By  on March 2, 1994

FORT WORTH, Tex. -- Rodeo women -- whether participants or visitors -- have definite ideas about the jeans they wear.

That was made clear by women interviewed at the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show and Rodeo here. They said comfort, style, durability and suitability for horseback riding were the criteria they used to evaluate denim jeans.

When it came to brands, a regional label, Rocky Mountain, emerged as a clear favorite, but a variety of other labels also get a nod, including Levi Strauss, the Gap, Wrangler and Panhandle Slim.

Whatever the brand, lots of Western dressers like their jeans so long they bunch up around the ankles -- the better to cover the boot when on horseback.

"I just wear whatever looks good," said Kelley Ramsey, a visitor who was wearing Levi's, but said she also liked Not Enough and Guess.

Kaci Riggs was sticking to one brand. "I only wear Rocky Mountains because I ride in a lot of rodeos and they're the most comfortable jeans I've ever had," she explained, as she fiddled with a lasso. Shanna Collins, who had just won a trophy in the 4H Club consumer decision-making contest for her ability to analyze product value, was another Rocky Mountain fan. "I like them because they're comfortable and they look westernish," she explained.

Noelle Ramsey had a different reason for wearing Rocky's. "I love the way they fit," said Ramsey, as she waited for customers in a tack shop booth. "I've got a smaller waist and a big butt and they fit me great."

Such accolades are exactly what the folks at Rocky Mountain set out to earn. Based in Denver, the firm began in the late Seventies to develop a women's jean and by the mid-Eighties had found its niche in the Western market.

"In the Western industry, for a long time, everyone wore men's jeans," explained Cathy Hagerty, women's jean merchandiser at Rocky Mountain, in a telephone interview. "We developed these jeans especially for women with a nipped-in waist and more room in the thigh since a lot of girls who ride have muscular legs. There's also more room in the rise for when they're sitting on a horse."The company designs about 30 styles of denim jeans each season and sells them through Western stores. Top markets are Texas and Oklahoma, but Hagerty said business is growing in California and Florida.

Back at the rodeo, Sandra Higginbotham was wearing a Lee fleece-lined denim jacket, but for jeans, she said she preferred Wrangler. "I exercise roping horses, and Wranglers are good for riding," she said.

Among the males, Skip Bailey -- reflecting a preference observed among many other cowboys and cowboy-types -- was emphatic about wearing only Wranglers.

"It's the best," said Bailey, who was working at the gate and described himself as a retired rodeo rider. "Wranglers -- they just last a long time," he said, and pointed to the brand patch on his back pocket.

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