The most common question asked of me is "What should I get, smooth or rough out chaps?". Rough out chaps refer to having the suede side of your leather facing outwards on your legs, while conversely smooth refers to the smooth side being on the outside and what is seen. There is no clear cut definitive answer, but I'll do my best to give you insight and help you along in your decision.
Who is Wearing What?
Typically for men they always have rough out chaps, I have seen some smooth outs, typically in the cutting pen, but rough out for men is the most common style. Also if you show in western pleasure, horsemanship, etc. I have only seen rough outs with a covered button on the back and that appears to be only option for you. Back in the day suede side was originally your only option of choice, and I believe it had to do the leather's tanning process, but today they've refined these processes and we have an amazing array of leathers and colors available to us.
Now if you're a woman and you do cutting, reining, or ranch riding you have much more freedom of choice. I would say a solid eighty percent of my female customers choose smooth side out, and in the reining pen it's the most common look as well. While both looks give a great look when fitted and made properly, smooth is the more popular choice for women as of right now. There's also some added benefits to smooth chaps when compared to rough outs.
Smooth chaps are by far easier to clean compared to suede. You can take a damp wash cloth them and wipe the dirt, mud, sweat, and hair that inevitably end up on the bottoms of your chaps. Side note:you should wipe your chaps down after every time you show so the sweat from your horse does not stain them. Suede are still cleanable but they take some more time, require you to buff the suede back out as it will get matted down some, and risks some staining. The other downfall to suede is hair and debris is always sticking to your suede, so make sure you keep a lint roller in your chap bag so you can roll them and keep them clean.
Showing horses means lots of hours in the hot sun or in the rain, eventually over the years your chaps will fade out. Rough out chaps are notorious for fading faster, especially if they're black, they will turn grey or greenish even. Smooth will fade eventually as well, but not nearly as quick as rough out. It is possible to dye your chaps again, I've seen some articles on it and tried it myself a couple times too. I used a fabric spray paint for suede and done it that way with little problems. It will stiffen your chaps up some, but it does buy you a few more years of use out of them.
Some of my clients say they think the smooth presents a more clean and polished look in the show pen over the rough outs. I think the fit and quality of leather is key to that, and both look equally as polished. Smooth does sometimes reflect the flash from the photographer and give a bright spot, but that's easily remedied with photoshop if that's a concern.
There's certainly no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing smooth or rough out, but hopefully this gives you some more information to think over while you decide. Remember, nothing beats a set of well made chaps and winner's attitude in the show pen. Happy showing!