that is such a prominent part of our Canadian history.
But for the men, women, and even children who are styling them today, the wearer can choose their fashion statement from bold, punchy western patterns, paisleys, and cattle brands to subdued, tone-on-tone neutral jacquards and solid plus everything in between. And styling them is easy – although there are a couple of cowboy knots to learn lol. Or skip the knot and pair it with a simple scarf slide – no knot needed.
This modest accessory – an approximately 40” square piece of silk is truly utility wear. Watch it perform and work hard on the farm and in the show pen all day long. And when the evening comes, express your individual style and pair it with your favourite jeans and tee. The wild rag proves that some fashions really do still function.