First came faded denims. Then prewashed jeans. Now, some folks in New York and San Francisco think they've come up with the ultimate in Cowboy Chic: preworn jeans, sweat-stained by actual cowboys.
"It gives a bit of romance. It makes you feel good," said Mervin Bendewald, owner of Whiskey Dust, a store in New York's Greenwich Village that sells only used cowboy duds.
For $65 a pair, Bendewald sells jeans that have been broken in by bronc riders and ranchers in Montana. If the faded seats from days of hard riding and torn holes from barbed wire aren't enough to convince cynics, the jeans, sold under the Montana Broke label, even carry tags of authenticity.
In San Francisco, the Wild Wild West store sells more than 100 pairs of used cowboy jeans a week, for $49.99 a pair.
"The ones that are worn through in the crotch are especially popular. However risque, the better," observed owner Murray Selkow.
"It sounds pretty stupid," Texas cowboy Ray Lindamood Jr., 20, said of the fashion phenomenon. But in a burst of pragmatism, he added, "If I'd known, I wouldn't have thrown out my old jeans."
Guitarist-singer Eric Clapton and rock idol Jon Bon Jovi are among those who have bought used cowboy jeans in New York.
"In this town, even if the rear end is torn out, it's perfectly acceptable," said Whiskey Dust manager Pat Carmo.
The stores also sell used boots, hats and coats in hope of capturing a piece of the cowboy mystique.
McFarlane won't say how much she pays for the worn-out denims, although she said she splits her gains "even-steven" with the cowboys. One supplier receives $3 a pair, although the price is expected to go up now that business has been spurred.
Customers also ask for old hats, and Selkow said European women especially love the used jeans.
"They'll push to get into them," Selkow said.
"City people working in offices are never going to break in a pair of jeans," he said. But he also thinks that buyers are searching for more than a look. "It seems to me that they are trying to capture something."