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09-03-2006
  1
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Fashion Goes West (NYT)
source: nytimes.com

Quote:
March 9, 2006
Fashion Goes West


Kimberley French
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback Mountain."

By DAVID COLMAN
SO "Brokeback Mountain" did not win the All-Around Champion award at the Oscar rodeo after all, despite odds in its favor. Its upset on Sunday is the stuff of cowboy legend, if not quite the Alamo. But the movie can lay claim to an achievement that no other film of 2005 can. With its representation of two plain cowboys who fell in love in plain old Western wear, it hit the fashion bull's-eye. Cowboy boots, snap-button shirts and big ol' belt buckles — standards that have come and gone several times before — are striding back into style.


In New York, Ralph Lauren has opened two stores devoted to RRL, his line of clothes with a vintage Western feel; Los Angeles is next. At Rockmount Ranch Wear, the venerable Denver retailer, sales of Western shirts are up 25 percent in the last year. On eBay, Western hats, belt buckles and shirts are up 25 percent in the last month alone. The latest collaboration between a hot fashion designer and an old-school brand is Marc Jacobs and Wrangler. Mr. Jacobs has gone into the Wrangler archives and reinvented some classic cowboy wear from the late 1940's and early 50's. He also showed Western shirts in his own spring collection.


And the Dsquared spring collection, a nostalgic cowboy roundup (complete with leather aprons for shoeing your horse), has been one of the season's best sellers at stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.


"The cowboy is the guy version of blonde," said Dan Caten, a designer of the line. "It's a classic icon of manliness. All guys relate to it."


Dsquared
A style by Dsquared.


But do they? The latest return of cowboy style is hardly a craze like that ignited by "Urban Cowboy" in 1980 and tromped into the dust thereafter. Unlike the showy finery of a quarter century ago, which eventually brought Western wear low, today's looks exude a laconic Gary Cooper restraint, suggesting the authenticity of yesteryear with, say, a quiet vintage-plaid shirt or plain brown boots.

This subdued style underscores the ambivalence many men, straight and gay, feel for cowboy style. These are the most masculine of clothes, but with the twist of a bandanna and a too-big buckle, they can veer easily into dude wear. Men itching to indulge in a bit of cowboy find themselves both attracted and torn. There is the romance of the Old West, sure. But they are also faced with two modern-day maverick extremes, which are hard to reconcile. On one side is a President fond of Texas-size belt buckles and a penchant for news conferences in the Texas chaparral. On the other, a pair of gay cowboys who rode off with every film honor. Almost.


When you unravel the history of cowboys and their clothes, the 150-year tug of war over who's a cowboy and who's a dude, as department-store cowboys are still derisively called, gets tangled. The Wild West may be the place where branding was born, but if the last 150 years have made anything clear, it is that no one has staked a clear copyright claim on cowboy style.


"That tension goes way, way back to the 19th century, and words like 'dude,' 'tenderfoot,' 'greenhorn,' " said Lauren E. Wilson, a professor of textiles at the University of Missouri-Columbia and a clothing historian who specializes in cowboy gear. "All those terms clearly illustrate that tension. Westerners often look with derision at places like Cody, Wyo., where Easterners buy all the accouterments and spend a lot of money doing it."


The fashion for wearing Western shirts untucked drives her clear around the bend. "That's not a Western look at all," Dr. Wilson said. "No self-respecting cowboy would ever wear his shirt like that."


In the 1920's and 30's fantasy and reality collided with the boom of the dude ranch, where rich Easterners would get "duded up" in expensive Western gear and be squired around by dude wranglers, out-of-work riders often none too thrilled to play-act a scripted role. That face-off was brought to cinematic life in "Westworld" (1973), in which robot gunslingers led by Yul Brynner go haywire at a Wild West resort and kill off the tourists. (The idea was so good that Michael Crichton, the script's author, rewrote it into "Jurassic Park." A "Westworld" remake is in development.)


In "Urban Cowboy," John Travolta as Bud Davis laid the question of authenticity to rest, with perfect vagueness. When Debra Winger as Sissy gets up the gumption to introduce herself, asking, "Are you a real cowboy?" he shoots back, "Well, that depends on what you think a real cowboy is."


