101: History of the Western Shirt

Photo credit: Susan Einstein

Photo credit: Susan Einstein

In terms of wardrobe staples, the western shirt is about as iconic as it gets. It is one of the few pieces rugged enough to withstand both harsh frontier conditions and changing fashion trends throughout the last two centuries. In honor of this impressive and unique heritage, I did some research to discover the origins and development behind one of the most persistent shirt styles in modern attire:

The western shirt was born in the early 19th Century as American settlers were steadily expanding into the western territories. Despite the relatively sparse population throughout the frontier, outposts were incredibly cosmopolitan, melding the popular dress of statesmen, their European counterparts, and the rugged workwear of the Native Americans.

Native American animal skin shirt (Photo credit: Susan Einstein)

Native American animal skin shirt (Photo credit: Susan Einstein)

Given the relative isolation in the frontier, cotton and wool fabrics were difficult to come by. Rather than working in such ‘civilized’ dress, settlers opted to wear shirts made from animal skins. These pullovers were decidedly simpler than the cuffed and collared shirts we associate with the Wild West, but they outfitted generations until woven fabrics became more readily available many years later.

Photo credit: Susan Einstein

Photo credit: Susan Einstein

Towards the turn of the 20th Century, the nascent national railway system took root, granting settlers better access to manufactured goods. In addition to fabrics and other materials, the trains also helped to disseminate cultural capital as well. In 1883 (coincidentally the same year Hamilton was founded) Buffalo Bill Cody launched his first Wild West show that traveled throughout the US – sparking a widespread love affair with the Western lifestyle that permeates popular culture to this day.

Yet the western wear we know was born out of isolation and experimentation. Now with a reliable supply of woven fabrics, frontier tailors were tasked with constructing durable, yet comfortable shirts particularly suited for working miners and cattlemen. It was during this period in the early 1900’s that the iconic western shirt began to take shape. Tailors introduced longer tails so that shirts wouldn’t pull loose while on horseback – as well as five-button cuffs for posterity. To provide more support and durability, they also gradually adopted the signature pointed yoke across the shoulders and chest. If nothing else, this distinct nuance is arguably the most quintessential and persistent design element of the western shirt.

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The Death of S/M/L – Men’s Tailored Shirting By Stantt

The compelling aspect about minimalism is its precarious nature. Everything hinges on a subtle harmony between only a few elements. I’d argue that menswear falls into a similar predicament. Compared to the plethora of clothing options that is women’s attire, men are relegated to relatively few. Consider tops. Off the runway, our clothing choices are more or less limited to tees, polos, button ups, and sweaters.

stantt-gingham-collar-stay-detail-procured-designThe fact that we are locked in to such a small spectrum of garments makes subtle detailing all the more important. The expression of style most often boils down to choice patterns and fabrics, but the crux of a good shirt lies in how it fits. For 85% of the male population however, it’s virtually impossible to find a shirt that matches their body type without going to a custom tailor.

Uniquely tailored shirt by Stantt - made with trademark DataFit technology

Uniquely tailored shirt by Stantt – made with trademark DataFit technology

Sparked by this realization, entrepreneurs Matt Hornbuckle and Kirk Keel pulled together to launch Stantt – a unique startup devoted to offering men superior, yet accessible shirts that fit perfectly right out of the box.

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Highlights from 18 Waits S/S ’13 Collection

Not to hate on the joy of spring, but it seems like designers are far too quick to indulge in vibrant colors and showy patterning. I say leave that to nature. It does a better job anyway.

Lookbook-2

Maybe it’s happenstance; maybe it’s good taste, but the folks at 18 Waits seem on board. Their recently released S/S ’13 collection consists of an airy assortment of laid-back, casual garments and accessories. In fact, it is their biggest campaign to date, with the inclusion of modified fits, untried colorways, and new pieces altogether.

