I'm not sure if you noticed, but the last four Daily Doodles have been black and white... Not on purpose, it just happened, but it made me want something with color. Enter my sister's text message this morning which mentioned chaps. The ostentatious ones, with metallic leather, buckles, flourishes... COLOR! Well, spoiler alert, the neutral zone drug me back, so I added a color... brown. This kind of makes me want to paint a second pair just so I can use all the colors!
Obviously, the first chaps weren't purple and teal with silver alligator accents. They were actually just one large cowhide attached to a saddle and wrapped over the legs. The Spanish are credited with the early chap concept, "Cahparehos". These cowhides offered protection from cactus, brush and thorns. As time passed, different versions developed.
Armitas derived from the Spanish word “arma,” meaning “shield,” were developed in the late 18th century as “little armor” for early buckaroos. Although they protected riders from the elements, their design was somewhat cumbersome; the closed, three-quarter length 'leggings' had to be put on like pants. The waist design was primitive, more similar to an apron than a belt. Today’s traditional armitas are more practical, but still feature no buckle hardware.
Chinks were the vaqueros update of the Armitas. Roaming California and the Southwest, they sought greater versatility and air circulation while riding in warm climates. Chinks only reach two to four inches below the knee, just enough to brush the rider’s boots, and are secured on the upper thigh by straps. The leg shape is in the middle of the chap range, clinging close to the leg without being restrictive.
Shotgun chaps offer the highest level of protection and stability for riding in the most rugged conditions. They were used by range-working Texas cowboys and peaked in the 1870s, when they were the most common chap in the West. They have a closed-leg, with a zip-up design. Shotgun chaps trap in heat while keeping out rain, snow, and pests. Shotguns lack the extravagant lower flap of batwing chaps, and instead flare just enough to fit snugly over a rider’s boot.
Batwing chaps increased in popularity after the closing of the open range, when more cowboy work was done on foot. The batwing’s design is an open lower-leg that buckles around the thigh and allows for maximum air circulation and freedom of movement, while their full-length flaps offer protection from trees and brush. This is the style of rodeo chaps. Cowboys competing in rodeo events favor the flexibility of the batwing’s open cut, as well as the dramatic flare modern leather masters have embellished and fringed to highlight every leap, twist and hop of a bull or bronc.
And last but not least, Woolies. Plain leather offered little in the way of warmth to cowboys north of the Texas border, so in the late 1880s, woolies began popping up across the Great Plains. Woolies are either made with a fleece, usually Angora, or cut from hair-on cow or buffalo hide, then lined with canvas for added moisture resistance.
What's your favorite chap design?