That movie sparked a national vogue for fancy Western shirts and designer jeans, like supertight Sergio Valentes with the back-pocket logo of a longhorn steer. In cities across the country, Western-theme shops flourished, then went toes up as the decade wore on. Even a brief uptick in the early 90's from the fad for country western dancing did not save them.


"I think the 80's did a lot of damage to Western wear," said Marit Allen, the costume designer of "Brokeback Mountain." "The clothes went very flamboyant. They really lost the essence of it, which is in that trim, tight fit. If you think of Steve McQueen in the 60's in his Western wear, he was very lean and mean. The shirts had become very blousy, and there shouldn't be anything blousy about it."


Ms. Allen used shirts from Rockmount, which pioneered snap-front shirts and saw-tooth-style pockets in the late 1940's, and is one of the last 19th-century Western-wear companies still in operation. Today Rockmount does a much bigger business in relaxed-fit shirts for cowboys riding the range in a Tahoe. Ms. Allen took slim-fit shirts from the company's new vintage-design collection and further tailored them to fit Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Two of the shirts, one a muted plaid, the other denim, ended up as the symbol of their ill-starred romance and sold last month on eBay for $101,100.51.


Western wear has long been a marriage of archetypes, having come into being as a cross-pollination of the functional clothing taken to Texas by settlers in the 1820's and 30's and the more exuberant and ornamented style of the Spanish and Mexican ranchers there. Over time the new arrivals appropriated silver conchas and chaps and, courtesy of John B. Stetson, modified the sombrero into the familiar cowboy hat.


By the late 19th-century, travel writers, struck by the novel dress of ranch hands, propagated the mythology of the cowboy as a modern knight, vigilant, independent, fearless. But modern scholarship confirms that most cowboys were no more strangers to style than modern bachelors are, frequently buying new clothes and fancy tooled boots when flush with money at the end of a trail drive.


Dr. Wilson published a study in 1991 comparing posed and unposed photos of cowboys from that time. She found that in posed pictures young men would wear full cowboy regalia, to give to a sweetheart or to send back East to the family, but unposed pictures told a story of clothes stripped down to essential work gear.


"So there's a cowboy look that is stereotypical, and a real cowboy look that's not stereotypical," Dr. Wilson said.


The historian David Dary, the author of "Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries" (University of Kansas Press, 1989), agreed. His book details the interaction between cowboys and commerce stretching back to the teens and 20's of the last century, which was the heyday of Tom Mix and early cowboy silents.


"The dress was pretty much functional into the early part of the 20th century," Mr. Dary said. "Then you had motion pictures arrive, and what happened was that some cowboys began to look at them and say, 'If I am going to be a cowboy, I should wear a hat.' The real cowboys started to emulate the cowboy in the movie.


"There used to be a joke in Texas that you never saw a man in a cowboy hat until he got on a plane to go to New York."


So who's the real thing?


"I'm a fake," said Daniel Fead, a Denver real estate agent who has a fondness for Western wear. He was bitten by it some 10 years ago, when he started going to a local country western dance club. "I sort of determined that if you wanted to do the Western dance, your jeans had to be Wranglers or Levi's, they had to be boot cut, and you had to have a Western shirt, like Rockmount. I became aware of the uniform."


His taste for the dancing fell away — "I never could stand the music" — but he still likes the duds. "I still buy boots, even though I don't need them," Mr. Fead said. Generally he waits to wear them until January, when the National Western Stock Show comes to town.


"These guys are the real cowboys, although it is entertainment, and they kind of know what they're pitching," he said. Still, he added: "I am a little jealous of how rugged these guys are. I think our culture has sort of mellowed men out. We're not so rugged anymore."


Mr. Caten of Dsquared is not so sure. "It's been romanced forever," he said of cowboy style. "I wasn't thinking of some real cowboy out there, but that imaginary image I have of how we expect him to be. You know, the cowboy is in our heads."


The Italian-born Giuseppe Lignano, an avant-garde architect in Manhattan, was at the opening of the Whitney Biennial last week decked out in black cowboy boots and a big Western buckle with the initial G on it. He looks at Western clothes from a foreigner's perspective, and through that lens the tricky masculinity that is off-putting to American men is not so freighted.


"There is that tension with everything macho," Mr. Lignano said. But what he finds appealing is that, "like with everything American, everyone can do it, everyone can wear it."


"I don't know how authentic it is," he said. "But who cares?"

