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A History of Snap Buttons

It’s a cool autumn night at a roadside bar in Nevada. Your rental car is parked a quarter-mile down the highway—that flat tire can wait, it’s already dark outside. Inside the sheet-metal-clad establishment, an ancient television hangs above the bar where commercials announce the coming of “the big game.” The acridly sweet aroma of stale beer is overtaken by tobacco smoke as cigarette lighters flick open; the usual crowd is arriving. On one side of the oak-paneled room, a slot machine lights up like a fire engine as one pull of the handle sets off a cacophony of bells and sirens. Invariably, the result is followed by mumbled curses and empty coin pockets.  The last quarter is spared this humiliation however and is instead dropped into the flickering jukebox. A steel guitar twangs a classic tune tempered by time.

Young and old, college hipsters and bowlegged cowboys—they all wear some variation of the Western shirt. Some of these shirts are made by high-end makers while others are just labeled “work” or “welding shirts” at the local farm supply store. Different styles of snap closures complete the look. The more “dressy” the shirt, the more ornate and unusual the snaps. However, history shows that snaps are as unfamiliar to Wild West lore as the high noon shootout. Where did they come from?


Interior of the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson, Wyoming, circa 1948. Judging by the yoked Western shirts, I’d wager that there are snaps present. Image via Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.

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