May 02, 2006

Western wear, Western worn - 1

M. and I are being drawn into PBS' latest living-history show, Texas Ranch House, an attempt to re-create post-Civil War west Texas life.

Our PBS station, KTSC in Pueblo, is now a mirror of Denver's KRMA, with the same idiotic programming. They run hours and hours of Antiques Roadshow, bland travel programs, and Lawrence Welk. (News flash: Lawrence Welk is dead.)

Then when they get something new like Texas Ranch House, they run a month's worth of episodes in two days. Go figure.

The producers seem to have taken care with costumes, right down to the cowboys wearing long underwear in the heat. The thing is, "Western wear" as we know it did not exist back then. Aside from his high-heeled, undecorated boots (with his pants usually stuffed into them), the average teenaged or twenty-something cowboy wore most anything.

Look at the pictures, like this 1880 studio photo from the National Cowboy Museum. You will see more variety of hats than you would see at the average country-music bar today. Some had high-crowned "10-gallon" hats, but the next guy over might have on a derby (a/k/a bowler). (More old photos here.)

And no one wore Wrangler jeans. Often they didn't wear denim at all, but checked wool pants, parts of Civil War military uniforms, or whatever they could get their hands on.

"Western Wear" was invented after World War II for musicians and rodeo performers, especially the "singing cowboy" movie stars such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. It was popularized by city tailors: the film and music stars like "Nudie suits," while in Denver, Jack Weill of Rockmount popularized the snap-front "Western" shirt.

After fifty years or marketing, some kid from Lamar, Colorado, or Torrington, Wyoming, is brainwashed into thinking that he is not authentic if he doesn't have his black Western hat and Wrangler jeans. If he wants to be "authentic," he should keep his long underwear on all through the summer.

Some years back, someone wrote a letter to High Country News opining that no environmentalist should wear Western shirts because they were associated with the Evil Livestock-Raising Ideological Enemies. Sheesh. I just love the way that "progressives" know how to build coalitions.


Reid Farmer said...

I have always enjoyed the that misconception about cowboy gear, too. One of my favorite pictures I remember seeing was two 1880s working cowboys wearing derbies, heavy turtle-neck sweaters, and wooly chaps.

Anonymous said...

I want a nudie suit too, u can buy a jacket for about $10,000 I hear. Gram Parsons made it look best. If want to see more pix check out my Nudie Fansite: