Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Old West Halloween: The Real Deal

Due the western genre in film and print we have various ideas about how the inhabitants of the setting looked, acted and dressed.  In the 50s the look was very much Howdy Doody or Woody from Toy Story.
He's no Buzz Lightyear, let me tell you.
Later westerns would try to be more authentic as our knowledge, or perhaps just our aesthetics, changed.  There is a definite look, is what I am saying.  Singing cowboy fringe shirts and flash western wear (still popular in some circles today) were out.  
"Check me out, pards...I'm a cowboy!"
You are about as much a cowboy as Toby Keith is, ass.
Earth tones, wool pants and dirt, lots of dirt, were in.

Your Halloween costume choices are going to be in the Frontierland style, I'm afraid.  As a public service I am going to provide a sort of baseline of reality for you all.
Judge Roy Bean, the Law West of the Pacos
Judge Roy Bean is dressed in a shabby chic mostly unbuttoned waistcoat with no tie and a masive watch chain.  Full beard and short hair, reasonably combed.  Roy Bean was a saloon owner, self-made judge and all around rapscallion.
William Barclay Masterson, a law dog
Bat Masterson was many things in his career, including a lawman.  He is dressed in your basic gentleman's daily wear.
Luke Short, well-known man of many talents, cad, and gambler.
Luke Short was a gambler, gunfighter, and not what you'd call a "model citizen".  He is dressed to the nines in top hat with walking stick and appears to have a topcoat, but I could be wrong.  It's an old photo.
Masterson and Wyatt Earp, for some reason damn near undressed.
Everybody knows who Wyatt Earp is.  I don't have to tell you.  In this picture they are just in shirts and pants.  This would be a heinous fashion crime during the era if they were back east.  Men without waistcoats are in a state of undress.  Fitting for laborers however.  Which they aren't.

In all fairness they are all posing for pictures.  Since we didn't have camera phones and instagram and shit back then when people posed for a picture they tended to try to look appropriate.  You don't get candid shots in this era.  We can assume that any of them, were he mucking out a stable or slopping the hogs would have dressed a bit differently.  Rolled up sleeves or old trousers that they don't worry about getting dirty.  The ubiquitous blue jeans, so popular today, were still quite new to America in the Western era, having arrived more or less in the middle of the 19th century.  The hard wearing, long lasting denim fabric was suitable for labor but not for polite society.  Similarly the cotton duck fabric used to make uniforms for soldiers and civilians for hard work was not considered fashionable.

Hats were common on both men and women (as well as bonnets for the women) and came in a variety of styles.  The Stetson hat known as the boss of the plains, with its simple round crown and wide brim, was a popular western choice in the late 19th century, being designed to keep sun and weather out of the face.  The sombrero was an option as well (Hickock seemed to like them) and above we see Bat Masterson with a basic derby (or bowler, if you like), which is not a good cowboy choice as it does little to shade the eyes from the elements.  Hats could be made of a variety of materials and straw was not uncommon for a cheap working head cover.

As for footwear we usually think of the cowboy boot, but honestly there were many varieties of footwear in use in the 19th century, including many styles of boot.  Again, in a fashionable Eastern city, like New York or Chicago, boots were considered a lower class form of footwear.  Fashionable men and women of the West, however, had to make allowances for their environment, so even a presentable men's daily wear working suit would probably be accessorized with a pair of boots.  The size and angle of the heel, the cut of the toe, and even laces or no laces were all part of the ever-changing mysteries of fashion.

If you have the money and the desire you can find some very nice authentic western wear (and steampunk and victorian) at the Western Emporium online:


Reginald Barnett, Tobacconist complete outfit from Western Emporium

The Western Emporium sells complete outfits as well as separates and accessories.  I have never purchased any of these, so I cannot speak of the quality, but they look great.  They have a large selection of waistcoats and frock coats, both of which are indispensable for a good western outfit of the 19th century.  Men loved frock coats is what I am saying. 

But you don't care nothin' 'bout any of this.  You want to know about the costumes.  

Well stick around, hoss, we got more a-comin'.


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