What Do Cowboys Wear Around Their Neck? A Guide to Western Neckwear

Cowboys are known for their rugged and tough exterior, but have you ever wondered what that stylish accessory is around their necks?

It’s not just for show, it actually serves a practical purpose. 

In fact, cowboys have been wearing this item for centuries and it’s become a staple in western fashion.

The item in question is called a wild rag, also known as a cowboy scarf, necktie, or bandana.

These scarves are made of silk, cotton, or a blend of both and had a number of uses.

A necktie could keep the sun off your neck, protect you from the wind and keep the dust, and dirt out of your face.

In a pinch, a bolo tie also makes a great bandage, tourniquet, or washcloth.

Cowboys also wear something around their necks called a bolo tie.

A bolo tie is a type of necktie that consists of a braided leather cord or cord-like material with an ornamental clasp or slide. 

The clasp or slide, also known as the bolo, is typically made of metal and often features decorative designs or stones. 

It’s believed that cowboys began wearing wild rags in the late 1800s to early 1900s. 

They were inspired by bandanas worn by Mexican vaqueros, which were used to protect their faces from the sun and dust.

Cowboys quickly adopted the trend and made it their own by wearing larger, more colorful scarves.

The Bandana: More Than Just a Fashion Statement

Cowboys are known for their rugged and practical style, and one accessory that has become synonymous with the cowboy look is the bandana. 

A bandana is a square or triangular piece of cloth, typically made of cotton or silk, that is often worn as a headband, neckerchief, or kerchief.

It can also be used as a makeshift face covering or a handkerchief.

In the context of cowboys, bandanas were commonly worn as a practical and versatile accessory. 

They could be used to protect the cowboy’s face and neck from dust and sun, as well as to keep their hair out of their face while working.

Additionally, bandanas could be used as a makeshift sling, tourniquet, or emergency rope.

The bandana was and still is one of the most tactical items you can use for surviving. 

Cowboys knew that this simple piece of cloth could be used in many ways, from wiping sweat off their faces to filtering water. 

The bandana became an iconic symbol of the American cowboy during the late 19th century, thanks in part to popular Western movies and television shows. 

Cowboy actors such as John Wayne and Roy Rogers were often seen wearing bandanas, further cementing the association between cowboys and this accessory. 

Today, bandanas remain a popular accessory in Western fashion and culture and are still used for practical purposes.

Bolo Ties: A Western Icon

If you’re looking for the quintessential cowboy accessory, look no further than the bolo tie. 

The bolo tie originated in the American West during the early 20th century, and it quickly became a popular accessory among cowboys and ranchers. 

Today, the bolo tie is still a popular accessory for those who want to add a touch of Western flair to their outfits.

The bolo tie is a type of necktie made from a cord or braided leather and a decorative clasp or slide. 

It’s also known as a string tie, bola tie, or shoestring necktie.

The clasp can be made from a variety of materials, including silver, turquoise, or other stones. 

One of the great things about bolo ties is their versatility. 

They can be dressed up or down and worn with a variety of outfits. 

Pair one with a denim shirt and jeans for a casual look, or wear it with a suit for a more formal occasion. 

While bolo ties are often associated with the American Southwest, they’ve gained popularity all over the world. 

Celebrities like Post Malone and Lil Nas X have been spotted wearing them, and high-end fashion brands like Prada have featured them in their collections

So if you want to add a touch of Western flair to your wardrobe, consider investing in a bolo tie. 

When it comes to wearing a bolo tie, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

First, the tie should be worn with a collared shirt. It’s best to choose a shirt with a button-down collar, as this will help keep the tie in place. 

Second, the tie should be worn with the clasp slightly pulled down, so that it hangs loosely around the neck. 

This will give you a carefree, casual look that’s perfect for a night out or a day on the ranch.

There are many different types of bolo ties available, ranging from simple leather cords with silver tips to elaborate pieces with intricate designs and gemstones. 

Some bolo ties even feature images of horses, cowboys, or other Western motifs. 

No matter what your style, there’s a bolo tie out there that’s perfect for you.

The Wild Rag: 

One neck accessory that has stood the test of time is the wild rag. 

This versatile piece of cloth (basically a scarf) has been worn by cowboys and cowgirls since the 1800s, and it’s still popular today. 

The first wild rags were made from flour sacks which were cut into squares and tied around the neck for protection from the elements. [source]

The primary use of the wild rag is protection from the elements. 

Whether it’s the cold, wind, sun, or dust, a wild rag can help keep a cowboy comfortable while working on the ranch or riding the range. 

But beyond its practical uses, the wild rag is now also a stylish accessory that adds a pop of color and pattern to any outfit. 

Here are a few reasons why cowboys love their wild rags: 

  • Versatility: A wild rag can be worn in a variety of ways. It can be tied around the neck, worn as a headband, or even used as a face mask in dusty conditions. 
  • Durability: Wild rags are typically made from silk or cotton, which makes them durable and long-lasting. They can withstand the wear and tear of ranch work and still look great.
  • Style: Wild rags come in a variety of colors and patterns, so there’s something to suit every cowboy’s taste. Whether you prefer a classic paisley print or a bold geometric design, there’s a wild rag out there for you. 

Overall, the wild rag is a practical and stylish accessory that has stood the test of time. 

It’s no wonder that cowboys and cowgirls continue to wear them today.


One of the most iconic items of clothing that cowboys wear around their neck is the neckerchief. 

This is basically another name for a scarf, necktie, or bandana.

Neckerchiefs come in a variety of colors, patterns, and fabrics, but they all serve the same purpose of protecting the cowboy’s neck from the sun, wind, and dust.

Neckerchiefs can be worn in a variety of ways, depending on the cowboy’s preference and the situation. 

Here are some common ways to wear a neckerchief:

  • Tight Knot: This is the most common way to wear a neckerchief. Simply fold the neckerchief in half diagonally to form a triangle, then roll it up from the long end to the point. Tie the rolled-up neckerchief around your neck, making sure it’s snug but not too tight.
  • Loose Knot: If you prefer a more casual look, you can tie the neckerchief in a loose knot around your neck. This style is great for warmer weather or when you want to show off a particularly colorful or decorative neckerchief.
  • Neck Roll: This style is great for colder weather or when you want to add a little extra warmth to your neck. Fold the neckerchief in half diagonally to form a triangle, then roll it up from the long end to the point. Place the rolled-up neckerchief around your neck, then tuck the ends into your collar.

Here’s a great video that shows how to tie a neckerchief:

Neckerchiefs are a versatile accessory that can add a pop of color and personality to any cowboy’s outfit. 


Cowboys have been wearing something around their necks for centuries, and it’s not just a fashion statement. 

From the traditional wild rag to modern-day neckties, these accessories serve a practical purpose in the world of cowboys and beyond. 

Whether it’s to keep the cold air out, protect against dust and debris, or treat injuries, cowboys have found a way to make their neckwear work for them. 

And with the rise of Western fashion, it’s no surprise that these neck accessories have become a staple in many people’s wardrobes. 

So the next time you see a cowboy with something around their neck, you’ll know that it’s not just for show. 

It’s a functional accessory that has stood the test of time and continues to serve a purpose in the modern world. 

Sources, citations, and further reading:

The history of the wild rag – The Flying Ranch

Arndt, Jim. How to Be a Cowboy. Gibbs Smith, 2009.

Wilson, Laurel. American cowboy dress: Function to fashion.” Dress 28.1 (2001): 40-52.