Styles and Styles of Texas

From Davy Crockett to Sasha Fierce, thirty people who changed the look of our state—and the world.

March 2009By , and Comments

1) Davy Crockett

(August 17, 1786—March 6, 1836)

He preferred to go by David, but he also understood the significance of image. After losing a bid for a third congressional term, in 1831, he took note of a popular play based loosely on his life and of its protagonist, Colonel Nimrod Wildfire, who wore an animal-pelt hat with a long tail. The real backwoodsman decided to make a public display of the look and rode his budding myth back to Congress in 1833. After another defeat, two years later, he migrated in character to Texas to found a new republic; instead he died a true hero. While the fifties coonskin-cap craze grew from a Fess Parker portrayal that was more Nimrod than history, Walt Disney had found the right symbol. As Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson told a writer, “I recognized Colonel Crockett lying dead and mutilated between the church and two-story barrack building, and even remember seeing his peculiar cap lying by his side.” JOHN SPONG

2) Jack Johnson

(March 31, 1878—June 10, 1946)

Born in Galveston only one generation removed from slavery, he became the first black heavyweight champion of the world on December 26, 1908, earning him the everlasting hatred of white America, which jeered his “unforgivable blackness.” But he endured the slander with a maddening calm. A notorious bon vivant, he attended operas, played the bass viol, and indulged in pricey call girls, fine wine, and games of chance. Always the fashion plate, he hired a maid to care for his wardrobe, which included 21 expensive suits. He favored high collars, suede gloves, diamond stickpins, patent leather boots with spats, and an ivory-handled cane—the outward representation of his fierce insistence on living as he wished. GARY CARTWRIGHT

3) Stanley Marcus

(April 20, 1905—January 22, 2002)

While most of the world was willing to dismiss the state’s entire population as rubes, he knew better. Assiduously dapper, Harvard-educated, and Jewish, he was an unlikely arbiter for Texas’s new oil rich, but that is what he became, turning the family store, Neiman Marcus, into a glamorous, global vehicle for his “quest for the best.” He was status conscious but never snobby; there was something for everyone at Neiman’s, he believed (if couture was out of your league, for instance, you could always buy a scarf). Yet he knew that understatement had its limits and that Texas excess should not be ignored: He created Neiman’s His and Her Gifts for the Christmas catalog (twin Beechcrafts, two-by-two pairs of animals for a Neiman’s-stocked Noah’s ark). Without him, Dallas would have been Kansas City. Or Cincinnati. MIMI SWARTZ

4) Glenn McCarthy

(December 25, 1907—December 26, 1988)

The archetypal Texas wildcatter made more, lost more, and spent more than almost anyone you could name, and he built Houston’s mammoth Shamrock Hotel, a monument to himself so flashy that it nearly gave Frank Lloyd Wright a stroke. Dark-eyed and smooth, he favored ascots and treated himself to airplanes and Hollywood starlets. A brawler, he naturally spent a lot of time in courtrooms, once in a silk bathrobe and silk scarf while recovering from surgery. True to form, he never missed a chance to leverage everything he had, so he wound up broke and pretty near forgotten. Still, his indomitable flamboyance earned him the cover of Time, in 1950, and he was the role model for the likes of Michael Halbouty, Oscar Wyatt, and—who else?—Jett Rink. MS

5) Lyndon B. Johnson

(August 27, 1908—January 22, 1973)

One can’t help but think of his audiotaped request that Joe Haggar leave more room in the crotch of the “first slacks”—or as he put it, “down where your nuts hang.” The fact is, he dressed carefully his entire life, in part to dispel the notion that a country boy was necessarily a hick. His philosophy—“Sell for what you’re worth”—ensured that should opportunity ever knock, he would not miss out because of a poor impression. His inelegant instructions begat exquisitely tailored suits, as evidenced by photos showing him giving the Johnson treatment; when he leaned over his victim, arms folded across his chest, his coat sleeves stayed in perfect coordination with his shirt cuffs. That sense showed too in his choice of Stetson’s Open Road model, now known universally as an “LBJ hat.” He didn’t need a wide brim to imply status. In effect he was all cattle, no hat—the embodiment of buttoned-up Texas power. JS

6) Claudia Heard de Osborne

(June 1910—March 18, 1988)

