Attitude, Attire or Occupation – What Makes a Cowboy?

So today, I want to take an informal poll. What do you think is the most important aspect for a man to earn the title “Cowboy”? What exactly defines that breed of men we all find so compellingly attractive?

When I pondered this question over the past couple of weeks, I kept coming back to three possibilities (I’m sure I’ve missed some and I hope you’ll educate me in comments!).

(right to use photo purchased by Larissa from

The three things I kept coming back to were occupation, such as a working cattle rancher, rodeo cowboy, etc.; attire, (does he know how to dress the part, and look comfortable in those Wranglers, button-down shirt and straw cowboy hat?); and attitude.

What if somebody has the job and wears the duds, does that automatically make him a cowboy? Or is he also required to have that cowboy mentality along with it? Are all three (attire, attitude and occupation) or possibly just two, required to be a real cowboy? Can you ever get by with just one?

Here’re my thoughts:

I’ve known men who could dress the part and look pretty darn good. To be honest, Mr. Lyons and my dad both come to mind. But no matter how much I might wish it, Mr. Lyons is not a cowboy. (It’s all right honey!) And my dad, although he can shoot with the best of ’em and look really comfortable in a western vest, Wranglers and straw hat, I don’t think he’s ever considered himself a cowboy and neither would I.

Living in the country, I’ve met men who work on cattle ranches. These are guys who don’t necessarily dress the part, but they are “living” it, and one in particular comes to mind who would probably be offended if anyone dared call him a “cowboy”.

So that kind of blows out of the water occupation and attire. Which left me with attitude.

(right to use photo purchased by Larissa from

Ultimately, when I brainstormed this, it was attitude I kept coming back to. You can dress a man up like a western movie star, but unless he possesses the ability and manner to pull it off, it’s a hard sell. And I don’t think it’s something that can be taught, I think it’s inherent.

Like a personality trait one can choose to hone or not, a man either has the Cowboy-gene cojones or he doesn’t. At least that’s my nonscientific conclusion. 🙂

What’s your opinion?


When she’s not contemplating the meaning of Cowboyhood, Larissa’s been writing the very last chapter of her sexy Regency romance, Mistress by Morning, a full-length novel that will be released later this year.


Larissa Lyons loves all things historical and feline. She also has a soft spot for hard cowboys. Currently “hard” at work on finishing her current sexy Regency romance, she’s eager to turn her pen back to cowboys soon. Learn more by visiting

About Larissa Lyons

A lover of all things historical and feline, author Larissa Lyons also has a soft spot for hard cowboys. Visit to learn more.
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20 Responses to Attitude, Attire or Occupation – What Makes a Cowboy?

  1. angelshaw54 says:

    Larissa I would have to completely agree with you. Most of the guys that I would call a real life cowboy would get their backs up about that comment!!! So I agree its all about he attitude. If it walks, talks, and breathes……

    • Larissa Lyons says:

      Hi Angel – Thanks for stopping by and chiming in. (It’s always lovely to be agreed with! ;-)) And maybe we should add “smells” to the walks-talks-breathes list… I don’t know if it’s their particular choice of cologne, or that leftover scent of rugged leather, but there seems to be a certain, very alluring outdoor scent that goes along with that cowboy mentality. Larissa

  2. Clare O'Beara says:

    What a lovely photo of the horses…. I think we’ve all loved the ranching life ideal since reading ‘My Friend Flicka’. And ‘Fabulous’. In theory an Amish famer could be raising cattle and working them with horses, but he probably would have a different attitude than a more usual cowboy, and might well have different attire. So I see your point that the mere stock management is not enough.

    • Larissa Lyons says:

      Howdy Clare, and what cool observation (re: Amish farmer). I didn’t even think that route, but it makes sense to me.

