How to Work With Designers

How to Work with Designers

By: Lauren Heaton, Miss Rodeo America 2015

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It has long been said that clothes maketh the man. But it seems that what women wear can give a powerful insight into who they are too. As a rodeo queen and ambassador of the sport of rodeo, you want to make sure your clothes reflect your job, as well as who you are as a person. How do you do that when you’re in such a niche industry? Designers. Passionate, hard working, creative, expert professionals who have made a career out of knowing the style trends of the rodeo queen world, and know how to fit a leather dress, despite the difficult fabric. But if you’re like me, you’re first or even your 20th meeting with a designer can be daunting. Here are a few helpful tips I’ve found throughout my 15 years of working with rodeo queen designers.


Know ahead of time before you start looking for the right designer, what type of outfit you’re wanting made. If you know you’re wanting a western elegance dress, horsemanship outfit, interview, or arena outfit made, start looking at what kind of style and feel you want the piece to have. Do you love rhinestones or studs, fringe or lace? Take time looking through Pinterest, Cowboys and Indians magazine, and other social media to start gathering an idea of what YOUR style and likes are when it comes to clothing.

The biggest things I try to teach girl’s is to be aware that 90 percent of communication is non-verbal. That means what your wearing and how you’re wearing it, says a lot more about you than what comes out of your mouth when speaking. Knowing ahead of time what you want and like, and what type of events you’ll be wearing it to, will keep you from walking away with a piece that doesn’t represent who you are or how you want to be viewed as a young professional ambassador.


Most designers can work within any type of budget, within reason. But knowing items that effect cost, before going to a designer will help you have a better understanding of why things cost what they do from western designers. Rhinestones can add up quickly and come at a hefty price, even when buying straight from the source.

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When it comes to budgeting for an outfit, it’s better to go to a designer with a rough idea or sketch and any enhancements you may want on it, such as lace, fringe or rhinestones, then let the designer give you a few different options at different price points. If you have a budget of $500 for a western elegance dress, but ask your designer for a lambskin gown, drenched in rhinestones, don’t be surprised when they say it’s simply not possible. Instead, they will have alternate options for you that will help you get the same look, with more cost effective design details.


Eighty-five percent of the designers I’ve worked with, it’s their career and full time job. Therefore there’s a good chance that when you come to them they are currently working on pieces for other people and are seldom just sitting around waiting for a new project to come along. Be respectful of both their time and your own. Being aware of how long it takes to create a piece start to finish.  This will vary on the designers work load at any given time, so if you’re looking for a custom piece I recommend asking the designer(s), as far ahead as you possibly can about what you’re wanting and what their workload/timeline is like. This will ensure that you receive your outfit in plenty of time before your event and they are able to give the adequate focus and attention to your piece.

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Designers are professionals, treat them as such. You wouldn’t not pay your accountant, or your horse farrier upon job completion, so why would you not pay your designer as a professional either? The professional designers I’ve worked almost all have the same protocol. They need a deposit to start the outfit, buying fabric and stones, etc. Then request the second half when the outfit is completed.

I reached out to one of my favorite designers and long-time supporter/sponsor of Miss Rodeo America and many other pageants, Donna Riva. Donna has been designing and making rodeo queen clothes for decades and has worked with hundreds of girls. Here is her take on what girls should consider when working with a designer:

“I would advise any contestants to come to their designer with ideas, but also an open mind. Most designers have a lot of experience and know what will look best for them, and also know what can be accomplished and what can’t. You want to give your designer/dressmaker time to do your outfit and not rush them. The end product will be much better if they are allowed the time required to do it justice.”

How to Find Designers 

As we all know, the rodeo queen world is a small one, and although there are about a dozen well known designers, I know there are dozens more out there with great skill. I’m frequently asked for recommendations on local or regional designers in areas I travel. I recommend reaching out to your state and local rodeo queen representatives and asking for seamstresses that way. And if you’re like me, then growing up, your designer and seamstress lived in the same house and you called her mom! You never know, your next-door neighbor might be just the designer you’ve been looking for.

Let’s give a round of applause for the professionals who make us feel and look like celebrities, and the moms who help keep our shirts tailored, boots shined and hats clean along the way!

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