For the Corpus Christi oil heiress, buying couture was more than a hobby—it was a religion. From the forties until 1968, when her close friend Cristobal Balenciaga closed his atelier, she amassed a collection of more than five hundred of his creations, at $3,000 to $8,000 a pop. She shared an apartment and villa in Madrid with her husband, Spanish sherry heir Rafael de Osborne, but during fashion’s high seasons, their apartment at the Ritz in Paris—where she had several rooms just to store her clothing—became her preferred residence. To ensure that she fit into her made-to-measure dresses, she watched her weight obsessively, requesting that the Ritz make her green pea soup every day for lunch. When she became pregnant, she didn’t stray from her runway-perfect look: Balenciaga made her a couture maternity ensemble of black silk taffeta. KRISTIE RAMIREZ

7) Lightnin’ Hopkins

(March 15, 1912—January 30, 1982)

The image was of a subtle, weary sophistication. He played a primitive, albeit electrified, blues and was ever aware of his rural East Texas roots, but he dressed to present his public with an urbane showman. By the time he’d achieved living-legend status, in the sixties, that audience would often show up on his porch, young white fans who’d driven from all over the country to slip him cash dollars in exchange for a song or two in the barbershops and bars near his home in Houston’s Third Ward. Writer Michael Point, his unofficial driver during those years, says he was ready for them: “He always had to have his hat, shades, the right socks and shoes, and the gold tooth displayed.” He kept that hat cocked at just the right angle—along with his cigarette,guitar, and flask—to remind the white boys he knew something they didn’t. JS

8) Dale Evans

(October 31, 1912—February 7, 2001)

America’s most famous cowgirl might have been made in Hollywood, but she was born in Texas. Long before Frances Octavia Smith became the silver screen’s glamorous “Queen of the West” as Mrs. Roy Rogers, the Uvalde native was just another wannabe actress with a cumbersome name. But she shed obscurity like an old coat the first time she stepped out of the wardrobe trailer in a short, spangled ensemble, her euphonious new moniker written in script on her satin blouse. With fringe dripping from her shoulders, embossed leather cuffs on her arms, a felt hat tilted back to frame her curls, and an embroidered denim skirt that fell a generous length from the top of her gleaming white boots, she epitomized Tinseltown’s version of housewife-on-the-range chic. But she also had her own hand-tooled holster slung around her waist and a buckskin horse that she wouldn’t dare think of riding sidesaddle. Little girls finally had their own cowboy hero. JORDAN BREAL

9) Lydia Mendoza

(May 21, 1916—December 20, 2007)

Working-class Mexicans and a flood of first-generation immigrants found in her a musical hero to identify with. A twelve-string guitar in hand, she’d often perform in the classic folklórico dresses of her parents’ native Mexico, her shoulders wrapped in a fringed rebozo, bringing south-of-the-border barrio style to the limelight for the first time. To Anglos she appeared downright exotic, and even though her look was traditional, what she was doing was anything but. As a Latina playing and singing her own songs, she gave hopeful dreamers a taste of what was possible in the new world, a place where you could break the rules while still embracing where you came from. KR

10) Nancy Hamon

(December 12, 1918— )

She’s the doyenne of Dallas society—so if you claim to be, you’d better think again. Have you ushered in a brand of over-the-top entertaining the likes of which no one in Big D has seen, inspiring social swells who want to thrill guests and bring down the house? Has Town & Country photographed you in your Oscar de la Renta? Has W featured your legendary parties? Was Ava Gardner your good friend? Did Howard Hughes come to your house and fix your toilet? Did you take over the Dallas Museum of Art to throw a costumed ball with an Arabian Nights feel; have Tony Duquette haul in eight semis from Los Angeles filled with costumes, sets, and props; and wear a turban custom-made for you? Has Van Cliburn played “Happy Birthday” on the piano to you at a party for three hundred of your closest friends? Yeah, that’s what we thought. KR


11) Grace Jones

(November 1921 [?]—February 16, 2008)

Born into a family of ranchers, she was a risk taker—one of the first female pilots to ferry aircraft during World War II—but her eponymous shop, in Salado, filled with clothing from the runways of Paris and New York, would be her biggest adventure. The onetime model turned the limestone shell of a former bank into an upscale boutique and, with her Southern charm and determination, convinced Dior, Valentino, Lacroix, and Beene to sell her their lines. Soon Hollywood actresses Loretta Young and Gene Tierney, Lady Bird Johnson, and moneyed city slickers were shopping in the middle of nowhere. Some had never laid eyes on a cow before, so one can only imagine what they were thinking as they landed their private helicopters in a pasture out back. KR

12) Tom Landry

(September 11, 1924—February 12, 2000)

