Southwestern Style for Spring & Summer in Bend, Oregon: Fashion for Mountain-Mama Cowgirls
by Tina Boomerina (Christina Gregoire)
I’m a Seattle native who’s decided to move to Bend, a small town in the Central Oregon desert, because dry weather is good for my arthritis. I had to rule out Arizona because my husband cannot tolerate the high summer temperatures of Phoenix. So, when we went to Bend (and Sunriver) in March, I looked around to see if the local women were wearing Southwestern-style prints or cowboy hats or mountain-mama plaids or denim jeans or something totally different. I wanted to get a feel for the artistic ambiance of the area… so I could dress (somewhat) like a local and decorate my new digs in a style that didn’t feel out of place for my newly adopted hometown.
Well, I discovered that Bend is a mix of styles.
While Bend definitely has the typical laid-back, blue-jean culture of the Pacific Northwest, it also has a bit of a Southwestern feel (think tribal prints, Mexicana folk-styles, and cowgirl boots) because Bend sits on the dry side of the state in the “rain shadow” of the Cascades. Yay! Bend, Oregon may not get the 300 days of sunshine touted by the chamber of commerce, but it also doesn’t get the 363 days of rain experienced in beautiful, but rainy, Seattle... well, Seattle doesn't get THAT much rain. I'm just trying to make myself feel better about leaving my hometown.
I had to write most of the notes for this article at a Starbucks in Oregon (great Wi-Fi) because I’m currently a homeless person who’s shuttling between el-cheapo, dog-friendly motels in Bend and vacant bedrooms of assorted friends (Seattle) and family members (Boise, Idaho). My husband and I are waiting for one house to sell and another house to close.
And, before I get to "what to pack" when visiting Bend in the spring and summer; I want to give you a word of advice about moving. Don’t. It’s no fun to move and it’s an extremely expensive endeavor. (I know you won't listen, but you'll remember my advice the next time you move.)
Southwest & Other Styles in Bend Oregon:
Cowboy hats? Western duds?
I only saw one person in a cowboy hat during my most recent excursion to Bend, and the guy wearing it looked like a true, grizzled ranch-hand or ranch owner, however Western styles are a natural fit in this arid landscape. And, I'm sure you'd see more cowgirl chapeaus within the hunter-jumper (horsey) crowd. However, Southwestern-style accents are not the only type of clothing I saw.
Of course, it's more important to protect yourself from the elements than to look spiffy, because Central Oregon is not a fashion capital like London or Paris (and the elements abound), so you might want to stay away from over-the-top fancy-dancy outfits unless you live for the popping flashes of the paparazzi. (I did see one or two chicks in the downtown area who looked like they were decked out for a fashion shoot in NYC, complete with towering stilettos, but they were the exception to the rule. And, the rule for Bend is "Blue Jeans Rule".)
Well, it's fun to look like you're an in-the-know world traveler... a chick who knows exactly what to wear in Central Oregon. And, when in Rome... yadda yadda. So, here's what I saw women wearing in Bend (in addition to the denim ensembles with Southwestern accents), as I hid myself in a corner of Starbucks, an undercover spy trying to decipher the "character" of this formerly small town:
Sporty Clothing: Bend attracts lots of jockettes, women who like to hike, bike, kayak, ski, snowboard, and stand-up paddle board... or whatever it's called. I saw several high-end ski parkas similar to what one would find in Europe, a few Eddie Bauerish down vests, some Targetish fleece hoodies, an occasional Lycra bike-shorts outfit, and things like that. If your style is sporty, you're pretty much good to go.
Mountain Grunge: Bend is a former mill town (logging country), so plaid blouses, plaid jackets, denim jackets, and denim jeans are practical and appropriate looks. Northwest Grunge, a la Nirvana, feels right at home here.
