Button-down shirts are a staple in any wardrobe, but not many of them stand out quite like the Western Shirt. With its ornate yokes and pockets and satisfying snap button closures, it’s an elevated form of the button-up that’s as American as apple pie.
As a heritage clothing staple reproduced and reimagined by countless quality clothing brands, we naturally see a lot of western shirts ’round these parts. So, we thought it was time to hone in on this classic piece of shirting, where it came from, and its most common forms.
What is a Western Shirt?
A Western-shirt is a button-down or popover, typically constructed from denim, chambray, or other cloth, that features one or more of the following:
- Snap-button closures
- Pronounced yoke(s)
- Twin chest pockets with curved pocket flaps
A Brief History Of The Western Shirt
The western shirt’s roots lay in the early nineteenth century as European settlers and colonizers expanded into the North America. The established communities’ dress was a mix of the popular garb of statesmen, their European counterparts, and traditional garments taken from Native Americans.
The shirt was originally sewn up from bovine leather and other animal skins, but this began to change in the early twentieth century when ateliers received better access to cloths of cotton and wool. It was at that time that the shirt was amended and normalized to include many of the hallmarks we see on modern Western-style shirts.
Longer hems were introduced to prevent the shirts from untucking while riding on horseback, and the archetypal pointed front and back yokes were added to for extra durability. Perhaps the shirt’s most famous feature—snap closures—were also introduced in the early 1900s by Rockmount Ranch Wear founder, Jack A. Weil.
“A true pioneer, he introduced the first western shirts with snaps (the Rockmount signature design with diamond snaps and sawtooth pockets is considered to be the longest production style shirt in America). Jack was motivated to develop a distinctive look for cowboys, ranchers and farmers living in the American West. Cowboys have a strong independent identity and want to be different. Jack A. offered them a special fashion statement.” – Rockmount Workwear on its founder, Jack A. Weil
The western shirt remained by and large a workwear garment until the mid-twentieth century when the rise of Italian spaghetti western films saw many traditional western-wear pieces become style icons. By the 1960s the western-style shirt was a typical piece of shirting worn by people from all walks of life.
The signature details and features of western-style shirts began to get lost in translation as large-scale manufacturers produced them for mall stores and high street retailers, but brands like Wrangler, Rockmount, Levi’s, and Ralph Lauren have continued to make traditional-style western shirts as the years have rolled by. In addition, many more contemporary brands, especially those in the raw denim sect, have produced faithful western-style shirts with all manner of snap closures, sawtooth pockets, and ornate yokes.
Types Of Western Shirt
There is no defined ‘classic’ western-style shirt but for the purposes of identifying the most common western shirts, we would say that classic western shirts feature a combination of some of the following details, on a button-down or popover shirt.
Pointed Pocket Flaps
Snap Button Closures
A sawtooth shirt is a form of western shirt that has specific, double-point pocket flaps that are reminiscent of the teeth on a saw, as shown on the above Iron Heart Shirt. Sawtooth shirts will typically feature the rest of the aforementioned archetypal western shirt detailing.
Smiley / Piped Pockets
Smiley and piped western shirts feature piped-seam detailing, with smiley versions featuring curved welt pockets that resemble a smile. Still featuring other typical western shirt details, smiley and piped renditions provide that extra ounce of rodeo steez.
Some western shirts go all out on ornate design, featuring custom embroidery, piping, and even all-over prints. They will still fall into the western shirt category if they feature some of the aforementioned details like snap-buttons. For the above shirt, Nudie has gone all out with embroidery, smiley pockets, and piping. Below, you can see that RRL has kept to classic western shirt DNA but with plaid and patchwork fabrics.