When he took his spot in the Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium, his name wasn’t flanked by a football or a trophy. Instead, it was the silhouette of a fedora. The revered head coach of the Dallas Cowboys tops a short list of men, including Humphrey Bogart and Indiana Jones, who managed to make that totem of midcentury conformity a symbol of their own individualism. From 1960 to 1988, he patrolled the sidelines on Sunday afternoons wearing a stone face and a conservative jacket, tie, and hat (he favored a Mallory with a feather in the band). The wardrobe was partly the influence of Halas and Lombardi, but the image served a larger purpose. With Dallas tagged as a “city of hate” after the Kennedy assassination, he became its public face: dignified, professional, and successful. He emerged as the ultimate model for our aspirations; the clothes confirmed the status we wanted to achieve. BRIAN D. SWEANY

13) Joanne King Herring

(July 3, 1929— )

Immortalized by Julia Roberts in Charlie Wilson’s War, she doesn’t need much of an introduction. She’s the classic Texas blonde, unapologetically sexy with a giggle and a smile at the ready and smart enough to know that a disarming demeanor doesn’t hurt. The diamonds, riotous parties, three husbands, and pile of curls would make you think otherwise, but she’s no bimbo: As honorary consul to Pakistan and Morocco a generation ago, she made regular trips to the Middle East and played a now-famous supporting role in the conflict in Afghanistan, proving that a little flirting and high heels can sometimes be your best weapon. Her infectious charisma (she once blew someone a kiss after he gave her the finger) and flamboyant style (metallic-gold leather jacket, meet leopard-print cowboy hat) helped secure her place as a darling among the political jet set. KR

14) Willie Nelson

(April 30, 1933— )

Nehru jackets and turtlenecks. Fringed buckskins and bankers’ suits. A borderline pompadour. The looks chosen for him by Nashville record executives in the mid-sixties made no more sense than the countrypolitan strings they slathered on his songs. But more than the music changed when he moved to Austin. If the outlaw-country sound was what he heard in his head, its image was what he found on the floor of his bus: T-shirts, jeans, and running shoes. He grew out his hair, threw away his razor, and put on a bandanna, not to fit in with the hippies but because he felt like it. Simply put, he quit bothering to compromise and became a star on par with Sinatra and Satchmo. His comfort in his own skin has made for hits and misses both musically and sartorially—think of his reggae album and his micromini Texas flag jogging shorts. But in the end it’s all him, no negotiations and no apologies. JS

15) Ann Richards

(September 1, 1933—September 13, 2006)

Actually, her hair was never that big—certainly not as big as the beauty shop bouffants favored by small-town Texas women. Yet whenever you saw her, you could not stop staring at her old-fashioned white permanent, spun as fine as cotton candy, shellacked with what seemed like an entire can of hair spray. When Hillary Clinton got slammed in the press for her various bad hairstyles, she famously told the first lady to go with one that people wouldn’t notice or else, pointing to her own hair, “make a statement.” Her statement was about permanence: Her hair let the world know that she was a formidable, unmovable woman. She could be a lot of fun, it said, but don’t mistake that for fluff. Anyway, her bigness was not, as an element of her style, only about hair. It was about attitude. Which is exactly why we’ll never forget her. SKIP HOLLANDSWORTH

16) Suzy Parker

(October 28, 1933—May 3, 2003)

Before anyone who was professionally photographed could call herself a supermodel and $10,000 was what you had to pay to get one to wake up, there was the flame-haired San Antonio native who personified high fashion in the fifties. In her pictures for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, often shot by famed photographers Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Horst P. Horst, she dressed in couture taffeta ball gowns, wrapped herself in ermine, poured her arms into opera-length gloves, and came across as untouchable. But in person she was such a blabbermouth that once when she was working with Horst the frustrated lensman walked: “I said, ‘You keep talking,’ and I left.” She was the first model to earn more than $100 an hour, an ungodly sum fifty years ago, and the close relationship she shared with Avedon inspired Audrey Hepburn’s character in the movie Funny Face. KR

17) Lynn Wyatt

(July 16, 1935— )

Even now, at a certain age, she reigns supreme. Mick Jagger and the Duchess of York no longer visit her in River Oaks, and the themed birthday parties at her French Riviera villa are a part of her storied past (see “My Life”), yet a gaggle of young and not-so-young Houston women are still fighting to be this generation’s version of her. Growing up within the hallowed walls of Sakowitz, the family luxury goods store, she became her own best creation. She combined flawless taste, self-deprecating wit, and a signature blond bouffant —once described as “fried, dyed, and shoved to the side”—and managed to trump blue-blooded Houston and international society by outdressing them all. She understood before anyone else that you could look as good in cowboy boots as you could in Manolos, as long as you had the confidence to carry it off. And by the way, she can still get Elton John on the phone. MS

18) Buddy Holly

(September 7, 1936—February 3, 1959)

