Q&A Questions and Answers:
Why do western leather jackets have fringe; is it just style or did the strips of leather serve a purpose on the range?
The correct answer is "All of the above"!
In the early days, fringe served several purposes. One of the common sayings back then was, "Waste not, want not," and leaving excess leather on a jacket left the leather available for other uses. By cutting the excess into strips, the jacket maker made the seam areas more flexible while allowing for better ventilation and preserving some additional insulation and protection from the elements. I've never really understood the mechanics (or perhaps hydraulics) behind the statement, but old-timers always insisted that cutting the leather into fringe made rain run off better.
If you've ever browsed through one of the larger tack shops, you've probably seen "farmer's packs" of scrap leather for use in repairing tack. The fringed jacket served a similar purpose in the wild country. Anyone who has made long horseback rides has probably had something go wrong with a headstall, or needed to tie something in an emergency. In a pinch, cutting off a strip of fringe will provide a string that's just right for re-attaching the reins to a bit, or replacing a latigo string on a saddle. Whether it's lashing together an emergency shelter or lashing the end of a rope to keep it from fraying, those strips of leather can come in real handy at awkward times.
As for style, fringe adds an extra impression of movement while riding. Most bronc riders prefer fringed chaps, because they emphasize the spurring action of the rider's legs. Aside from that, a fringed jacket just looks classy! ;o)
Thanks for the great question!
(Photograph of San Poil Chief Jim James [1886-1971] courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture and the Library of Congress.)
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