Rhinestone Cowboys: The Problem of Country Music Costuming

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (forthcoming)
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Country music critics and scholars have noticed an apparent contradiction between the practical identity of country music with the image of the male country singer as the 'rhinestone cowboy'. In this case, the problem is one of how we can make sense of the rural, working-class, ruggedly masculinity persona common to the genre with its elaborately embroidered, brightly colored, and highly embellished male fashion. The intractability of this problem has led some to argue that the simplest solution is to just deny the legitimacy of country music authenticity discourse altogether. That is, all the genre’s talk of the rural working class is inauthentic and should be discarded. Here, I argue that by accounting for country music authenticity in terms of the genre being a dual character concept, we can fully address the skeptic's worries. Beyond merely being compatible with the Nudie suit however, this notion of authenticity is also our best way of understanding the aesthetic value of the rhinestone cowboy image at all. The resulting picture, in which the suit primarily serves as an epistemic signifier of one’s standing in the country music community, allows for the Nudie suit to function as a class, and sometimes queer, commentary on mainstream culture.

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Emmie Malone
Lone Star College


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