The cowboys of Argentina: GAUCHOS

The word gaucho could be described as a loose equivalent to the North American “cowboy”. Gaucho is a term commonly used to describe residents of the South American pampas, chacos, or Patagonian grasslands, found principally in parts of Argentina. The term often connotes the 19th century more than the present day, when gauchos made up the majority of the rural population, herding cattle on the vast estancias, and practicing hunting as their main economic activities.

The gaucho plays an important symbolic role in the nationalist feelings of this region. The epic poem Martín Fierro by José Hernández used the gaucho as a symbol against corruption and of Argentine national tradition, pitted against Europeanizing tendencies. Martín Fierro, the hero of the poem, is drafted into the Argentine military for a border war, deserts, and becomes an outlaw and fugitive. The image of the free gaucho is often contrasted to the slaves who worked the northern Brazilian lands.

Clothing of the gauchos: LAS PILCHAS

All gaucho clothing is usually called pilcha. The typical gaucho dress has the imprint of the Andalusian horse rider with a poncho (large cloak or cape cut like a blanket with a slit in the center for the head), a facón (large knife), a whip and baggy pants called bombachas, held with a belt with a strip of woven wool usually with a decoration called guarda pampa for everyday use and a wide leather belt adorned with silver coins for special occasions, and a chiripá (cloth tied around his waist like a diaper). One of the functions of the chiripá was to protect the gaucho from the cold (the cold was called many times with the Quechua word: “chiri). According to their economics or labor, this ornament used to have luxury features, including coins or inlaid with silver and gold figures. Their torsos were covered with the poncho, which originated in northern Argentina and is also common in other parts of the Americas, and was often made of vicuña or from the hair of the guanaco belly.

The gaucho used to ride with botas de potro (horse boots) that had no heels and were open at the ends, so that the toes were uncovered.  Leather boots with heels (botas fuertes or strong boots) were expensive, although most of the Gauchos saved money for them and show them off in the Patron Festivities, holidays and in the dances. They were called “patriotic boots” because they were the same ones used by the soldiers. The northern Argentine gaucho boots often have folds that resemble bellows, i.e. leather legs “cordoned off” as a way of defending the forest and possible snake bites. These boots often have espuelas (spurs) attached to them, highlighting the large silver spurs called “Nazarene” (so called because their huge pricks remotely reminiscent to the crown of thorns with which, according to the Gospels, Jesus from Nazareth was tortured).

A strong Basque immigration occurred in the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th century which spread the use of a black beret and the chambergo (a dark hat of medium wings) and “alpargatas” (the originals “TOMS”) among the gauchos.

I designed an outfit for a women inspired by the gaucho’s clothing.

– The poncho is made out of vicuña, loosely woven and dyed in a rich red. It has a wide stripe of raw leather at one of the ends adorned with chains and a horse shoe with a horse head in the middle, all made out of alpaca, a white metal traditional of Argentina.

– The loose pants are knee length and have a woven cuff with “guarda pampa” design, as well as a high and wide belted waist.

– The raw leather boots are knee length with details of “fuelle” (bellows) at the top, uncovered toes and chain detail interlacing from the top to the vamp, inspired by the “botas de potro”.

– I also designed a necklace out of a silver “espuela” (spurs).

– A simple vest completes the outfit, inspired by the evolution of the garment at the beginning of the century.


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3 Responses to “The cowboys of Argentina: GAUCHOS”

  1. Before and After: Shoe Makeover {Tutorial} « Mother Crafter Says:

    […] TOMS shoe are called “alpargatas” and are the characteristic footwear of “gauchos“, the cowboys of Argentina? They are an Argentine trademark, and you can see them […]

  2. Adam Lacey Says:

    Hi there – what are the more ‘relaxed’ looking hats called (that the younger men tend to wear. They have a large front brim and are very cool looking…



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