That his look is as well-known as his music is a testament to the first rule of politics and style: Turn your weaknesses into strengths. The credit goes to Phil Everly, who, on an early tour, told him, “If you’re going to wear glasses, wear glasses.” So he ditched his half-plastic, half-wire frames and put on a pair of big, black, plastic clunkers that his Lubbock eye doctor had picked up in Mexico City. Technically he looked even nerdier, but he went on to become the first bespectacled rock star. It was a trademark so recognizable that today’s fans tend to forget how stylishly he dressed otherwise, favoring Ivy League V-neck sweaters offstage and tuxedos on. In fact, he never performed without at least a sport coat and tie until his ill-fated final tour, when, after a trip to London, he opted instead for a red ascot bought for him by his new bride, María Elena. JS

19) Janis Joplin

(January 19, 1943—October 4, 1970)

The key moment for her came in 1966, when she moved into a San Francisco Victorian with designer Linda Gravenites. Prior to that she’d struggled as a jeans-and-T-shirt folkie in Austin, feeling out of place against the backdrop of UT’s Greek scene and lacking the looks or voice of a Joan Baez or Judy Collins. But she flowered in the Haight-Ashbury freak-for-all. Dress was becoming art, and the vintage stores provided the velvet and feathers that Gravenites mixed with beads, bracelets, and boas to form the singer’s gypsy pastiche. Ironically, that look is now the preferred means for each generation of UT sorority girls to pretend they’re not from Highland Park. JS

20) Zack Carr

(November 4, 1945—December 21, 2000)

All you need to know is that he left Kerrville to become Calvin Klein’s creative director. Immensely sophisticated but always self-effacing, he helped shape, over thirty years, the tonal, modern silhouette that is the designer’s signature today. He had a knack for being ahead of the curve: Before actresses were cover girls and models were first choice to showcase clothing, his flair for reeling in celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz to expose the line was unmatched. His design legacy includes Klein’s first underwear campaign, whose racy tone spawned in later years a topless Kate Moss and a chiseled Mark Wahlberg in his boxer briefs. KR


21) Farrah Fawcett

(February 2, 1947— )

Not long after the Corpus Christi native and UT graduate arrived in Hollywood, she posed for a poster in a red one-piece bathing suit that revealed the outline of her nipples. She grinned broadly, showing her very white teeth, and her feathery blond hair was tousled in every direction. When the poster was released, in 1976, it instantly ranked in the annals of cheesecake history alongside Marilyn Monroe’s Playboy centerfold and Betty Grable’s World War II pinup. Twelve million copies were ultimately sold, the most of any poster ever. To this day, no one can explain how she came to symbolize all-American beauty in the seventies, but she was the first celebrity to capitalize on the commercialization of her looks in quite that way. And for many of us who grew up in that era, she remains the best. SH

22) George Strait (May 18, 1952— )

Legend has it that when he showed up for his first Texas Monthly cover shoot, in 1988, he honored the photographer’s request that he bring a couple different outfits by packing two pairs of creased Wranglers and two white dress shirts, all of which were starched to a crisp. Apocryphal maybe, believable nonetheless. At no moment in his career has he strayed far from the uniform of a South Texas calf roper: stacked jeans sized two inches too long so they wouldn’t come up over his boot tops when he rode, button-down collars that wouldn’t flap when he lassoed, low-heeled boots so he could run to a roped calf when he dismounted, and a trophy buckle to prove he was good at it. He’s made a mint for his preferred brands—Justin, Wrangler, Resistol—and provided the look that dominated dance halls and frat houses in the eighties. JS

23) Jerry Hall (July 2, 1956— )

Of all the supermodels to emerge from Texas, none have ever come close to our ultimate “it” girl. Raised in the working-class Dallas suburb of Mesquite, she escaped to Paris at age sixteen, was discovered by a fashion agent while sunbathing on a beach in Saint-Tropez, and was featured on more than forty fashion magazine covers. And, boom, along came Mick Jagger. They spent the next two decades together making tabloid-worthy headlines before splitting up, in 1999, but unlike other models-turned-rock-star-wives, she hardly disappeared. She took roles in big-budget movies (Batman) and plays (The Graduate), starred in a reality-TV series (Kept), and, late last year, was hired by Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld to model for the fashion house’s handbag line. That makes 37 years as a style icon . . . and counting. SH

24) Lyle Lovett (November 1, 1957— )

