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Chapter 1: A History of Western Shirts
Western wear began as a costume, but became part of a lifestyle. The early rodeo cowboys and actors in Western movies wore custom-made costumes. These clothes were fashioned by tailors or were homemade. The most famous tailors, Turk, Sing Kee, Rodeo Ben, Nudie, Fay Ward, and others, were genuine artists who sparked the creation of Western design, but their output and reach were limited. Their suits and shirts, though ornate and constructed with intricate detail, were flashy to the point of kitsch. They also only made one piece at a time and charged plenty for it. After all, they were tailors to the day's cowboy movie stars, the first entertainers with mass appeal.
In order to understand how Western fashion became popular, it should be put in the context of popular culture. The West was first popularized by dime novels. Billions of them were published during a fifty-year period beginning in 1860, according to the Buffalo Bill Museum in Golden, Colorado. This was the first mass-produced entertainment industry, something like the television of its day. Dime novels fed the myth of the West to the hero-starved East. The Wild West Shows of Buffalo Bill and the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch took the West on the road, thrilling audiences across the U.S.A. and Europe. Silent films, and later "talkies," took off where the Wild West Shows had left off, perpetuating the romance and excitement of the West.
Dude ranches also played an important role in spreading the word. Eastern tourists began visiting the West by train during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and have been going ever since. The term "dude" may actually have as its origin a disparaging comment on the "duds" worn by city slickers pretending to be cowboys.