If you watch any cowboy or western movies, you’ll see the actors wearing leather chaps of some sort. While they might complete the “look” for what we perceive as the cowboy style, you might be wondering what they are, and what their true purpose is.
Leather leg coverings became a necessity after the Spaniards brought over cattle to Mexico in the 1600s. While they weren’t so crucial in the corrals, once cattle learned to escape, the vaqueros, or cowboys, had to crash through the brush and cacti to rope them and bring them home. The leather coverings helped preserve their jeans and save their legs from nature’s abuse.
As time went on, cowboys began to spread across America, and new styles became part of the evolution: shotgun chaps, batwing chaps, woolies, and chinks began to develop. They can be made out of cowhide, bull hide, deer or elk hide - the list goes on. And now of course the leather can be dyed or branded, fringes of all sorts can be added as well as studs, and there are myriad fun custom options. But the basics are:
Shotgun Chaps: Full length, fitted leather chaps, (looking like a double barrel shotgun) usually with zippers on the sides.
Batwing Chaps: Full length chaps that have a flare at the bottom; the flare has grown with style – commonly worn by bull riders for ease of movement, and often decorated flamboyantly – see the movie 8 Seconds for a good example of this – see it anyway as it is great!
Woolies: Full length chaps that have the hair on them, therefore insulating them better and keeping the wearer warmer – often bison/buffalo hide
Chinks: shortened from “chincaderos” - Usually half the length of chaps, and looser in fit.
Here at RTR, we mostly wear chinks. They are enough to protect our legs, but breathable enough keep our legs from getting too hot. And they look cool!
We have a really great leather master who lives locally – he is actually Amish, and moved here from back east, but he does beautiful western leather work. He made me a pair of chinks this winter – see right – and I love them!