History of western shirts, colorful outfits of cowboys and cowgirls
Western clothing is distinguished by garments with instantly recognizable classic details that both serve practical purposes and present the wearer as sharp, capable and, yes, elegant. Western shirts are perhaps the garment that instantly evokes the look and feel of western wear beyond all others. Like most American fashion, it’s an amalgamation of details from an assortment of cultures.
As reported by QGWestern shirts descend from traditional Latin American pleated shirts, guayaberas, worn by Mexican cattle ranchers, or vaqueros, which inspired the instantly recognizable front yoke.
According to Texas monthly, prior to the 1920s, true herdsmen and ranchers tended to wear plain, loose-fitting, collarless cotton or wool shirts. When cowboys became pop culture heroes thanks to westerns made from the 1900s onwards, their outfits seen on the big screen needed a little more flash and flair. Early movie stars of the silent western era like Tom Mix and Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson wore shirts with button-down bibs, contrasting piping and decorative pockets.
This led to country singers like Gene Autry adopting the new, more sophisticated western shirt designs as well. The popularity of “singing cowboys” in the 1930s along with the rise of professional rodeos continued to introduce the shirts to the mainstream, and eventually real cowboys began to adopt the look popularized by stage and street cowboys. the screen.
These Western shirts were often made from gabardine, while those worn for work were usually made from denim, which had already proven to be a strong and durable fabric. The Western shirt’s many signature details serve practical purposes and provide eye-catching design features, as noted SNEUM, a Danish clothing company that describes itself as “offering a Scandinavian take on the yee-haw diary.” These include the two chest pockets, which are perhaps the shirt’s most iconic design element. A snap flap pocket keeps items secure while the wearer is riding or at work.
In contrast, a curved “smile pocket” allows for easy access and is usually enhanced with embroidery that is both decorative and used to prevent tearing. Matching pointed yokes on the front of the shirts and unique center yoke on the back of the shirts provide an extra layer of protection and insulation from the elements; in addition to the guayabera, some believe they are inspired by the leather capes traditionally worn by Native Americans. The yokes also serve to highlight the wearer’s shoulders, giving them a strong and broad appearance that suits the cowboy image well.
The cuffs of the shirt are longer and tighter than other cuffs to prevent getting caught or stuck while working. By Stages West Boots and Clothingwestern shirts also feature a longer overall length to help them stay tucked in while driving or working and an oversized collar that can be buttoned or closed or turned up to protect the wearer’s face from the elements.
Another important aspect of the design is the intricate and colorful embroidery that often decorates western shirts. true west traces the appearance of eye-catching, heavily embellished Western clothing to the 1920s and the rise of Hollywood cowboys, noting that traditional Native American craftsmanship using beads and porcupine quillwork served as inspiration. Nathan Turk and Nudie Cohn were both California-based tailors who brought the glitz and flamboyance of stage costumes to Western wear in the 1940s, adorning shirts and suits with embroidery and glittering sequined appliques . Both men immigrated to the United States as children, Turk from Poland and Cohn from Ukraine; Eastern Europe is famous for its folk design, often displayed via colorful embroidery.
Turk and Cohn both worked with tailor Manuel Cuevas, who according to the National Foundation for the Arts learned to sew at the age of seven while growing up in Mexico, another hub of folk design and embroidery. He eventually immigrated to the United States and after several years as Cohn’s chief tailor, Cuevas started his own business, Manuel Couture, in 1975. He is credited with designing Johnny Cash’s “Man In Black” look. and other star clients include Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. .
Cuevas was honored as a 2018 NEA National Heritage Fellow. Brenda Colladay, vice president of museum services for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, noted “Like America, Western wear is a true melting pot of influences” and specifically praised Cuevas for “providing[ing] a bridge between the first generation of artists who embraced the flashy western style, the next, and the next. His creations are valued as much as works of art as they are on stage.”
The cuffs and front of Western shirts use snaps rather than buttons. This was not always the case; early examples of Western shirts used buttons, and snaps were not in favor until incorporated by Jack A. Weil, a former garter salesman whose innovations revolutionized the design of shirt. According to his 2008 obituary at The New York Times, “Papa Jack” Weil opened a shop in Denver, Colorado in 1928.
He eventually joined the Stockman Farmer Supply Company and, as he said in a 2001 interview, “The first thing I did was get rid of the farmer.” A shrewd marketer and publicist, Weil promoted Western clothing early on, at one point convincing the town of Cheyenne, Wyoming to require attendees of their Frontier Days rodeo to dress up, inflicting on those who do not making fines that went to charity and offering a deal on her clothes to those in need of Western outfits.
By 1946 Weil had founded his own company, Rockmount Ranch Wear. There had been a shortage of metal during World War II, and Weil used the newly available supply to make diamond-shaped metal snaps, which he began to use on all of his Western clothing, often with the instantly iconic mother of pearl snap lids. Texas monthly reports that Weil’s idea for using snaps was inspired by a Chinese tailor he saw putting snaps on a shirt in San Francisco. Weil contacted the Scovill Manufacturing Company and ordered their Gripper fasteners, which had not yet been used on clothing.
In 1939, Rockmount was producing snap button Western shirts. AZ-Central notes that snaps are a better choice for cowboys than buttons because they are easy to do and undo with one free hand, since when someone is working on a horse they have often held their other hand. Snaps also provide extra security, as they are less likely than buttons to break and tear when caught on a fence, horn, or saddle. Weil remained CEO of Rockmount until his death at age 107 and continued to come into the office daily until shortly before his death. He credits his longevity to “quitting smoking at age 60 (having started at age 40), drinking at age 90, and eating red meat at age 100.”
According to Forbes, Rockmount is now a fourth-generation family business, remains one of the oldest apparel manufacturers in the United States along with Levi and Pendleton, and continues to manufacture its products entirely in the United States. Fans have included everyone from Elvis Presley to Robert Redford, Ronald Reagan and Garth Brooks, and they remain a stylish choice inside and outside of western country culture.
READ MORE: A Brief History of Cowboy Boots: From Ranch to Dance Floor
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