Cowboys and western wear aesthetics are making a comeback in a brand new way. Cowboy boot-shaped match holders, mugs, and neon signs sit next to cowboy hat candles and stickers on the shelves of trendy gift shops. Modern western wear-inspired outfits in bright, whimsical colors are your favorite TikTok creator’s outfit of the day, perfect for a fun night out with friends. Musicians Orville Peck and Lil Nas X have reimagined the cowboy as a symbol of queerness and couture. French-American painter Mark Maggiori has made his name in the art world with romantic visions of the American Southwest–lone cowboys riding their horses on the edge of a vast, wild landscape with blazing blue skies and soft pink clouds.
The cowboy has long been a legendary figure in the American imagination as much as an actual profession. While macho, John Wayne-esque cowboys as portrayed in classic Western films have long reigned supreme as the main image of a “true cowboy,” a new generation is reexamining that old stereotype and reclaiming it for themselves.
The John Wayne cowboy is only one interpretation of the iconic image. Mexican vaqueros, Black cowboys, women cowgirls, rodeo performers, country stars, anyone who feels like an outlaw depending on their own self-reliance for survival and success–these are the cowboys of today.
Celebrate the rebirth of the cowboy with our favorite books that take a closer look at this horse-riding figure of the American West.