True West’s Best of the West 2017: Western Wear Style and Science

BOW-WW_Thomas-Moran-and-William-Henry-Jackson_right_in-Piaute-country_1873
Somewhere in the Four Corners region, in 1873 or 1874, artist Thomas Moran (middle) and photographer William Henry Jackson (right) sit dressed in their field work garb next to the brightly costumed and feathered Paiute child. – True West Archives –

Fashion was the element that brought two Yale buddies into the circle of the U.S. Geological Survey.

James Terry Gardiner and Clarence King had made their way west to California and, on September 20, 1863, they experienced a chance encounter in Sacramento that changed the course of their lives forever.

Gardiner described their good fortune in a letter to his mother: “[The steamship] was crowded with people from the mines. Many rough, sunburned men in flannel shirts, high boots, belts, and revolvers were around me, but among them one man attracted my attention…. An old felt hat, a quick eye, a sunburned face with different lines from the other mountaineers, a long weather-beaten neck protruding from a coarse gray flannel shirt and a rough coat, a heavy revolver belt, and long legs, made up the man; and yet he is an intellectual man—I know it…I went to Clare [King], told him the case, and showed him the man. He looked at him, and, without any previous knowledge to guide him in the identification, said, from instinct, ‘That man must be Professor Brewer, leader of Professor Whitney’s geological field-party.’”

BOW-WW_Haschezhini-Navaho-Native-American-man_half-length-portrait_acing-front_wearing-dark-leather-mask-fur-ruff-nude-torso-painted-with-black-and-white-splotches-by-Edward-S.-Curtis
Edward S. Curtis photographed tribes close to the turn of the 20th century; the above portrait shows Haschezhini, a Navajo wearing a dark leather mask and a fur ruff. –Courtesy Library of Congress –

King had guessed correctly. After dinner that evening, he introduced himself and his pal to the man. The next day, Brewer introduced them to Whitney’s men. Within a week, Gardiner and King were part of the team for the California Geological Survey.

Four years later, at the age of 25, King was the leading geologist for the 40th Parallel survey. He was quite an icon of fashion, noted Henry Adams, the grandson and great-grandson of two U.S. Presidents. “In the evening, after a long, gritty day in the field, he donned silk hose, gleaming shoes, and a suit freshly pressed by his valet.” When Adams saw King in his finery by the campfire, he described him as “a bird of paradise rising in the sage-brush.”

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Looking dapper, James Stevenson was the able assistant to Ferdinand V. Hayden ever since accompanying him to the Dakota Badlands in 1866. – True West Archives –

If anyone dared to tease the geologist about his fancy clothing, they got a lecture: “It is all very well for you, who lead a civilized life nine or ten months in the year, and only get into the field for a few weeks at a time, to let yourself down to the pioneer level…. But I, who have been for years constantly in the field, would have lost my good habits altogether if I had not taken every possible opportunity to practice them.”

King was truly a scientist with style.   

Lead-BOW-WW_Geological-Survey-Expedition-members-at-Firehole-Basin-1872-photo-by-William-Henry-Jackson
73 Flanked Near Firehole Basin Wearing everyday field work clothing, Hayden survey members lined up for William Henry Jackson to take this 1872 photo near Firehole Basin in the Yellowstone environs of Wyoming Territory. – Courtesy Yellowstone National Park –

Best Western Clothing Store

Texas Jack Wild West Outfitter, Fredericksburg, TX

Named for the Comanche fighter and consummate plainsman John “Texas Jack” Omohundro, the Texas Jack store pays homage to this valiant cowboy as an Old West outfitter selling 1870s cowboy gear and apparel, approved authentic by members of cowboy action and single action shooting groups. Housed in a former 1889 livery stable, Texas Jack Wild West Outfitter bleeds the frontier West in every pullover shirt, paisley vest frock coat and pair of saddle pants.

TexasJacks.com

Readers’ Choice:

Miller Ranch, Denver, CO


Best Western Hat Maker

Catalena Hatters, Bryan, TX

Made the old-fashioned way, by hand, one at a time, the custom felt hats crafted by Catalena Hatters are the best in the world for a cowboy hat connoisseur. The Catalena family can even help you restore a damaged cowboy hat that just may be too sentimental for you to discard. They are true lovers of the cowboy hat, and their pride and attention to detail show through in each hat they custom shape for their customers.

CatalenaHats.com

Readers’ Choice:

Bronco Sue Custom Hats, Ruidoso, NM


Best Western Bootmaker

Lucchese Boots, El Paso, TX

The Texas frontier troops at Fort Sam Houston must have been thrilled when the Lucchese brothers opened their boot shop in San Antonio in 1883. They made their boots affordable, yet of high quality, which holds true to this day. Their dependable boots range in style from heirloom to roper to Western, suitable for a dressy formal affair or a casual night on the town.

Lucchese.com

Readers’ Choice:

Corral Boots, El Paso, TX


Best Period Western Clothing Maker

Classic Old West Styles, El Paso, TX

Folks looking for handmade Western clothing and work wear made in the good old U.S.A. need look no further. You can find classic Old West styles of coats, vests, jackets, dusters, shirts and pants to your heart’s content. These vintage looks are the go-to preference for movie stars to ranch hands.

COWS.com

Readers’ Choice:

Recollections, Hawks, MI

What do you think?

Meghan Saar

Meghan Saar is the editor of True West, the world’s oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine. She has worked in niche publication content development since 2002, and she has a B.S. in Journalism and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona—Tucson.