Six Classic Western Suits & a Retro Black Dress

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Six Classic Western Suits & a Retro Black Dress

What does a western family heritage, six classic western suits, a retro black dress, cowgirls and students in an addiction recovery program all have in common? A classic calendar photo representing Comradery in the Cowgirls Historical Foundation 2014 Calendar featuring new and vintage western fashion.

A Retro Black Dress

49 years ago, my Mother (Cheryl Bender) bought a special black dress to wear to a dance with her sweetheart, my Dad (Merrill Carson). My Dad wore a handsome suit and continued to wear classic western suits on special occasions the rest of his life. I had the privilege of wearing Mom’s black, fringe dress to my senior prom. We added some long black sleeves to the dress to change up the look.



Six Classic Western Suits and an Addiction Recovery Program

My Dad passed away nine years ago to the effects of skin cancer. In the process of packing up for a recent move, my sister Stefanie, opened my Grandmother’s hope chest full of some of my Dad’s old clothes. Included in the chest were six of his classic western suits. I felt a strong connection to the suits and appointed myself as the caretaker of them.


Around the same time, I was asked to come up with a photo concept to be featured in the 2015 Cowgirls Historical Foundation (CHF) Calendar. I have been a CHF cowgirl and in the CHF calendar for the last seven years. The CHF calendar is sponsored by Ron Perryman of Perryman Western Wear and features modern and vintage western fashion.

Each year, I’ve tried to come up with a fashion concept important to me and representative of my life. And, for the last two years, I have been very involved with the Welcome Home Ranch serving on the board of directors.  As a member of CHF, we have participated in many events at the Welcome Home Ranch and have been advocates for the prestigious addiction recovery program housed there. So, for the calendar photo, I brainstormed ideas to combine my family heritage, CHF, and the Welcome Home Ranch students who have become like younger brothers to me and part of my family.

lds-mommy-blogger-nicole-bonilla-dress-27The idea came to have six of the students wear my Dad’s six western suits and for me to wear my Mom’s retro black dress. Then to complete the concept, we included CHF cowgirl Chantel Diller, who boards several horses at Welcome Home Ranch and is friends with the students. Chantel is married to JR Diller and works as a nurse. We also invited Jennifer Brown, married to Carson Brown, to be in the photo. The founder of the John Volken Academy housed at Welcome Home Ranch, Mr. John Volken, is married to Carson’s sister Chawna Brown. Jennifer also serves on the Welcome Home Ranch board of directors and has been invited to particpate in CHF events as a guest cowgirl. Chantel and Jennifer wore beautiful, classic-style dresses to be consistent with the retro theme of the calendar photo.

The overall theme of the 2015 CHF calendar is “Arizona’s Treasures”. Each month features a characteristic of Arizona starting with the letter C (corn, cattle, copper, climate, citrus, etc.). The C word that best characterizes this photo is Comradery. There is a line in the student promise that declares, “As brothers and sisters we help each other in this struggle”. I have taken this line to heart and wanted it represented in this calendar photo.

lds-mommy-blogger-nicole-bonilla-dress-2All in the Family

Of course to take the photo I rounded up the uber-talented, dynamic photographic duo of Micah and Stefanie Nickolaisen of Stefanie also happens to be my youngest sister and shares in the family heritage. Here is a photo of my Dad wearing one of the six suits at Stefanie’s wedding. This photo was taken a few months before my Dad passed away. Because of the aggressive spreading of skin cancer on the left side of his face, a surgeon removed his left ear leaving the left side of his face paralyzed.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

They Clean Up Pretty Good

Because my Dad was 6’2″ and broad-shouldered the opportunity to appear in the calendar photo fell by default on the six tallest students. Only one of the students had any previous modeling experience so this was definitely out of their comfort zones. But they were all good sports and willing to support the cause!


photo by Nicole Bonilla

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The Photoshoot

lds-mommy-blogger-nicole-bonilla-dress-31The Mesa Arts Center courtyard provided the perfect urban backdrop for the photoshoot. Julee Brady attended to help coordinate wardrobe and overall style. Pat Brady lent the guys several of his stylish hats, bolo ties and boots. Micah and Stefanie braved life and limb setting their equipment up in the water feature to get the shot. The result is a fantastic calendar photo representing brothers and sisters helping each other in the struggles of life.


Since we had everyone dressed up we couldn’t help but take a few portraits of everyone. All photos were taken by Micah and Stefanie Nickolaisen of

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Chantel Miles Diller


Jennifer Olson Brown


Me, spinning a rope, in heels, and in the water…why not?

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Chantel Miles Diller


Jennifer Olson Brown

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How to Get a Copy of the Calendar?

You can get your copy of the 2015 CHF Calendar at Perryman Western Wear in Cave Creek, Arizona, at Vista Feed & Market at Welcome Home Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona or from the CHF website.

By | 2019-01-02T17:12:27+00:00 December 17th, 2014|Cowgirl Up, Family|1 Comment

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  1. Lisa J. Hoover January 1, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    Hi Nicole, I am compelled to leave a comment here, as I wrote a blog post about one of my father’s vintage western suits and finding the right home for it. You have a beautiful blog and I love this post. I found your blog from your sister Christy. Happy New Year!

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