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Belt Buckles

A Little History About Cowboy Buckles


It is impossible to talk about the history of the buckles without the element that complements it: the belt. Since when does the belt exist? The truth is that we have to go back to the Bronze Age to find the first traces of this item. Although the first belts still did not carry the main accessory of our history. It would take a few millennia to see the first buckle.

The first buckles appeared in Ancient Greece and during the Roman Empire. They were mainly used in military equipment: leather sheaths and belts or to hold saddles and stirrups. They were made of metal, bone and ivory and due to their simplicity and durability their use spread over time for clothes and shoes.

The origins of the buckle are somewhat confusing. Although, there are experts who claim that this was in Ancient Rome. But for others, its inventor was an Italian blacksmith during the 16th century. Thus, for example, British sailors of the Elizabethan period popularized their use due to the need for an efficient way to keep their pants closed due to the severe climatic conditions of the high seas.

The buckle was not always associated with the image of the cowboy. For most of the 19th century, the cowboy outfit was basically something functional. Therefore, as there were no mass production systems, second-hand clothes were generally used to work, to grab the pants, they only used suspenders. So, the first cowboys used to wear very practical and used suspenders.

A buckle is basically a type of fastener used to fasten two things together. Before the zipper appeared, it was used to button various parts of clothing or footwear.

The Relation of Buckles to the United States Civil War

During the United States Civil War, between 1861 and 1865, soldiers on both sides began to wear belts with brass buckles. The type of buckle in which you pull the belt to the right to keep it in place and has no holes. But, they were not yet the classic buckle we all imagined.

When competitive and organized rodeos began in Colorado in the late 19th century, cowboys did not wear a buckle unless they were Civil War veterans. The military buckle tradition came from Europe, where soldiers were expected to look sharp as they headed for battle; depending on their units, soldiers were given large buckles made of brass and engraved with insignia and heraldic marks such as.

Officers received more elaborate buckles, made of gold, and used them in parades after the war became a tradition.

When the Buckles went from Functional to Elegant

So the civil war veterans who kept their military belts found them very practical, including cowboys. After Levi Strauss began mass-producing jeans with belt loops, cowboys gave up wearing suspenders because belts and buckle technology became more functional.

In the first rodeos organized in the United States, competitors wore functional belt buckles. However, in most cases, the military also switched to functional buckles, with one exception: the United States Army Cavalry, which followed European tradition and maintained large, ornate buckles that later incorporated heraldic elements that evoked American culture.

These leather belts and buckles would later be turned into belts complete with holsters and ammo pockets. The refined buckles worn by the Texas Rangers inspired saddle makers to create buckles that rodeo pedestrians used during social events, along with stylish boots, but not during competitions.

Hollywood And The Buckles

When the 1900s arrived, Hollywood began to romanticize cowboy outfits in the films, highlighting the unique elements in cowboy outfits. In the early films, cowboys used to wear regular belts and buckles, but when the 1950s came, cowboys in the movies started using larger, brighter buckles. These films were so influential that cowboys also embraced fashion.

In fact, it was more of a marketing issue. At the beginning of the 20th century, Hollywood started producing the first western films, so the creation of a unique image was necessary to identify this character. Film producers developed the image of cowboys as we know them today and which, over time, was idealized. They needed an image with unique elements and the appearance of a worker in worn clothes and suspenders did not look good for the camera.

Even though wearing belts is not necessarily favorable to the type of work they do, sometimes style has won over practicality. However, the curious thing is that, as uncomfortable as it is to use those big buckles at work, the cowboys began to copy that idealized image that Hollywood gave of themselves and, shortly after, the idea became reality.

The Hollywood formula for belt buckles boiled down to heroes using the most beautiful ones. The goldsmiths noticed and replaced the saddle makers; that’s when the hand-made buckle revolution started and started to become extravagant with precious metals and jewelry. The most showy buckles would reach the maximum design level when country music singer David Allan Coe recorded the album The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy in 1974. Currently, the most coveted buckles are those granted by PRCA.

Bohlin Buckles

Most of these belt buckles are shiny, and credit for shining them goes to a Swedish immigrant named Edward H. Bohlin. He was an expert in making leather and saddles, but before that, he was a pawn in Montana and Wyoming. He worked on a show in Vaudeville in 1922. There he met a movie star called Tom Mix and started creating saddles and belts for him. The silver details and finishes he used when designing the belt buckles quickly became his trademark. Bohlin has become the most popular and sought after belt buckle designer in Hollywood. Its original buckles have become highly collectible and some are still offered by the Bohlin Company in Dallas, Texas.

Buckles as Cowboys Business Cards

The buckles are also known as a “cowboy business card”. Buckle belts are not just used to hold your pants up. Some people wear buckles with their names on them. Others like to have their favorite sport or favorite animal on their belt buckles. They can also indicate the user’s initials or brand, claim a significant achievement, and even expose devotion to the country.

Buckles as Trophy

There is no doubt that large, elaborate belt buckles are a tradition. They were officially awarded at professional rodeo events at the San Francisco Cow Palace, California, in the 1920s. Granting buckles to rodeo cowboys made perfect sense because they were already being used by veteran cavalry and former Texas Rangers; in addition, saddle makers were creating buckles for Hollywood cowboys like Tom Mix and Gene Autry. The location, the name of the event and the year are the details usually inscribed on the trophy buckle.

When Junior Nogueira, a professional rodeo pawn who started team roping in 2014, won the All-Around PRCA National Finals in 2016, he was totally amazed not only by the millions he won on the circuit over the year, but by the huge buckle that he received.

Back in Brazil, Nogueira was used to winning cars, motorcycles and money, but the PRCA buckle was something he always wanted to use. Nogueira is not the only rodeo professional for whom the buckle meant everything. In 2011, Kurt Manke won the PRCA world championship in his sport and told the North Dakota Rapid City Journal that he was not as interested in the money as he wanted to continue earning gold buckles after 50.

Junior Nogueira, com a fivela do All-Around da PRCA em 2016, fivelas
Junior Nogueira, with the PRCA All-Around buckle in 2016

Buckles Today

Today, the buckles are not only for cowboys, but are also popular for those who appreciate country style and especially country music. When you buy buckles, you will find that the most expensive buckles on the market are handmade. You can, however, find beautiful buckles with base metals. You can find many styles and options and, of course, a wide range of prices.


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