“Style is communication,” he explains. “It tells people what to expect from you. You can never underestimate the superficial power of human beings.” For some, the list of designers he has been associated with—Armani, Comme des Garçons, Prada—is indeed impressive, and also incongruous; seeing a Texan singer-songwriter dressed to those particular nines is a paradox, like hearing Bach float out of a barn. It makes perfect sense to him. “I grew up watching LBJ and the Kennedys, the classic menswear of the sixties, dark suits with natural shoulders that let you look like a guy, not a guy in a suit. That’s my idea of the way a man dresses.” He intends for that elegance to let his audience know he appreciates their time and attention. As for his earlier trademark, the woodpecker coif that was once as recognizable as Ann Richards’s beehive, he says, “I guess what I was communicating was ‘Never cut your own hair.’ ” JS

25) Emilio Navaira

(August 23, 1962— )

With his macho black mustache, pressed Wranglers, and ever-present Stetson, he could be the cowboy next door. But pair his classic looks with a smooth voice (accompanied by a conjunto accordion) and his signature dance move, the Emilio shuffle, and híjole: The Grammy Award nominations and big-name sponsors, like Miller Lite and Wrangler, pour in. “He had this energy that no one else had,” says David Lee Garza, whose band, Los Musicales, gave him his big break. “When most singers would just stand there, he did these moves, swaying back and forth.” Although a serious bus accident has sidelined him for the past year, his influence still makes him the gold standard in tejano today. KR

26) Wes Anderson (May 1, 1969— )

The world that the Houston-born filmmaker has created onscreen is one of vaguely luxurious quirk, set in an indeterminate era and peopled by grown-ups who act like children. The same description could apply to his closet, filled as it is with his signature shrunken suits and Wallabees, plus all manner of corduroy, sweaters, and scarves. While his films of late have been knocked for displaying more style than substance, his own look remains widely admired and copied. The clear progenitor of the geek-chic trend that has defined menswear in recent years, he’s a best-dressed-list perennial and a member of Esquire’s style hall of fame. Hipsters should note that his tailor, Mr. Ned, of New York, says the auteur has begun wearing his pants a little longer. JS

27) Erykah Badu

(February 26, 1971— )

Like a child in art and music class, the Dallas singer treats every day as a project, with herself as the medium. She draws on plenty of groovy templates (earth hippie, soul shouter, rap poet, jazz crooner) and is as apt to borrow from black-power iconography or Chinese astrology as Yoruban mythology. She treats her body as a mannequin: On her head might be a wig with hair that is straight down to her knees, parted in the middle like Cher’s; molded like Diana Ross’s; poufed like Angela Davis’s; or fluffed to the side like Loretta Lynn’s. On top she might wear an African gele. Or she might shave her head. On her body might be a plaid pantsuit or a seventies retro space suit or African ceremonial garb or baggy pants and a T-shirt. On her feet might be Converse sneakers or nothing at all. Experiment, grow, experience; fail, succeed, whatever. Wake up the next day and try something new. MICHAEL HALL

28) Selena

(April 16, 1971—March 31, 1995)

Cleavage-baring bustiers paired with boots weren’t typical tejano attire until she made them her trademark. Her onstage style was a well-fused combination of accessible South Texas boots and jeans and glitzy studded bolero jackets and push-up bras. She was exacting with her ensembles, designing and detailing most of them herself to ensure that just enough was left to the imagination. Who can forget the concho leggings she wore one year at the Tejano Music Awards or the shimmering purple bodysuit she rocked at the Houston Astrodome? The latter was such a favorite that she covered a pair of boots in a similar fabric. When it came time to lay her to rest, her family chose a purple outfit as her last. KR

29) Eva Longoria Parker

(March 15, 1975— )

The dark hair. The glittering eyes. The stark, familiar beauty in stilettos on such a teeny, tiny frame. The ten hairdo-and-designer-gown changes at the 2008 ALMA Awards—an Olympian accomplishment worthy of Gabrielle Solis, the negligeed schemer she made famous on Desperate Housewives. Sure, she plays something of a sexpot cliché in the Hispanic spitfire tradition, but she’s a shrewd operator of the first degree, someone who knows what she wants (an NBA star for a husband, a wedding reception in a storybook castle in France) and how to get it, inspiring millions of girls, Latina and otherwise, to toss their heads back and follow her lead. MS

30) Beyonce (September 4, 1981— )

There was a time when there was only one kind of Texas beauty: blond-haired and blue-eyed. Now girls of all races and creeds affix to their mirrors pictures of a young woman so famous she needs only one name. Yes, she earned more than $80 million from June 2007 to June 2008. Yes, she made that spicy homage to Gwen Verdon. Yes, she’s getting A-list movie roles and magazine covers. But it’s her face—wide-open, winning, simultaneously innocent and knowing—that promises she’s still a Texas girl, despite Jay-Z and the Sasha Fierce alter ego that no one really buys. MS

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