Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Western Fashion Statement

A look at western wear through the Ages

From Wikimedia
I get tickled sometimes when I see a historical western author describe a western cowboy shirt on their hero, especially when they start talking about decorative yokes and such. The western shirt as we know it won’t come into play until the early 1900s when westerns became a popular theme for the newly developing film technology. In fact we have Jack Arnold Weil to thank for “the look” that most cowboys sport.

Prior to Weil’s designs, the pioneer didn’t always have the luxury of choice in regards to fabrics. Before the railroad system made it easier to obtain cottons and wools, most frontier folks had to make do with animal skins. Fashion relied on the blending of cultures by way of trading posts that offered a unique sampling of goods. The proprietors would often trade with folks from wagon trains and thus had a wide array of goods for sale as these travelers would barter items from their country of origin for more practical staples.

Needless to say, western wear evolved out of a need for comfort and durability. The signature yoke showed up in the early 1900s to make the shoulder area sturdier. In addition, shirt tails became longer so they wouldn’t pull out when riding a horse.

Jack Arnold Weil founded the Denver-based western clothing manufacturer, Rockmount Ranch Wear. His goal was to create an identity for working ranchers through fashion. At the time, the film industry was making serious strides in gaining public adoration. Many of his western designs were worn by the stars who portrayed western characters. Wild West Shows and dime novels also perpetuated America’s fascination with the west.

Along with the fashion statement associated with the west, he was the first to put snaps on his shirts and he invented the bolo tie.

"The West is not a place, it is a state of mind." ~ Jack Arnold Weil.

The popularity of anything “western” continued to grow and in the 1940s, Dude ranches became a favorite vacationing spot. I actually had the great fortune to spend a weekend at the Silver Spur Guest Ranch in Bandera, TX. I loved every moment. The staff made us all feel special and were very patient with those of us who could be labeled “city slickers.”  I signed up for the early morning trail ride which I was a little nervous about. When I was twelve, I was on a trail ride in which the horse decided to run off with me. I held on for dear life and bounced past the rest of the riders. I remember one of the workers coming after me and getting the horse under control but still the fear has always been with me. But not this time. This time the wranglers teaching us what to do and what not to do were very patient and thorough. I climbed onto the horse like I knew what I was doing and had a most enjoyable ride (even if I did keep leaning to the left a bit in the saddle).

And though I didn’t have on my “yoked” cowboy shirt, I did remember to wear my cowboy hat and boots. Yay me!


  1. Very good, Ciara. I think we all knew the yoked snap button shirt was not around in the 1800s, but sometimes we slip and say so.
    I try to use just "shirt" and avoid any kind of explanation if I'm pretty sure I'd be wrong.
    However, how many readers of Western Romance really care? It's funny, isn't it?
    In Nineteenth Century photos of families standing outside their sod houses or their more modern plank houses, the men almost always have suspenders holding up pants higher than their waist. And shirts almost always are collarless. Homespun cotton.
    But it's not very "romantic", is it? Thanks for this wonderful bit of information we might all think about.

  2. I hadn't given it much though either until I read it in a historical and it made me want to investigate further. Gotta love those kinds of investigations.

  3. I love western shirts and the little stud buttons! The guys in Hallmark movies (my favorite indulgence) wear them lots of times. Great post today!

    Ad yes, Celia, the cowboys of yore did not wear belts.

    Hugs to all,

  4. Thanks Tanya, and thanks for the reminder of belts. It's funny the things we take for granted.


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