The Levon in blue and red

The Levon in blue and red

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Tradlands – Handcrafted Button-up Shirts for Women

Denim-Shirt

It was endearing for about ten minutes in the 90’s, but marketing “boyfriend” shirts to women is ridiculous. Let’s face it, if you pull a shirt out of your boyfriend’s closet and it fits perfectly, you are either a dynamic duo or he buys women’s clothes. Not a big deal either way, but it’s worth bringing to light the fact that women have to borrow button-ups from men (even if only by name).

So with that out of the way, I’d like to introduce Tradlands – a newly launched fashion label out of San Francisco that handcrafts button-up shirts exclusively for women.

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Store Visit: Lumina Clothing

The best part of traveling is discovering what you weren’t looking for. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Raleigh, NC, where I swiftly stumbled upon the inaugural storefront of the American fashion and dry goods label Lumina. Timing couldn’t have been better; the Lumina window graphic was still wet on the glass when co-owners Paul & Bart offered to show me around their new shop Lumina-Table-&-Desk

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Wolf vs. Goat – Everybody Wins

Charcoal Waffle Thermal

Charcoal Waffle Thermal

There has been an almost overwhelming surge of newly launched men’s fashion labels that cater to everyday basics like button-ups and chinos. While it’s great to have a choice, picking and choosing can be somewhat of a task. But if you find yourself in the market  and are looking to support budding labels that produce their clothing in the US, Wolf vs. Goat might kill two birds with one stone.

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Amy Kaehne – An Up & Coming Women’s Fashion Label From Down Under

Having worked for several years as a design assistant, Amy Kaehne decided to go solo by launching her own women’s fashion label in 2010. Known by the same name, this Sydney-based brand has popped up in all the right places, from boutiques across Australia to a recent debut in their first American stockist for S/S ’13!

Contrast Lapel Shirt (via NeedSupply.com)

Contrast Lapel Shirt (via NeedSupply.com)

What makes Amy Kaehne stand out as a designer is how genuine and relaxed her label is. Despite only having five seasons under her belt, the collections are consistently cohesive. Part of this stems from Kaehne choosing a given theme to investigate throughout a given collection, whether by developing a narrative, deciding on a palette, or experimenting with specific textures.

Lookback to S/S '12

Lookback to S/S ’12

Knit Jumper (via NeedSupply.com)

Knit Jumper (via NeedSupply.com)

Rather than using prints throughout her work, Kaehne places a heavy emphasis on patterning – most often by sourcing custom woven fabrics. These materials are often intricately knit, but the garments themselves are characterized by a flowing, more relaxed fit. The guy in me doesn’t tend to enjoy loosely tailored pieces on women, so it’s surprising how fond I am of Kaehne’s sensibilities. Her quiet juxtapositions between tactility, aestheticism, and wearability are rather engaging – especially in anticipation of future collections.

Love Street Shirt (via NeedSupply.com)

Love Street Shirt (via NeedSupply.com)

Take a look for yourself in the gallery below, which features images from Amy Kaehne’s recently released spring/summer collection as well as some favorites from past seasons.

 

 

Hunter + Gatherer: Plaid

Contrary to popular belief, plaid adorns much more than kilts and lumberjacks. In fact, this family of patterns is surprisingly common - due in part to the extreme amount of versatility plaid offers depending on style and color preference. Of course the more traditional patterns (i.e. tartans, buffalo checks, &c) tend to be somewhat rustic, but a refined glen plaid is a favorite amongst custom tailors around the world. Ultimately, it all boils down to the contrasts.

While I personally wear plaid in every season, it feels especially appropriate when it’s cold out. There’s just something so cozy about it. But whatever your climate, it’s always a good time to enjoy some well-crafted, plaid goods!

HG-Plaid

As pictured, clockwise from top left: Umbrella by Doyle + Mueser; Delicious & Addictive Mackintosh ToffeeLace Thong by Hanky Panky; Boxers by Sunspel; Necktie by General Knot Co; Throw by Faribault Woolen Mills; Riveted Winter Apron; Handmade iPhone Case by Otis James for Griffin Technologies; iPad Sleeve by Herschel; Hamilton Shirt Co  Button-up

The Jante Law – Half Fashion & Half Worldview

Given all the menswear buzz in Paris this weekend, it is a great time to introduce one of my favorite up and coming pan-European fashion labels. Known simply as The Jante Law, the brand deals exclusively in understated yet refined basics for everyday wear. But if you were to take a closer look at the label, you’d find that fashion is only half of their story.

