The job of cowboy has retained many of the traditions that started with the vaquero (cowboy) of Mexico. The early cowboys worked on ranches and periodically showed their skills at “roundups,” precursors to today’s rodeos. Stories of their doings have become legendary, but they often obscured the realities of the work they undertook: riding in wild terrain, with cattle, in all weather conditions. Cowboys spent most of their working time on horseback, so protective clothing became something of real importance–hence, the development of their distinctive chaps.

Chaps, sometimes pronounced “shaps,” refers to the garment worn by cowboys for the protection of their legs. The word chaps comes from the Spanish word chaparro, which refers to a low-growing thicket that damaged clothing as cowboys rode through it. Most chaps (other than woolies) are made from cowhide that is tanned and dyed and mostly “split,” making the leather supple and allowing for easier movement. The leather on the chaps had a slightly sticky effect on saddle leather and was better than ordinary trousers at helping to keep riders in their seat. Chaps are comprised of leggings and a belt. The leggings are buckled on (using the belt) over suitable trousers (denim jeans, for example), but have neither a seat nor a crotch. They are usually fitted around the hips, resting below the belt loops of the trousers.

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9 Responses to Chaps

  1. Argentina, not Mexico says:

    Sorry but no, the first sentence is mistaken. The vaquero traditions started out in southern South America, Argentina I believe, and only came to Mexico much later.

    • rayvet says:

      Oh come on. Who you trying to fool? The only thing good to come out of South America was my wife (Colombia), so no way do the Argentinians get credit for such an important part of Cowboy ware. Then again, the only thing good to come out of Mexico is Tequila. So maybe they didn’t come from there either. /

      • not Argentina, not Mexico says:

        Ain’t trying to fool no one ‘cept you, rayvet.
        But I did mix up the gauchos and vaqueros.
        I was wrong, so I abjectly apologize for that.

        Truth is that both traditions came from Spain.
        And developed during the time of the Moors.
        So, the mooslimes invented cowboy culture!

  2. anonymous says:

    Thanks – that was an interesting read. I knew why chaps existed but had no idea of their origin or number of designs. i don’t ride horses but can understand why the user needs to protect themselves in thorny growth locations.

  3. Elmo says:

    “chaps comes from the Spanish word chaparro, which refers to a low-growing thicket …”
    I learn something new every day.

  4. FriscoKid says:

    So…when gay dudes parade around town wearing chaps, does that count as cultural appropriation?

  5. BillDave. says:

    Don’t Chaps around here in Texas, it is “Shaps” for Chaparral.

  6. SemperFi, 0321 says:

    Chaps is a queer cologne, ‘shaps’ are what you wear, short for chaparreros.

  7. STW says:

    Obviously, it should read “chaps (shaps), sometimes pronounced “chaps”,…”

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