Where in the hell am I?

April 21, 2011

Making a public impression, part 1

Filed under: archaeology, archeology, Texas — Tags: , , , , — John @ 7:50 pm

I just got a new Texas tattoo with my friend Dave. I tweeted about it, saying “getting another Texas tattoo today. hoping that this will make ranchers a little more comforable with me!”. This led to a back-and-forth with @processarch (link to his blog) about cowboy hats and boots, and I decided I would blog about projecting an image with field wear. Several days later, here it is.

My company has some basic dress requirements for the field, although there is some wiggle room: sleeved shirt, long pants, socks, and boots above the ankle. There are many suggestions of how to put this together, largely related to safety issues such as bugs, heat stroke, and poison ivy. Furthermore, some clients or projects will have more specific requirements, such as safety vests, steel-toed boots, or having (or not having) a visible company logo. But still, there’s a lot of freedom.

Working in Texas, you have the interesting situation of being in a state that combines the Wild West (and subsequent Western ruggedness) with the Deep South. Cowboy culture is strong here, even in parts of the state that didn’t have true cowboys. The stereotypical image of Texans are cowboy hats, cowboy boots, and a big belt buckle. I must admit that when I moved here in 1993 from “up North” I expected to see spurs.

Many landowners I’ve encountered during my years fit the stereotype to a certain extent. Cowboy boots are certainly ubiquitous, cowboy hats a little less so, and most are wearing Wranglers and a snap-button denim work shirt. Once, in East Texas, we had a ranch manager who was in full denim, cowboy boots, hat, big belt buckle, spurs, AND wearing a gunbelt with a pistol (note: the spurs were an accessory, he rode around in an ATV).

I, on the other hand, have never really been one for conforming or the mainstream, and fully embraced that when I found hardcore punk when I was almost 16. I’ve had at least one earring since I was 16, around the same time I first started spiking my hair (although it’s not that way right now). I got my first tattoo at 21, a week after I moved to Austin. I don’t dress overtly punk, but odds are good on any given day that I’m wearing a band t-shirt, Levis 501s, and checkered Vans (these old feet can’t handle Chuck Taylors as well). Of course, I also have a Lone Star belt buckle and also feature pearl-snap cowboy shirts as part of my wardrobe. Basically, I look an awful lot like I’m from Austin.

In the field, my look is different for reasons of comfort. I almost always wear rip-stop camouflage Army pants, and my t-shirts are all black or grey wicking material. I’m usually wearing a lightweight, long-sleeved fishing shirt (also wicking) as well, because of my sensitivity to poison ivy or being in heavy vegetation. I’m not trying to make any fashion statements, with the occasional exception of a skull bandana (and some people assume that’s because archaeologists are into bones). I wear a “gimme” farming-related baseball hat that belonged to my late Grampy, currently held together with duct tape.

I will not, however, wear a cowboy hat. There are several reasons, including that it would be inconvenient on survey through wooded areas, and that (I must confess) I just don’t look very good in a cowboy hat. But the main reason is that I feel like it would be perceived as trying too hard to fit in, when it’s obvious that it doesn’t suit me. There’s a saying that someone is “All hat and no cattle” (frequently used in reference to Dubya), meaning literally that the person is trying to be a cowboy but doesn’t actually have a herd, but more that someone is putting on airs, all talk, or a “poser.” Unless you can sing and play a guitar, ranchers and cowboys aren’t too fond of posers. One way they differ from punks, I suppose.

This is getting into tl; dr territory, so part 2 will talk some more about my experiences trying to make a public impression in the field, as well as archaeologists in general and public impressions.



  1. Wow…A Texas tattoo is serious dedication! I’m glad you mentioned the wicking clothing too. I bought a few wicking shirts from the REI Outlet website about 4 years ago and never looked back. I won’t wear anything that isn’t wicking in the field. The material is lightweight and usually doesn’t have any obnoxious logos or sayings.

    I look forward to more posts along these lines!

    Comment by Chris Webster — April 23, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

  2. […] Last time, I talked a bit about some of my challenges with making a public impression as a (for want of a better word) “punk” archaeologist, especially in a state like Texas steeped in cowboy mythology (I remember a Disney version of Pecos Bill as a kid) and culture. […]

    Pingback by Making a Public Impression, part 2 « Where in the hell am I? — April 27, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

  3. […] to the search function, I’ve mentioned him twice before on this blog. Once was a reference to wearing one of his “gimme” hats in the field. The other was actually a brief reference […]

    Pingback by 10 years ago my Grampy passed | Where in the hell am I? — March 24, 2014 @ 9:28 pm

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