Girls of the West, a Colorado Springs tradition, turns 100 | Way of life
The beige suede outfit is fringed and studded and century old.
The outfit was made in 1922 for the town’s first rodeo queen. She was Miss Dawn Norris, presented in the newspaper as “a blond girl under 20 summers, an athletic girl and an outgoing type, a typical western girl…in fact pretty much the ideal type of cow-girl.” girl”.
The ideal cowgirl type needed ideal cowgirl clothes, so Norris wore the suede pants and a matching waistcoat over a green silk shirt. It’s what she wore to promote the rodeo, like when she took a horseback trip to Denver to invite the governor of Colorado to the rodeo.
It was the start of a tradition known as Girls of the West, which 100 years later is still going strong.
The primary mission of each “girl” and her helper is to promote “the Western way of life and the Western-style American girl,” according to the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo website. (The Girls of the West is older than Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, which officially started in 1937.)
They might be overshadowed as just part of the rodeo, but Girls of the West plays much more than a supporting role in Colorado Springs history. They have their own story to tell. It’s about tradition, brotherhood, hard work and why it’s important to dress the role.
The outfit plays a role in this story.
After her reign as the First Girl of the West, something told Norris to cling to her uniform until her death in 1970. Her family then donated it to the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, where it has since been hiding in a warehouse.
Next, museum staff set out to find items for an exhibit honoring the city’s 150th anniversary. When Caitlin Sharpe, a registrar, found the 1922 outfit, it seemed to fit the bill.
“I thought it was a really nice artifact and was impressed that we got it,” Sharpe said. “And that he was still intact.”
This is largely thanks to Norris, who has taken care of the clothes for almost 50 years.
“She had the foresight to know how important it would be for Colorado Springs and to keep it for so many years,” Sharpe said. “It shows how important the experience is to her.”
The permanent exhibit debuted in 2020 with the Girl of the West outfit as one of 150 items on display.
Of course, someone told Corliss Palmer.
Because if Girls of the West has a star woman, it’s her.
The program is to be run by an ‘escort’, a sort of mentor, to guide the girls in their duties.
Palmer took over as escort in 2002 as a kind of favor to the former escort, a friend of hers. The friend, who was pregnant with her second baby, said, “I can’t take it anymore.
Palmer’s daughters have grown up. She was retired. She said yes.
“I didn’t know enough to say no,” Palmer said.
Palmer had just completed a 30-year career with Western Horseman magazine, touted at the time as the world’s largest horse publication.
“It kept me in the western industry,” she said. “That’s why I did it in the beginning.”
Twenty years later, Girls of the West has become more than an unpaid job for Palmer.
“You can’t say Girl of the West without mentioning Corliss Palmer,” said Dayna Buffington, who was Girl of the West in 2011. “She’s the program.”
Palmer’s role is probably just as underrated as the program she keeps alive. She guides every step of the process for the girls, down to driving them to multiple events a day in a pink van.
One of his priorities each year? Clothes.
Palmer selects the fabrics and styles of the outfits the girls wear, which are made by a local seamstress and become their uniform for up to 150 or more appearances at events between early May and late July.
Typically, they wear rodeo shirts and skirts.
But when Palmer saw the original outfit at the Pioneers Museum, she had an idea.
She called Heidi Isaac, owner of The Button, the Needle and the Wardrobe. Ahead of the program’s 100th anniversary, Palmer asked the seamstress, “How do you feel about getting as close to the original as possible?”
Isaac was ready for the challenge.
Palmer first called her six years ago and asked if she would be the new seamstress for Girls of the West.
“At the time, I was like, ‘What are girls out west,'” Isaac said. “I was new to the rodeo world. We’ve been working to create a cool new look since then.
The project has become an annual highlight for Isaac.
“I loved learning more about these rodeo queens and what they like to wear,” she said. “What makes them sparkle and shine?” It’s our job to make them smart and sharp.
This time it was a “different business,” she said.
Isaac and his team used photos of the outfit as a guide. They zoomed in on the details, trying to count the many metal studs. The total exceeds 500.
They spent a few months coming up with the final result, which features a star pattern formed from studs and a tiny “100” emblem on the back of the vest.
“As someone who loves vintage anyway, it was very exciting,” Isaac said. “It was a way of honoring the past.”
They created a replica of the outfit that the Girl of the West will wear to military bases, parades and large-scale events such as Western Street Breakfast and, of course, Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo.
Buffington first laid eyes on a western girl when she was 8 years old, and it made quite an impression.
“When you’re a little girl and you see this beautiful person and she’s kind and she’s gorgeous, you’re just drawn to that,” she said. “I just wanted to know what made her like that and be like that.”
Buffington grew up on a ranch near Colorado Springs. His father was a bull rider. She attended her first rodeo three days after she was born.
“Rodeo was ingrained in me,” she said.
When Buffington was old enough, she tried to be a western girl. Auditions can be grueling, she said, with riding tests and interviews with multiple judges.
When she was named the Girl of the West, she felt like she was “part of something special”.
“The cliché that a little girl’s dream comes true is true for me,” she said. “Once you’re in the program, you realize it’s so much more than a girl on a horse.”
“There are rodeos across the country, but there’s nothing more special than the Girl of the West program,” she said.
“It’s a hidden gem that is so unique. A lot of people don’t necessarily understand what’s in there. »
There’s a lot to do beyond being “a pretty face,” Buffington said.
And a lot is learned from Palmer.
After a girl from the West ends her reign, she is not forgotten by Palmer. She attended their weddings and baby showers. She’s just a phone call away for advice on work or life.
Buffington, 34, now works in the marketing department of Cinch, a western-themed clothing brand. She says Palmer helped her find her place in her career.
“She’s more than someone who made your schedule or drove you around in a pink pickup,” Buffington said. “When you’re in the room with her, people respect you.”
Palmer also teaches girls how to “dress a certain way to gain respect”. The Mentor can often be seen in cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a flashy button-up shirt.
Western dressing sends a message, just like 100 years ago.
“It’s a total lifestyle,” Palmer said. “I’ve always loved the western lifestyle. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful life.