IN TERMS OF RODEO FASHION DEPOTS IN SALINAS, the best known option for men is Salinas Leather, opposite the Salinas Sports Complex, which once a year serves as the rodeo grounds. There’s a famous option for rodeo ladies, as well – Betty’s Boutique on Laurel Drive.
Both stores experience an unprecedented rush in the days before annual California Rodeo Salinas, and can dress an attendee head to toe, no matter if they happen to be a rodeo queen, or just a spectator who wants to make a statement.
“Salinas has a lot of Mexican culture and a lot of agriculture,” says Beatriz Perez, who prides herself as the owner of the first store in Salinas to sell rodeo-specific fashion, Betty’s. “It has been a cowboy culture, and jeans and sombreros are what they wear every day.”
Western fashion derives its unique style from the work clothes worn by cowboys of the Wild West, and also inspired by the elaborate vaquero attire. Western fashion has also been the choice of Perez’s four daughters. It was at her daughters’ insistence that Perez made the shift from regular ladies’ clothing toward Western-style clothes – bell bottom jeans and thin, floral tops, which is what they sell outside of the rodeo season. Daughter Yuliana Barrón-Perez says customers return to her mother’s store because she makes them feel beautiful.
Each year, Perez orders from a few wholesalers to create a special rodeo line timed with the big July event. She brings in merchandise a few days before the rodeo begins, and then they do a big photoshoot, inspired by Victoria’s Secret and other big companies, with local models. This way Perez can show her outfits on social media. There are no preorders; her clients have trusted her taste since she opened Betty’s Boutique 10 years ago, and they come seeking this particular style annually.
“It will be a big surprise,” Perez says about this year’s rodeo line, betraying only that the color theme is fuchsia, as confirmed by Paris Fashion Week 2022. It goes well with another popular Western accessory, turquoise jewelry.
“Cow print, leopard prints, silk,” says Barrón-Perez, listing elements of the Western style. “A hat, boots and a belt – and huge statement jewelry.”
While annual color schemes and fashion elements may change, some components remain the same. Leather tassels on everything never really go away. Neither do checkered shirts for men, even though the spectrum of colors and motifs accepted has been continuously expanding.
Perez estimates a full female rodeo rider outfit (with jewelry: necklaces and earrings) runs $200 and a rodeo spectator floral outfit (again, with accessories) can be purchased for $170.
Guillermo Arriola and his wife, Ruth Arriola, share custody over their store, Salinas Leather. She is responsible for clothing – a huge selection of jeans, hats, boots and shirts in all possible sizes, including tiny full-blown rodeo star options for toddlers.
The business opened seven years ago. He does all the leather work in the store, at his station with a set of bright metal tools for carving and filling the leather with color. Arriola crafts beautiful wallets and custom saddles, but perhaps the most impressive are his belts with oversized buckles. He is wearing a stunning example of his work, and unbuckles his belt to show it off.
On the buckle, there it is in carved script: “California Rodeo Salinas.”
“Western fashion is a little bit different from rodeo fashion,” where a button-up shirt and a pair of starched jeans is expected, explains Miss California Rodeo Salinas 2022, Mayson Bothwell.
Bothwell lives in King City, where one can also find a few rodeo and Western fashion shops; L.A. Hearne Company is her favorite.
“It takes a lot of preparation,” she says about the contest she recently won. The right outfit is just one component. More important are horsemanship and public speaking.
While rodeo fashion is conservative by definition, it changes, too.
“Back in the days, rodeo queens had to wear pantsuits,” Bothwell says. “The hats were taller and there were neck scarves.” Now 22, she has been in rodeo since age 13. “Today, things are more relaxed and there is more sparkle.”
By that, she means jewelry but also elaborately adorned clothes, often expensive and custom-made that ladies in the industry make available to one another. Bothwell says there’s a huge subculture with a market online.
“Yes, rodeo queens borrow each other’s outfits all the time,” she says with a smile.