Hipster Style: Bend is more into beer than any city outside of Munich. I actually saw a window display dedicated to Pabst Blue Ribbon. And, Bend is such a laid-back, fun burg that I'll look the other way when you (and other women over 40) walk around downtown in shorts. Actually, jean cut-offs are a perfect look for hot August days in Bend. You won't find me wearing them, but I won't dock points for the rest of you. And, because most jobs in Bend are of the minimum-wage tourist-industry variety, recycled hipster duds from thrift shops and teenster mall stores look exceptionally apropos in this environment.
Artsy & Hippie Trippy: Bend feels like an artsy college town. Actually, my overall impression of Bend is "Santa Barbara without the Surf" and without the crazy California prices. In my opinion, Bend's true vibe is basically boho. You'll see quite a few young chicks with long hair and the no-makeup look. And, it's super easy to find a natural food market or a wholesome organic restaurant, even though you're sitting smack dab in the most conservative part of the state.... because Bend is still part of Oregon, the Bohemian Mecca of the Known World.
Dear friends, even though you can get away with wearing denim jeans, a plaid shirt, and a down parka almost everywhere, I’m hoping you’ll bring your vacation-in-Bend fashion up a notch because, ahem, I will be living there… and even though I’m older and not as chic as I once was… I want to be proud of my newly adopted home.
What to Bring for Central Oregon Vacations:
The city of Bend sits at a high elevation, about 3,600 ft. It doesn’t matter if you’re visiting the area in winter or summer. You need to protect your eyes and your skin when you're that high up.
Pack These Necessities for Bend:
- Sunscreen (Eucerin was recommended by my doc.)
- A Hat With a Brim (if you're fair)
I acknowledge that I’m a very fair-skinned white chick, but I had no idea how much the sun was attacking me the first day we looked at houses. Hey, we were only walking outside for a few minutes at a time, but I ended up extremely sunburned and slightly snow-blinded. Well, I guess you can’t get snow-blindness without snow… but the effect was the same. My eyes were painful and itchy and sensitive for two days from a very short exposure to the intense, high-altitude sunlight.
I know all about wearing dark goggles for spring skiing, but I was totally taken off guard by the cool-and-mostly-cloudy weather that first day in Bend. The high desert is a new experience for me. My eyes (and face) might have been okay if I had worn a fedora with a large brim but I was wearing a knit wool cap that offered no protection other than warmth. So, if you’re used to sea-level climates, remember that Bend is basically “up in the mountains” even though the town is fairly flat.
This was just a minor bump in the road and I was not deterred from moving to Bend. I don't know what it is, but I like the place.
Pack Winter Clothes:
No matter what time of year, even if you're going to Bend in high summer, it's going to be cold at night and during the morning. I would not go to Bend without packing a parka, down vest, or a cardigan (or all three). You can always take a layer off and throw it in a backpack, but even if it's in the 90s during the day, it's going to get very cold once the sun goes down.
People from Seattle, are used to this. People from California are not. If you're not used to mountain weather, you must learn that layering is the key to comfort AND survival.
I am not kidding about the down parka. Put a parka or jacket in your suitcase - right next to your swimsuit - and leave that coat in your car or your day pack. We saw snow flurries as we were leaving our motel at the end of March. And, I've read it's not uncommon to see snow flurries and hard frosts in July. Bend is right next to Mt. Bachelor, a ski resort. It's a beautiful area but it gets wide swings in temperatures just like most deserts in the world. Nights are cold... or extremely cold.
Bend is basically a revived Western town, but even though it's a small town, it's had a big influx of trendy escapees from the big cities of the West, so Bend is not as sleepy as it looks. There has been an influx of big money from California and Texas in the past few decades. Unfortunately, this means that many Bendites have been priced out of their neighborhoods, just as I've been priced out of Seattle....
...but that's a subject for a different post.
So, even though the people are casually dressed in Bend, some of their duds are extremely upscale, although most folks are careful never to be overly ostentatious. Hey, I've never been to Santa Fe (because I can't do altitudes higher than Bend) but I have a feeling that wealthy New Mexicans dress in a similar low-key style.
While jeans are a staple, I've seen other goodies with a Southwestern flair.
- Patterned maxi skirts and dresses worn with denim jackets.
- Southwest and floral trousers worn with denim jackets.
- Southwest embellished tops and denim.
I saw a few teenage and twentyish girls sipping lattes at Starbucks. They were wearing high-end denim, small-but-good Southwestern style jewelry, nice cowgirl boots, and a tasteful amount of fringe. I think they were either young trust-fund brats or co-eds with checking accounts supplied by daddy. Or, they could have been in high school.
However, my favorite Southwestern outfit was something I saw on a woman in downtown Bend. She looked like a well-heeled refugee from Houston or Northern California, because her clothes were not flashy... like the threads I've seen on some Hollywood types... if you know what I mean. However, it was just as likely she was a lifelong Bendite with great taste who lives out on a ranch.
The woman I saw was wearing a Western blanket-style poncho (in various shades of brown) with a pair of dark jeans and some short, cowboy-style ankle booties. I think she also had a fringed bag. The light-brown booties may have had fringe, too, but I was just driving by, so I didn't get a good look at anything other than her stunningly beautiful cape.
If I had to make a guess, I would bet money that the woman was also wearing real Native American silver and turquoise jewelry... not the cheap imitation stuff I wear... but I'm just guessing.
So, if you have a Western-style poncho, take it with you on your trip out West. I have a dark red poncho and it's super easy to throw it on over jeans and a top. It's absolutely perfect for Bend.... Sheesh, I hope we get this house. We lost the first house we bid on to someone who outbid us and I'm sick of being homeless. I'm typing on a teensy-weensy laptop and I can barely see what I'm typing. If this article doesn't make sense, that's my alibi.
Shoes for Western Vacations:
On the subject of running out the door, you might want to pack a pair of flat boots, cowgirl booties, flat sandals, and leather trainers (tennis shoes), so you'll be ready to run out the door and go hiking or see a rock concert or drink ale at a brew pub or run down to the river or jump on an Appaloosa... or do whatever your new Bendite friends come up with. It's a young and active city, although it seems friendly enough to older folks, too.
I may have more info about fashion for the Great West to add later, but I can't type much more right now. My tired old eyes need a break.
I can't wait to get into my new house. I'm sick of the rain and traffic in Seattle. Pray the paperwork goes through and the inspection says the house is cherry... and everything works out.
Hugs, Tina (your favorite homeless person)
Oh, by the way, I should tell you that a lot of these packing ideas will work for a vacation in Montana, Idaho, Eastern Washington, Wyoming, Tahoe, Shasta, Northern Arizona, and other places out West. So, git out there and giddyup, y'all. Out West is the hippest place to be. (These Southwestern, New Mexican, Aztec styles are currently the hottest designs in London and Europe... so it's chic to wear fringe and Santa Fe styles... no matter what your age or where you live.)
More Articles for Hip Fashionable Women:
- Main Photo: Wallis, La Redoute, Monsoon, Dorothy Parker, Monsoon.
- What to Wear in Bend Oregon: La Redoute.
- Sporty Mountain Arty Hipster Hippie Fashion: New Look, Asos, Wallis, La Redoute, Long Tall Sally.
- Trendy Southwest Tribal Clothing for Summer Vacations: Monsoon, Monsoon, Miss Selfridge, Accessorize, M and Co.
- Trendy Clothing and Accessories for Summer: Marks and Spencer, Monsoon, Marks and Spencer, Miss Selfridge, DebenhamsUK.
- Layer Sweaters and Parkas for Bend Central Oregon: La Redoute, La Redoute, DebenhamsUK, Monsoon, La Redoute.
- Tribal Native American Prints & Patterns: M and Co, Monsoon, Marks and Spencer, Monsoon, Monsoon.
- Southwest Jean Jacket: East.
- Aztec Navaho Style Accessories: Accessorize, Miss Selfridge.
- Western Shoes & Accessories for Spring & Summer: Monsoon, DebenhamsUK, New Look.
What do you think of this article? It may take me a while to approve and answer your comments because I'm couch surfing.... but I will eventually... and life is an adventure.