Blue-Cardigan-Lookbook

The Jante Law was founded on a humble, down to earth attitude that affects virtually every aspect of their business. Both in name and practice, the label derives much of its inspiration from the out of print A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks by Aksel Sandemose. Though The Jante Law lives by the ten strict principles laid out in the novel, their premier collection focuses specifically on the first of these life lessons: “don’t think you are anything special.” In other words, modesty is the key to a job well done.

Coat-Sweater-Shirt

Fittingly, The Jante Law is interested in producing quality garments rather than clout. Not only are their collections carefully crafted in Europe, but each piece can also be easily dressed up or down depending on the occasion. In that sense, it’s a diligent assortment of clothes that equip instead of embellish.

Blue-Button-Up

 Seeing as The Jante Law is such a young label, I greatly look forward to seeing their future collections. Perhaps they will unveil the second rule of Jante in their upcoming release, but either way they are on the right track in keeping menswear grounded. If you are in the neighborhood this weekend, be sure to stop in and check them out at MAN Paris.

In Focus: Trestle Shop

When I first saw the heritage-inspired wares and garments from England’s Tender Co., I knew I had found something very special. Recently, I got to relive that experience in discovering their lesser-known side project called “Trestle Shop”.

45° “Hands Free” Watch

In short, it is a very limited collection of experimental and unconventional pieces that were made alongside the Tender Co. line. The project is run by Tender designer William Kroll and his wife Deborah, who make each piece by hand in their London home. Speaking to the adventuresome nature of Trestle Shop, there is a huge variety of goods that are available from dip-dyed knit socks to hand thrown pottery.

A great example and personal favorite of the current collection is the natural sand-polished Cow Horn Comb. In the midst of researching button materials for the Tender Co. main line, they discovered that combs were traditionally made of horn because it is strong enough to withstand being cut into fine teeth. So in the spirit of doing, Trestle Shop crafted a handful of combs that are individually packaged in a riveted slip of English-woven mattress ticking.

Hand Thrown English Red Clay Coffee Mug Detail

By nature, Trestle Shop as a whole has an extremely limited stock that is also in constant flux. Often times there will be only one piece available in a given design, and designs themselves are always changing. This of course may make it difficult to own a Trestle Shop piece, but the exclusivity speaks to what the project is really about – namely artistry. Rather than settling into iterations of products that sell, William and Deborah are interested in investigating their own creativity regardless of how it manifests. For me, learning about their work has been a breath of fresh air that makes me eager to see what other side projects are out there!

You can see the rest of the current Trestle Shop collection by visiting their website. Keep in mind that their stock changes constantly with new creations appearing as quickly as they vanish, so check back frequently!

18 Waits – Fall/Winter ’12 Lookbook

Weekender Jacket, Woodsman Shirt, Thomson Trouser

The latest campaign from Canadian fashion label 18 Waits is one of their strongest collections yet – if not the absolute best. Their lookbook is teaming with new takes on reliable staples and some new surprises for the Fall/Winter seasons.

Eastern Cardigan (charcoal)

Eastern Cardigan – Douglas Fir Button

Of the line, there are a few favorites worth pointing out. Their shawl-collared, contrast-woven “Eastern” cardigan is hand-knit in Prince Edward Island before it is finished with custom Douglas-fir wooden buttons. It is available in two colorways (charcoal and flecked crème), which each have side pockets and complementary elbow patches.

Weekender Jacket (waxed navy)

Weekender Jacket (olive) – Gingham Interior Lining

Another standout is their “Weekender” shirt-jacket made from a sturdy but pliable waxed-cotton. Keeping true to their detail-oriented reputation, the inner layer is lined with a beautiful gingham fabric that would offer a great accent if left unbuttoned.

