Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cowboy Clothes That Made The Cowboy

Cowboy Clothes Snakeskin Boot
Nobby Snakeskin Boot
 Anyone remember the words to the old cowboy song, “Streets of Laredo?” One of the verses stated, “I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy.” First published in 1910 and also known as “The Cowboy’s Lament”, it was sung around campfires and on the trail for many years before that.

For the old-time cowboys, clothes defined who a man was. For himself and for others. Working cowboys tended to wear long sleeve shirts, usually some faded and stained shade of white, with the collar buttoned. This kept the dirt out when they rode down the trail or behind a herd of slow moving cows. White buttoned shirts, an old beat-up Stetson, and often yellow cigarette stains on the fingers became the norm. 

Most old trail and ranch cowboys were also crippled up a bit, had lost a few teeth and a lot of memory too. However, they never lost their cowboy pride. Or forgot a friend, a horse, or a pretty girl. That was considered the cowboy way.

They had a word for fine, expensive clothes and especially boots. That word was ‘nobby.’ Severe pointed toe nobby cowboy boots didn’t gain much popularity until after WWII. Then they were used only on dress-up occasions. Or by wanna-be cowboys trying to impress.

In the 1950s, the most nobby cowboy clothes could be found at a store called
Cowboy Clothes at Nudie's Store
Nudie's Store Poster
Nudie’s in North Hollywood. Nudie suits were flamboyant cowboy outfits that country-western singers first began to wear, inspired by the singing cowboys in the movies. Rhinestones, bright colors, and intricate embroidery were all hallmarks of a custom-made Nudie suit.

Nudie suits were named after the man who made them -- Nudie Cohn, a North Hollywood tailor who became the go-to clothier for country-western stars. Elvis Presley’s gold lame tuxedo had one of the biggest price tags of any Nudie suit: $10,000. It appeared on the cover of Elvis' 1959 album 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong. Hank William's most iconic outfit was a white Nudie suit with musical notes stitched along the sleeves.

Cowboy Clothes Elvis Presley Style
Elvis Presley Gold Lame Nudie's Suit
Nudie’s business boomed in the flush years after World War II, when people weren’t afraid to flaunt their wealth. Superstars like Bob Dylan, Cher, David Byrne, John Wayne, and John Lennon all loved his wild outfits—the gaudier, the better. Nudie's closed down in 1994.

My late husband Stephen Bly bought a cowboy hat at Nudie’s in 1979. A plain, beaver felt, XXX, dark brown Resistol to which he added a horsehair hatband “wore well” for him.  With a 7 7/8 hat size, it was tough to find one that fit.

You can tell a lot by how a man puts down his cowboy hat. Crown down, he’s the real deal. Brim down, he’s faking it. And if he tosses his hat on the bed, he’s never competed in a rodeo. That’s for sure and certain, some say. Or it could depend on the region you’re from, the lifestyle conditions, and the season of the year.

Stetson Cowboy Hat

Here’s nine general Cowboy Hat Etiquette Rules:

1. Don’t mess with a cowboy’s hat. Never touch without permission.
2. Never wear a cowboy hat backwards.
3. Wear felt hats between Labor Day and May and straw otherwise, depending on the weather.
4. Never handle your hat in such a way that flexes or bends the brim or crown.
5. When traveling with an expensive cowboy hat, pack in a hatbox with handles. With less expensive hats, either carry them by hand or protect with a plastic bag.
6. Take the hat off when entering a building or sitting at a table for a meal--unless there’s no place to safely lay it down.
8. Keep a hat on when eating at a counter or out on the range.
9. Touch the brim of a cowboy hat by moving the hand away from the holster to signal a greeting of friendly intentions.

Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon
As a rule, to ask a man what outfit he rode for was common courtesy in cowboy country. However, in the scene below in the 1950's from Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon, it was a derogatory remark to indicate they knew this stranger never worked on a ranch. In this case, the clothes didn’t fool them.

The bent brass bell tinkled when the oak and smudged glass front door of the Matador Hotel swung open. A weak-eyed man with pointed toe cowboy boots and a wide brimmed, rain streaked white Stetson sauntered across the lobby to the registration counter. Quirt Payton reached for the grip of his old single action army revolver. I had to lean forward to peer around the large plaster pillar that blocked my view. All six cowboys fixed their eyes on the intruder. Coosie Harte coughed into his bandanna and called out, “What outfit you ride for, son?” ... When the man shoved his hat back, his ears pushed out and there was no tan line on his forehead.

Janet Chester Bly

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Janet Chester Bly has written and co-written 32 books with her late husband, award-winning western author Stephen Bly. She and her three sons completed Stephen’s last historical novel for him, Stuart Brannon’s Final Shot. Read about the story here:

Recent release Wind in theWires, Book 1, Trails of Reba Cahill, is her first solo adult novel. It’s a contemporary western mystery. It’s a road adventure with a touch of romance. It’s Cowgirl Lit.
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  1. Really enjoyed your post on the cowboy hat. I did not know the rules of etiquette for this piece of attire and am sure when I've worn a cowboy hat at a dude ranch or such, I surely messed up the rules! sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  2. Sharon: Thanks much for your note. Blessings, Janet