During the inaugural hot girl summer of 2019, the world got its first taste of cowboy casanova with the dopamine rush that was Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” The remix with Billy Ray Cyrus added fuel to the western fire—it was an epic tale of two cities, with the diametrically opposed worlds of hip hop and country merging together and creating a new chapter in history. One could call it a cultural reset. Since then, there’s been a steady uptick of cowboys and cowgirls in fashion. It became a slow-burn fashion movement, fittingly called “The Yeehaw Agenda.” Fast forward to today: The Yeehaw Agenda is in full force, with many artists embracing this new transition and simultaneously defining a New Americana. In the last chapters of the powder-keg Trump presidency, there was a resurrection of the Black Lives Matter movement following the devastating losses of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among others. It was a moment in time where the country seemed to be waking up and attempting to amend the wrongs of the past. In this, a crucial step has since been made in the process of acknowledging the often-erased history of Black artistic achievements and creations. Often swept under the rug is the involvement of Black artists in western culture, but luckily a new wave of Black cowboys and cowgirls have shined the torch on the matter. Their long-overdue credit is gaining a new spotlight in this age of exploration.
There is no doubt that a majority of American history is whitewashed and drenched in anecdotes of cultural theft. The cowboy narrative knows this pattern all too well. The American cowboy found its start in the antebellum South with the expansion of the cattle industry, and many men looking for economic opportunity. Overtime, it became more than a job and evolved into the modern Western subculture. It boasted frontier values including manifest destiny, country patriotism, and honorable respect. Records show that a large portion of these American cowboys were actually African-American, Hispanic, and Native American. However, all these efforts were erased from the history books and a different version of the story was sold by mainstream media. Media perceptions, instead, sold a narrative of the violent white cowboy who aggressively slaughtered Native Americans—a narrative that would be passed down and inspire childhood games of “Cowboys vs. Indians,” perpetuating stereotypes of toxic masculinity, otherwise known as John Wayne. This cowboy was sold as the first American hero and took all the limelight. However, in reality, there is a deep history of black cowboys who were erased from the hero narrative and whose accomplishments were never recognized. But today, the traditional narrative is getting all shook up, as more and more Black artists have embraced a revival of rodeo style while giving light to those who paved the way.
The revival was helmed first and foremost by Lil Nas X. He was a pioneer, being the first openly gay black rapper to score nominations in the top Grammy categories, and spend a record breaking nineteen weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100–all thanks to a lil ol’ song known as “Old Town Road.” Nas X quickly became one of the most influential artists of his generation. It was a crucial moment in history when he single-handedly tore down the deep history of machismo themes present in country and hip hop. Here came Lil Nas X, all dressed up in his western camp flair, name-dropping both Gucci and Wrangler in the same bar. With his natural knack for name-dropping labels, he quickly sat himself in the house of fashion icons. He had a penchant for wide-brimmed cowboy hats, bare-chested jackets, fridge for days, and loads of leathers and rhinestones. With the creation of his signature southern look, Lil Nas X blew up in high fashion, leading him to release a collaboration with designer Christian Cowan. While the looks and themes were more punk-based, all proceeds went to The Loveland Foundation, a nonprofit organization that benefits black LGBTQ youth in Atlanta, which is Lil Nas X’s home city. Being the trailblazer he is, he is constantly pushing queer and black representation in media, being regularly best-dressed in custom Versace suits.