 Be sure to scroll through a healthy selection from their lookbook below – keeping a keen eye out for details. The collection is strewn with custom-cut collars, hidden buttons, and many other unique touches. You can also see more of their collection in the next couple weeks by visiting their website. In the meantime, be sure to check out their lookbook video featuring Montreal’s “Plants & Animals”.

Updated Flannel Shirts from Thom Browne

University Stripe in Navy/Green Plaid

Despite being one of many elements in an incredibly diverse label, flannel is not the first thing to come to mind when thinking of fashion designer Thom Browne. Yet in a recent collection, Browne capitalized on the urban-lumberjack look (if of course there is such a thing) by releasing a series of updated flannels.

Grosgrain & Red/Navy Plaid Detail

While every shirt in the collection features mother of pearl buttons, they are also adorned with either a signature RWB grosgrain on the interior placket or his four bar university strip on the bicep. Of the four pictured, the favorite has to be the red flannel with the subtle striped placket contrast. All of the shirts are cut from heavy weight 100% cotton cloth and are assembled with scoop sides for an updated slim-fit. Apt to revamp an American icon, these shirts are also designed and crafted in the USA.

 You can find different details and colorways in the gallery below.

Outlier – Rockaway Pivot S/S Shirt

                                                 Rockaway Short Sleeve Pivot Shirt

The purveyors of sport and style at Outlier just released a beautiful short sleeve button-up for the last dog days of summer. The shirt is cut and sewn in New York City from a custom  85% cotton / 15% linen blend that features a characteristically open weave to help air circulation.

                                                        Linen-Cotton Blend Detail

                                       Back “Pivot” Construction & Contrast Stripes

In addition to keeping you cool in the heat, their patent pending “Pivot” shirt construction allows you to reach forward without activating any tension in the fabric. A great aspect about the Rockaway shirt in particular is that you can actually see this pattern in action by tracing the contrasting horizontal and vertical stripes throughout the garment. It’s hard to find a better marriage of aesthetic elements and innovative design.

You can find more about Outlier’s work at their website, including information on their unique custom-blended fabrics, limited collections, and collaborations. Enjoy the weekend!

Taylor Stitch – Summer Indigo Shirts

Shizuku

When the team at Taylor Stitch creates a new collection, they are inspired by a certain theme. For Spring/Summer ‘12, the label released a limited series of shirts embodying the ocean as understood through traditional Japanese patterns. The line is composed of four pieces, which each feature a different print in variations of indigo and white. Though the kanoko (“dappled”), sazanami (“ripple”), ariso (“rough seashore”), & shizuku (“trickle”) patterns all originated in Japan, the shirts are cut and sewn in the US with great attention to detail. Like all of their readymades, the Indigo Summer prints are crafted with single needle construction, refined with French seams, and adorned with sustainably harvested horn buttons.

Kanoko

Be sure to check out detailed images of each shirt in the gallery below. You can find more information about Taylor Stitch on their website – including an in depth look at their custom tailored shirt service.

Rag & Bone – Yokohama Oxford

Made in both a longsleeve and shortsleeve version, the latest iteration of Rag & Bone‘s Yokohama Oxford is a great study in minimal detailing. The design energizes an otherwise simple shirt by employing a red, white, and blue stripe embellishment throughout the garment. While the vertical stria on the front are reminiscent of other designs in mind, the horizontal line above the back pleat is particularly intriguing. The rustic white-painted buttons add a nice final touch. As always, take a gander in the gallery for some detailed images.

ts(s) Selvage Shirt

A throwback to last spring (or maybe even earlier). Regardless, this shirt from ts(s) has survived on my desktop for a long time. Being a fan of selvage denim, this one hits close to home with the almost understated detailing in the contrasting red stripes down the front, around the cuffs, and across the chest pocket. The look is almost worth embroidering contrast stitching down every striped shirt you own, but the beauty of it all lies in the thought behind the material in the first place.

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