      I’ll pass on your horse photo compliment to Mr. Lyons. He’s the one who chose that particular picture. Interestingly, I considered a photo of several South American cowboys, who were dressed the part and working the range, but those hats just looked so “not cowboy” to me that I passed on them, which kind of goes to confirm the whole point…

  3. frances says:

    Even though John Wayne was a “tv” cowboy he brought the same type of confidence he had in all of his western movies into all of his war movies as well. Attitude…the “GIT’ R DONE” attitude….no matter what the job at hand is, the sense of right and wrong (honor), and doing the best that you can with whatever you have at the moment (not having to have lots of material things and money), and the willingness to forever protect, love and take care of those he loves no matter what….These are the traits of COWBOYS as well as LOTS of non-cowboys alike, these are the traits I think every woman is looking for in her man. The clothes, livestock and other “cowboy” things are just the extra “goodies”…lol. Living in Texas I know wayyyy to many “DUD’s” to just go by the package wrappings!…LOL…and I have a nephew that is a real honest to goodness cowboy…in everyway with attitude, and packagings….and he doesn’t wear a cowboy hat to work cows in…he wears a ball cap….saves the cowboy hat for rodeos and showing off…LOL.

    • Larissa Lyons says:

      Frances – I LOVE what all you shared. When writing this, I thought of John Wayne too, but my brain neglected to connect into his other style of movies. You are so right, attitude and honor go a long, long way toward that cowboy mentality we find attractive.

      It’s always fun to meet a fellow Texan, and yes, there are duds a plenty in our big ol’ state. 🙂 Glad to hear your nephew is a cowboy gentleman! (Hmmm, possible title for a future book? The Cowboy Gentleman?)

      • frances says:

        I LOVE the way that sounds!….so proper yet with a hit of wickedness….if you take it with a double edged meaning…LOL…

        • Larissa Lyons says:

          You’ve convinced me! I’ve put that title on the short list. Lucky for me, seeing as how I’m not allowed to start any new stories, I do have an older, in-process one that title just might fit…

  4. Randi Alexander says:

    Larissa, great thoughts on cowboys! I think you’re exactly right: it’s the cojones that makes the cowboy. The sexy attitude and the desire in their gaze, the swagger and larger-than-life presence. *sigh* What a great way to start the day!

  5. Eileen says:

    Larissa I think you have it right about cowboys. Great post! I’m looking forward to your next book.

  6. ELF says:

    I have to agree that it is the attitude (and maybe that bowlegged walk whether they’re wearing spurs and chaps or not!). Thanks for the fun post.

  7. 1liltrev says:

    Larrisa I like your ideas of what makes a cowboy and would like to add Loyality, Respect and Manners. Cowboys are the loyalist to each other in work and toward family and it is refreshing to see this. Most cowboys show respect and manners pretty much always and it is so great to see and hear this in the way they speak to someone. Most mothers would be damn proud knowing their cowboys were the epititome of what most women fall want in a MAN!!!!

    • Larissa Lyons says:

      Excellent points! No offense to anyone in the younger age group (I wouldn’t mind rejoining it myself :-)) but manners and respect are things I’ve not seen a lot of from the younger generation the past few years. Except for a few gentlemen cowboys (there’s that title again!) who have opened doors and called me “ma’am” with a tip of their hat. 🙂

      Thanks so much for pointing out these wonderful qualities I missed!

  8. Tiss says:

    I will agree with you Larissa. We live on a ranch, my man rides horses, but he doesn’t do the “hat” and doesn’t have the attitude that I think goes with the term Cowboy. He could be a cattle man. Ranch owner or whatever, but not a true cowboy.

  9. With me its mostly his clothes, he’s dirty (I mean it literally lol) and he smells like leather, horses and earth. Oh, and the accent. Mmmmmm, I’m a sucker for that accent 😉

    • Larissa Lyons says:

      Another great aspect I forgot to consider — the accent! Yep, there is something about that sexy drawl, no matter where a true cowboy hails from…

      Thanks for reminding us, Heather!

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