Graphic:



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09-03-2006
  2
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nyeh...I'm not looking forward to plaid cowboy shirts again, really.

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10-03-2006
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i admit i'm liking this look, but i'm sure cowboy was in last year. i've been wearing a plaid cowboy shirt for well over six months. meh, i don't mind, being a more fmeinine guy i like giving the cowboy look a twist, but recently everyone's been calling my boots my "brokeback mountains"

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10-03-2006
  4
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No no no....... this trend is making me sick.... please no more cowboy boots and hats..... and the cowboy shirts......

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25-03-2006
  5
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the movie industry is traditionally hyping up the market and with the recent overdose on cowboy/country western films i'm not surprised this will eventually reach the streets, much more the male gay customer and the young girl crowd, who avoiding to look like costume parade wont be wearing the style with cowboy boots, since no style is fun when took too literaly

tight jeans and washed out checked feminine shirts are hot for spring but more in a pin up than a cowboy/girl mood

thanks for bringing in this very interesting NYT article dos

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25-03-2006
  6
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i love this trend! Its so me!

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26-03-2006
  7
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i love my button down plaids for laying around the house. they are the exact shirts my mom wore when she was my age. I feel at home in them.

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26-03-2006
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having lived in the american west off and on for 25 years, i have to say, cowboy boots have become a huge part of my personal style. i love them! specially vintage justins, and own several pair. i wear them with jeans only, whether or not they are 'trendy'. however during a recent trip to ny, i was highly amused by all the boots on parade, worn with everything by kids who had never seen a saddle or a stirrup in their lives! that said, a great cowboy boot is like a worn out pair of levi 501's. a true american classic! if ya wear em well, by all means do so!

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26-03-2006
  9
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i don't think this is going to happen....

the cowboy boots...?
yes-but that has already been happening....
so that is old news...

but the rest...i don't think it's going to happen..
at least not in NY....
i think it's just marketing and clutching at straws....

*where's the huge japanese influence we were suposed to get from memoirs of a geisha?...
aside from lanvin(which no one wears or can afford)...
it's just not there...

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26-03-2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by softgrey
i don't think this is going to happen....

the cowboy boots...?
yes-but that has already been happening....
so that is old news...

but the rest...i don't think it's going to happen..
at least not in NY....
i think it's just marketing and clutching at straws....

*where's the huge japanese influence we were suposed to get from memoirs of a geisha?...
aside from lanvin(which no one wears or can afford)...
it's just not there...
hi, i agree. a marketing plan not about to happen. there have always been touches of western style in fashion. from georgia o'keefe's stark black, white and denimn to ralph's take on fanta se...i see troops of touristas from all over scouring taos for silver and turquoise each summer. like coca cola, levis and jazz, the american west will always have mythic and classic status. a touch of tooling goes a long way. head to toe is laughable and new yorkers know that!


Last edited by trip; 26-03-2006 at 08:34 AM.
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26-03-2006
  11
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oh, and let's not forget the utterly fabulous millicent rodgers who wore concha belts and boots w/her navajo jewelery and charles james...there are alternative, chic ways to wear western elements w/out looking like you're off to a costume party!

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26-03-2006
  12
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fanta se?......

i love taos...but keep the turquoise there please!...
and i actually attempt to channel giorgia o'keefe myself at times....
so yeah...i agree trip...
there are definitely ways to add some western 'flavour' without looking like a walking 'cliche'....

i agree with everything you said about the iconic status of the american west....

welcome to tFS!!!......

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26-03-2006
  13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by softgrey
fanta se?......

i love taos...but keep the turquoise there please!...
and i actually attempt to channel giorgia o'keefe myself at times....
so yeah...i agree trip...
there are definitely ways to add some western 'flavour' without looking like a walking 'cliche'....

i agree with everything you said about the iconic status of the american west....

welcome to tFS!!!......
hi and thanks for the welcome. love your posts and pics on the ny thread! i lived in manhattan for many years and went back and forth from here, before making the move in 90. still visit ny at least twice a year! and NEVER bring the turquoise! lol. frankly, i prefer pearls w/my boots. love georgia, a personal style icon of mine for sure!

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26-03-2006
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ok...that did it!...
gotta wear a long blk skirt today!...:p

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26-03-2006
  15
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crisp, white shirt, collar turned up too

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