Q&A Questions and Answers:
I'm writing an article on cowboy attire and although I have information on what the cowboy of today wears, what was the attire in the 1800's? Where was the cowboy clothing made and how did it get to the general store? I've searched the internet but it doesn't exactly give me what I want.
In the 1800s, cowboys and other manual laborers wore what was called "ready-to-wear" -- second-hand clothing that had been discarded by the higher classes.
With few exceptions (such as military uniforms), new clothing was not mass produced back then. If you wanted an outfit, you went to a tailor, who measured you and custom-made the shirt, suit, trousers, coat, or whatever. If you out-grew your duds or just got tired of them, you might sell them to a second-hand (or ready-to-wear) store, where they would be bought by folks who needed inexpensive clothes for work.
That's why you'd often see cowhands riding the range wearing a suit coat or vest and dress pants (rather than jeans). Also, many veterans continued to wear parts of their former uniforms for work.
By the way, did you ever wonder why chimney sweeps usually wore top hats and tuxedos? Well, the fancier the clothes were, the harder they were to re-sell... and the lower the second-hand price. Chimney soot was tough on clothes, so a black tux at a rock-bottom price was just what the sweep needed!
A printed source you may find helpful is Cowboy Gear: A Photographic Portrayal of the Early Cowboy and their Equipment, by David R. Stoecklein. You can order it on-line through Barnes & Noble by clicking the link located in my Trading Post.
The photos at right illustrate the variety of clothing I mentioned above.
Portrait of cow punchers eating at the Birdwood Ranch in Nebraska, c. 1870-90. Courtesy of Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.
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COPYRIGHT © 2001 BOB LEMEN, GRAND RAPIDS,
MINNESOTA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress.