Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ sash could inspire a new fashion frenzy

It took less than an hour and $10 in supplies for Shannon McClain to make her sash — a strip of white polyester fabric lined with pleated red and blue ribbons. And stamped boldly across the material in big block letters is a pledge of her allegiance: “BEYHIVE.”

McClain, 34, has always loved to dress up. Since high school, she has worn costumes, collected unique items of clothing and crafted some of her own pieces. But as far as she can recall, she’d never draped a sash across her body before. Then she saw the cover art for Beyoncé’s forthcoming album, “Cowboy Carter.”

In an image posted to her Instagram, the superstar sits atop a galloping white stallion as she dons full rodeo attire and a ruffled sash imprinted with the album title. In another photo, a sash is the only thing draping her body, bearing the words “act ii BEYINCÉ” — a message that fans and media outlets rushed to decode.

“They’re just so beautiful,” McClain said of the sashes. “I knew immediately I had to try to DIY those. … So I went downstairs and got out the sewing machine.”

It’s been nearly two years since Beyoncé’s Act I “Renaissance” album, which launched a world tour and sparked an explosion of sequined looks and mirror-coated cowboy hats among fans worldwide. Now with the promotional rollout for Beyoncé’s next solo album, out Friday, fans are anticipating that the sash could be the new motif for the Houston native’s country era and potential shows.

Some, like McClain, are hand-making their pieces. Others are flocking to Etsy sellers for custom sashes embroidered with their own personal statements — shimmers of a burgeoning fashion frenzy for a swath of fabric largely worn as decoration and marks of distinction at pageants, commencement ceremonies and bachelorette parties.

Allie Birde, 31, was anticipating an eventual demand for the accessory when she customized and ordered her “Cowboy Allie” sash from an Etsy seller last week — a piece she said she would wear to a future show or a rodeo. “I definitely wanted to have it before the rush comes in because a lot of the silver ‘Renaissance’ stuff just increased in price so drastically,” Birde said. “So I was basically just trying to get ahead of it.”

It’s not clear whether Beyoncé will embark on another world tour for “Cowboy Carter,” where sashes would likely abound. But at the very least, Jourdan Goode imagines they might wear their recently ordered “Cowboy Jour” sash at a Beyoncé-themed party. “Sashes aren’t really like a part of my style, but I’m always open to exploring new styles,” said Goode, 21.

“And Beyoncé has great influence because she’s one of my favorite artists,” they added.

As the star has shared in her recent album announcement, “Cowboy Carter” sets out to surprise, inform and inspire its listeners.

“Beyoncé seems ready to take us on another amazing journey, and I want to hear and understand more of that,” McClain said. “I think it’s really interesting that the disco cowboy hat was such a signifier of ‘Renaissance’ when we didn’t really understand why the cowboy hat [was important] yet. So I think there’s more to be uncovered here still.”

Many fans have already noted the visual consistency in the art for Acts I and II. Both covers feature minimal but striking portrayals of Beyoncé perched on a horse. And styling throughout the visuals — the fringe jackets, cowboy hats and boots — nod to the YeeHaw Agenda, an internet movement to reclaim Black cowboy culture through music and fashion.

But incorporating the sash in Act II makes more than a fashion statement. Fans suspect the “Cowboy Carter” sash on the main cover art isn’t just a catchy reference to Beyoncé’s married name, it’s also connected to the Carter family, known as “the first family of country music” and Amon G. Carter, who helped create the image of the Texas cowboy. Meanwhile, the “BEYINCÉ”-printed sash, which appears on a limited-edition album cover, initially puzzled some fans who assumed the spelling was a typo.

In wake of the confusion, comments made by Beyoncé’s mom Tina Knowles during a 2020 podcast interview resurfaced online. Appearing on an episode of Heather Thomson’s “In My Heart” podcast, Knowles explained that “Beyoncé” is her maiden name, but she and her brother Skip were the only two out of five siblings in her family to have that spelling on their birth certificates. Others read “Beyincé.”

Knowles said her mom once requested that the documents be corrected but was told, “be happy that you’re getting a birth certificate.” In imprinting Beyincé on “Cowboy Carter,” Beyoncé is reclaiming her family’s history using a banner that has long served as a political statement.

As early as the 16th century, sashes were included in military uniforms in Europe to distinguish high-ranking officers or to demonstrate affiliation to a specific political party or nation. World leaders and royal families wear them. And, famously, sashes became an iconic emblem of the suffrage movement in the early 20th century. Emblazoned with the words “Votes for Women,” sashes were worn by suffragists at rallies and parades.

In modern U.S. culture, the sash has acquired a more festive purpose. They are used at commencement ceremonies, in high school homecoming events and in beauty pageants. Over the years, they have also made their way to the fashion runway, often styled around the waist than diagonally across the body — from Yves Saint Laurent and Dior to Louis Vuitton and Diane von Furstenberg.

Jude Macasinag, a Filipino fashion designer based in Paris, created “The Pageant Sash Bar Jacket” for his most recent collection Haute Queer-ture. “With this piece specifically, I wanted to show the influence of pageantry [on] Filipinos and how it informs the things we do,” Macasinag said in an email to The Washington Post.

Ultimately, Macasinag said, the importance of the sash is in how it lends itself as a clear canvas for a message. “Be it the name of a country one represents or significant graphic imagery; the sash itself is semiotics made fashionable,” he said.

Beyoncé isn’t the only artist incorporating the statement-making sash. Olivia Rodrigo, who has often teased pageantry themes in her music visuals, recently dropped a line of sashes in her merch store adorned with phrases like “Miss read his texts” and “Miss focus on my career.”

“The internet has changed what we wear clothes for,” said McClain. “Clothing doesn’t just serve practical functions and it never has, but I think that line has become even fuzzier in the last few years. And so I think less and less about ‘Where am I going to wear this’ and more and more about ‘Do I want to wear this.’”

Going a step further to personalize her fashion is an idea that has always connected McClain to Beyoncé.

“Bringing that self-expression back out into daily life has been a message I think was emphasized by ‘Renaissance,’” she said, “and I’m just continuing that forward with making a sash.”

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