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Retro western shirts – Western wear classics

June 8, 2017

Western wear, including retro western shirts, plaid shirts, leather boots, denim jeans and Stetson hats have been as much a part of the culture of the United States as the cowboy and cattle ranchers have been. But much has changed since the past 100 years or so, when people of the frontier dressed primarily for practicality, without second thought to fashion.


Western wear retro fashion has made a revival with a broad array of retro western shirts making a comeback into men’s and women’s wardrobes today


In the 1950’s, practicality and fashion sense fused together to create styles that had their roots distinctly in the everyday wardrobe of the ranch hand, the cow poke, the lawman and the womens wear of the day. Vintage retro western shirts are once again becoming fashionable, perhaps as a lasting homage to that particular period. But it’s not just nostalgia fueling that popularity either!

Retro western shirts – The Beginnings

Western wear has been around since the days of the American west’s’ 19th century debut. While they didn’t yet know it, but the pioneer woman, sheriff, mountain man, cowboy and the vaquero were about to make a lasting impression on fashion design, that is today seen in retro western shirts.


The early western population composed largely of immigrants, settlers and nomads that lived relatively isolated frontier lives. Mens shirts as we know them today – with buttoned down fronts, cuffs and collars, weren’t what the early settlers wore. Refined fabric made from cotton and wool was hard to come by. Early western shirts were therefore largely fashioned from animal hide and buck skins.


Instead of the cuffs and snaps that are popularly seen on the western men shirt worn today, back then fashion was really simple. To put it crudely: Measure the fabric, cut a hole on the top, and slip it on. Men were ready to go outdoors and work! The pullover designs of womens slip on ponchos and men’s western vintage shirts were ideally suited for the rugged outdoor lifestyle of the period.


It was around 1883, when one of the west’s icons Buffalo Bill Cody featured his traveling Wild West show across the United States, that ordinary westerners, like the housewife, the cowboy and the ranch hand, started taking a keen interest in western wear and fashion.


Retro western shirts manufacturing revolution

It would be even much later, when the manufacturing revolution made creating fabric a possibility, that vintage shirts got a real makeover. And it wasn’t until the industrial revolution saw railway tracks laid all across the west, that vintage retro western shirts got yet another boost, with fabrics like wool and cotton being spun and weaved to create a whole range of more modern mens shirts and womens skirts and dresses.


Gradually, longer tails were introduced so the shirts would tuck into pants, and wouldn’t come lose while riding on horseback. Shirt shoulders and chests got that famous pointed yoke to add durability to them; and that still lingers on in today’s retro western shirts.


Until then, frontier women and men didn’t know much about fashion, and the only major evolution from the pullovers of the 1800’s was the button down fronts and cuffs. But the 1900’s was going to change all of that by bringing prominence to western vintage shirts.

Fashion Icons of the Wild, Wild West!

Mens shirts were probably the best western garb that caught the attention of fashion conscious western clothing lovers. Who can ever forget the blue-grey Lone Ranger suede outfits that adorned thousands of TV screens in the early 1940’s? Of course, the eye mask added a touch of mystery to his identity. But from his top hat to his western shirt laced at the front, to his matching suede pants and buckled holster, the Lone Ranger was as much a western fashion icon as he was a mythical lawman.


Roy Rogers vintage shirts are yet another piece of fashion rooted in characters from that wind, wild west era. Designed by Nudie Cohn, his chequered vintage retro western shirts became a rave in the late 1940’s and 1950s. Cohn-designed slender ranch pants with smile pockets on the front and rear were highlighted with contrasting continuous piping. And the signature RR scarf, worn over the vintage shirts collars, made a fine accessory to a cool Rogers look!

Retro western shirts on TV

Retro western shirts were also part of the wardrobe of the cast from yet another popular slew of westerns on TV – The Virginian. Initially aired in 1962, and continuing until 1971, it featured “dressed up versions” of a true American legend – the cowboy. The cast could be seen sporting an assortment of wear, including riding skirts and fringed womens ponchos, checked shirts, leather waistcoats and denim jeans.


Over the years, retro western shirts, jeans, footwear and head-gear have been made famous repeatedly as a result of block buster TV and movie epics. Hopalong Cassidy, The Cisco Kid and Wild Bill Hickock, all did their part in portraying the humble western men shirt. Of course, each had their own peculiar design, cut and style – but the result was the same: They made western vintage shirts ever more popular!


The tobacco spitting and cheroot smoking Clint Eastwood image did more for modern-day vintage retro western shirts than many of his peers. The star of epics like A Fistful Of Dollars and Man With No Name certainly did a lot to bring vintage shirts of that era to the fore. The tall lanky frame, dressed in western clothes has made wearing jeans, denim jackets and leather trench coats all the more fashionable today.

Hallmarks of Retro western shirts – Some Ideas


So what makes vintage shirts stand out? What are the characteristics that one should look for in choosing vintage retro western shirts for their wardrobes?


Usually, the shirt fabric is the primary consideration that most fashion conscious western dress lovers will look for. A shirt made from 100 cotton Gabardine twill is a great choice. Look for top construction that has some detailed piping, with shotgun cuffs and smile pockets, perhaps with arrow embroidery.


The more detailed the embroidery that the western men shirt contains, the more classic and distinguished look it will give the wearer. Double triple snap motifs give the shirt an added charm. Guitar or cow skull hand embroidered motif men shirts are quite popular too. Popular choices also include floral saddle tooling that’s on the front, at the back and on the cuffs.


Depending on what your ensemble is, white and red two-tone Gabardine vintage retro western shirts are a great choice too. Red snaps that colour combine with the two tones, with contrasting piping and smile pockets make the shirt stand out. Worn with matching red denim pants, or white suede pants, this vintage outfit could really turn heads.


You may also find retro western shirts with red saddle stitching extremely attractive. Blue denim fabric, with ornate flower embroidered patterns on the front and back, and with intricate motif’s on the collar, finished with a single point cuff, could make a great impression at informal occasions. Of course, you should choose a relaxed fit, and wear it with darker jeans and leather boots to really bring out the shirts vintage character.


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