For centuries, chinks and chaps have been an accessory item for cowboys and cowgirls world wide. From ranch work to roughstock events, you see this article of clothing, but why? What are they? What is their purpose? What is the difference between the two? Let's discuss an important piece of the cowboy way!
I remember growing up, my dad was very involved with Cowboy Mounted Shooting and he even participated in Old West events at places like Cheyenne Frontier Days. He had a mind blowing collection of old west clothing, including chinks and chaps. It used to confuse me because I didn't understand what the difference was between the two. I just thought they were the same thing. However, they are very different and serve different purposes.
The word Chinks is short for Chinkaderos and they can be dated clear back to the Twentieth Century. They are used for practical purpose as well as a decorative purpose. One thing that makes Chinks stand out on their own is their length. They are much shorter than chaps and generally stop between the knee and ankle. The original purpose was to protect the cowboy/cowgirl from brush, getting kicked in the leg, rope burns, or other hazardous situations that they would endure on the ranch. The leather acts like a leg shield. Chinks are also a common choice to wear in warmer weather because they are shorter and more breathable that chaps. They keep you cool, rather than keep you warm. Chinks can also help the rider stay in the saddle better because the leather sticks better to the saddle than a regular pair of pants. Chinks are a little more versatile because they do not restrict your movement as much. They buckle around the waist and then are open in the back so that the seat is not covered. They are also more open behind the leg to allow more freedom. The downfall to that is it provides less protection than if your whole leg was covered. Chinks are used by many different riders. Ranchers use them for protection while working cows, while Mounted Shooters use them for shows/competitions. Trail riders use them for recreational rides and a lot of clubs use them in their uniforms to perform.They can be used by anyone and they can even be customized to your liking!
Chaps originated in Spain and Mexico. They have also been around since the Twentieth Century. They were made to be worn by cowboys and used as protective garments. Today, they are still used for that reason, but also for decorative purposes. The word Chaps is short for Chaparajos. They are most commonly used when working cattle or doing ranch work because they provide a little bit more protection than chinks. They act as a shield over the rider's legs and tend to be longer than Chinks. Most Chaps cover your whole leg. The leather also keeps the rider from getting wet when it rains or snows. The fringe on chaps, although the style is used for decoration most of the time, the original purpose for fringe is to let raindrops roll off the rider's leg, instead of letting water collect on the leather. There are also several different styles of Chaps. The most common styles are the Batwing Chaps and the Shotgun Chaps.
Batwing Chaps have an outer layer of leather and 3 clasps to fasten onto the leg. They protect the rider's legs from brambles and brush. They also have a bit more flare at the bottom. However, these are not the best choice to keep your legs warm.
Shotgun Chaps are from the mid Twentieth Century. They are more fitted than the batwing style. They also have a zipper, instead of clasps, that zips up your whole leg and encloses it. These keep your legs very warm in the winter and provided more protection because of your legs being completely covered.
Chaps are still used for practical reasons, but are used for some decorative reasons as well. These are used at a lot of feedlots or ranches because of the added protection and warmth they give. Some Mounted Shooters wear chaps to compete in, but Chinks are the most popular choice for them. You will also see a few Chaps in rough stock events.
**Fun Fact** Did you know that one reason Native Americans wore chaps (leggings) with long fringe, was to erase their footsteps as they walked? This protected them during their travels.
Chaps and Chinks have been apart of Cowboy History for many years. There is a purpose for each style, but at the end of the day it comes down to preference and which one would meet your needs better. They provide protection and style all at once! If you have further questions on this topic, please feel free to come chat with our Leather Repair and Saddle Specialist, Bill Jesser. If you are looking to get a custom set made, please feel free to contact us,as we have some great resources! In our opinion, this world needs less apps and more chaps!
Tune in next time! Have a great weekend!