Following Lil Nas X’s mighty footsteps came a flight of women stepping up to the plate with their own renditions of rodeo style. The most notable of the bunch would have to be the Texas two: Solange and Megan Thee Stallion. Both are Houston born and raised, and both delivered their own take on the Yeehaw Agenda. In spring 2019, Solange released both an album and corresponding companion film titled “When I Get Home.” It’s a sonically timeless record with vocals like warm honey and urban instrumentation. It was fittingly accompanied by visuals inspired by her ancestral Houston roots. While she coos about manifesting her own destiny and her personal spirituality expedition, images abound of wide open spaces, local Houston hot spots, line dancing, and people on horseback. All this is done with a dazzling array of looks to drool over. Solange is draped in a wide array of skintight nude colors and pairs them with various styles of cowgirl boots. She’s also spotted wearing leather white opera gloves, a chunky western harness belt, floor length silky hair, and an excess of Swarovski crystals. But this type of style isn’t strictly tied to just the “When I Get Home” era. Solange has embodied the Yeehaw Agenda in all aspects of her life, bringing her cowgirl pride to both the streets and red carpet. The iconic cool girl showed up to the 2019 Met Gala in thigh high snake print boots and a coordinating structural blazer. The year prior, she paired her larger-than-Texas black Iris Van Herpen dress with both a do-rag and golden halo—all while carrying a petite bottle of Florida Water in a black netted bag. This is an unmistakable nod to the black diaspora and spirituality. Solange has always been the artist to acknowledge her ancestors’ history, whether it be through a bit of faith or good old-fashioned cowgirl pride.
There’s also Megan Thee Stallion, resident Houston hot girl. The sex-positive rap heiress is fresh off her Grammy wins with her southern hip-hop swagger flow, shown best on her “Fever” mixtape and viral hit single “Savage.” “Savage ” on its own is a ride of a record with lyrics breaking down the mythologies of the angry black woman archetype. This myth has been long perpetuated in American society, causing black women to be historically reduced and disrespected as a group. Insults like “nasty” or “savage” hurled towards these women are certainly bigoted and offensive, but Megan Thee Stallion took this racism and misogyny and fought back with her bars. She chose her own destiny by dismantling cultural tropes and conveying her complexity. Rather than be tied up into one box, Megan Thee Stallion declares her unapologetic complexity as a black woman. To exhibit this classy moody nasty style, cowgirl fashion is her go-to choice. Being a Houston girl born and raised, Megan is largely influenced by Western culture. Megan showcases her wild West style by dressing up in not only some bedazzled assless chaps, but memorably her own take on a Texas soldier battle suit in skintight latex. All this is done with respect and love for the city and culture that raised her, and the Texan pride instilled in her humble upbringing.
The Yeehaw Agenda is also present in the discourse of high fashion, thanks to young black designers. First and foremost, there is the incomparable Kerby Jean-Raymond, who founded the menswear label Pyer Moss. His career has taken off with his knack for cowboy fashion as well as incorporating political themes of Black Lives Matter through the presentation. Kerby has embraced the Yeehaw Agenda in his Collection 1, America Also. The campaign featured modern day cowboys with the horseback group Compton Cowboys and the female rodeo team Cowgirls of Color. The clothes itself had traditional western elements of contrast denim stitching and a supple amount of suede. It was a groundbreaking collection, as Jean-Raymond highlighted black heritage within the western culture and gave light to a new generation of cowboy pioneers. Kerby was also chosen for one of the most traditional American honors of dressing the Vice President Kamala Harris the night before her inauguration. Her coat was right up cowboy alley with a classic camel color and crisp tailoring for a boxy shape. Meanwhile on the other side of the standoff is LaQuan Smith. In Fall 2019, he debuted a collection that was an erotic cowboy paradise. Ten gallon hats were styled with a sheer latex cheetah dress and a bare-all thong. There was also a plethora of baby blue denim bustiers, snake print galore, and cowhide assless chaps. It was the epitome of western glamour and a cropped tee of his said it best with the slogan, “LaQuan Smith Hoedown”.
All these looks have been key moments of defining a new sense of Americana. Black creators are reinserting narratives that have once been discarded. The Yeehaw Agenda is a crucial period of correcting the narrative of the black cowboy and popularizing its importance. Besides, the reason the Yeehaw Agenda has stayed at the forefront of the culture is its underlying political message. It’s not just about the Western clothes; it dives much deeper into the role of race and its contribution to American society. The new iteration of the cowboy by black artists is a reminder of the trailblazing black history that is often erased from the past. Contemporary artists are bringing light to this historic development by flooding the web with Western imagery. It pays homage to the forgotten community, but hopefully its efforts bring forth the former archive and change the discourse.