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Functional History of the Denim Western Shirt

Today’s stripped-down denim shirts are wardrobe staples for jeanswear enthusiasts and trend-followers alike.


The cowboy hero has been a part of American culture for over a century. It’s an image we’ve seen again and again. Picture a cowboy and he’ll almost certainly be wearing a Stetson hat, some well-worn blue jeans, and one of the most iconic garments in jeanswear’s history: the denim Western shirt.

In its two hundred year history the Western has gone from a pullover made of animal skin, to a plain, collarless, fit-for-purpose garment; to the elaborate rhinestone decorated statements worn by 50s country singers and Hollywood stars.

Today’s stripped-down denim shirts are wardrobe staples for jeanswear enthusiasts and trend-followers alike. Their recognisable details are of course stylish, but also come from a place of practicality.

Denim Hemd Denim Hemd
Denim Hemd

Pearl snap buttons

Snap fastenings were the brainchild of Jack A. Weil and were first added to Western shirts in 1946. The design was aesthetically pleasing but it proved to be functional too. They were more durable than buttons and removed the need for needle and thread; handy when miles away from home on horseback.

Blue denim

Herding cattle across miles of unforgiving terrain is hard work. Your clothes need to be durable. Denim is hardwearing, but unlike leather, it’s also breathable and moisture absorbent; a welcome feature in the scorching sun.

Yoke design

The now iconic yokes broadened the shirt at its shoulders for greater freedom of movement. Their design implication – more stitching – also added strength. Yoke flapped pockets meant cowboys could ride without losing their contents.

Tapered waist

In the early 1900s slim waists weren’t commonly seen on shirts. Their inclusion in the Western’s design meant that cowboys could ride without their shirts snagging on saddle horns or barbed wire.

Denim Hemd
Denim Hemd

The top button

Authentic Westerns have no snap button at the collar. Cowboys kept their top button open for ventilation. As functional as they are, an open snap just doesn’t look good. Early designers got over this unsightly snag by swapping the snap for a conventional button and hole. Cowboys probably didn’t care, but this was one of those moments when form outweighed function.

The shirt worn by our model is our lightweight, season highlight, available in two classic denim shades. Take a closer look here.

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