Cowboy duds or dandies?
It seems everyone is a fashion critic during the 10-day Stampede when even the most staid accountants, sales clerks or high-ranking oil executives trade in their business attire for the swagger that accompanies a cowboy hat, boots and a pair of Wrangler jeans.
Those who don’t high-tail it down to the western wear store and at least make an effort to “go cowboy” stand out like sore thumbs and set themselves up to be the target of ridicule.
Politicians are not exempt as they make their all but mandatory appearances at the Stampede to show they’re down with Alberta folk.
“You have to look comfortable. You have to look western, like you belong and like you enjoy it,” said David Taras, a longtime political scientist at the University of Calgary.
“The cost of getting it wrong is the impression you don’t belong, you haven’t given it much thought, you’re not western, you’re not populist. That’s a bad message,” said Taras.
Brian Guichon, owner of Riley & McCormick Western Stores in Calgary, watches politicians closely when they ride into town.
At last year’s Stampede, The Canadian Press showed Guichon photos of the federal leaders in their western getups and asked him to pick the best and worst dressed.
The winner was beleaguered federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion followed closely by Prime Minister Harper. The loser was amiable Green party leader Elizabeth May, wearing something that Guichon referred to as “leisure suitish.”
But times change in just one year.
“Oh. She has done well. This is very nice,” exclaimed Guichon. “Nice buckle. Nice belt. A little bling happening there with a silver-and-gold buckle. The shirt’s fitted well and is nicely westerned out.”
New Democrat Leader Jack Layton also got top marks with his black hat, belt, jeans and NDP bandana.
The prime minister received praise for his new belt and buckle, but was wearing his cowboy hat a little too far back on his head.
But new Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff didn’t live up to his old boss’s sartorial splendour. Guichon said Ignatieff, in a checked blue shirt with his head bare for all the world to see, obviously hadn’t grasped the Stampede spirit yet as he served pancakes.