In photos from many events I attended last year as Texas Monthly’s
barbecue editor, I’m wearing the same shirt. It’s a snazzy blue short-sleeve number with pearl-snap buttons and lightning bolts stitched on the breast pockets. From Austin-based outdoors brand Howler Brothers, it’s my go-to when I want to step up what you might call (and you probably won’t) my fashion game. But seeing myself wearing the same shirt over and over was embarrassing. I needed to expand my wardrobe. I needed some new fits.
There was just one problem: finding a reliably comfortable shirt for my body type—one that doesn’t look like a tent—is like finding great whole-hog barbecue joints in Texas. They’re out there, but you have to go on a journey.
When I wrote the essay “Confessions of a Fat Bastard” for this magazine, almost nine years ago, I shared that the job had taken me from an XL to an XXL in the first eighteen months. I’m happy to report that I’m still at a double X, which we call a “barbecue large” in the biz. I haven’t grown any more, but my T-shirt collection certainly has. I’ve picked up tees at food festivals and barbecue joints from Los Angeles to Sweden, some with dad-joke-inspired sayings like “Body by Barbecue.” I could wear a different one every day for a year without repeating, but when it’s time to pack for a review trip around the state or a public appearance, I want to take it up a level with snaps or buttons.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I can already sense the eye rolls from folks who say the barbecue crowd and fashion don’t mix. But I’ve seen too much pitmaster peacocking to think that these smokin’ superstars don’t care how they look for the fans and the cameras. I also know that many barbecue hounds and backyard cooks out there are built more like me than like Matthew McConaughey, so if you’re barbecue-fashion curious (or maybe looking for gift ideas for the meat-loving father in your life), here are some pointers I gathered during a recent shopping spree in an attempt to “elevate” my wardrobe, as they say.
Really Try It On
If your paunch sticks out past your belt buckle, trying on a shirt while simply standing in front of a dressing room mirror is about as useful as judging brisket by a photo. You’ve gotta get into the meat of it to know if it’s really going to work for you. I didn’t consider this when buying my first shirt on my shopping expedition. I wore it a few days later, and when I reached out for my car’s steering wheel, I realized how tight the sleeves were. No look is worth cutting off circulation to your arms while driving to a barbecue
festival. After this ill-fated purchase, I devised a method to ensure a comfortable fit no matter what I’m doing:
1. Jostle around a bit.
2. Swing your arms.
3. Exhale and relax those stomach muscles. If that second button from the bottom is going to strain, it’s better to know before you bring it home.
4. Finally, do a couple deep squats with your arms held straight out.
The above routine might look ridiculous, but it hasn’t failed me yet.
Check the Labels
There is one problem with my strategy, of course: plenty of brands out there with a big online presence aren’t so easy to find in stores to check their fit. After months of being inundated with Instagram ads for the Austin apparel companies Poncho and Texas Standard, I finally hit the link for each, even though I knew I would instantly become the marketing target of every brand out there that has ever sewn a button. When the shirts I ordered arrived in the mail, I read the tags and wished I had made more of an effort to find out if they were meant for the dryer. The tan flannel I purchased from Poncho is super soft, with pearl snaps and plenty of stretch, but it takes a while to hang dry. I also had selected a black short-sleeve shirt from Poncho—with a name like Burnt End, how could I resist? “Tumble dry on low heat if you must,” says the tag, so I have several times, with no ill effects. Texas Standard’s Tejas Guayabera air-dries quickly and is now one of the most formal-looking shirts in my closet.
It’s an Investment, Really
The shirts I’ve mentioned so far range from about $70 to $119 before shipping and tax; that’s a financial commitment, especially if you’re used to paying clearance prices for fishing shirts at Academy. (If you’re spill-prone, carry a Tide pen in your pocket at the next festival to protect your purchase.) The best value I’ve found is from a brand that has dressed celebrities including Justin Bieber, at least one Kardashian, and the biggest of them all, the 55-foot-tall Big Tex, who greets attendees at the State Fair of Texas. Dickies (no relation to the Dickey’s barbecue chain) sells its staple work shirts in a range of solid colors for reasonable prices, and you can try them on in person at the well-stocked Dickies store in Fort Worth, where the 101-year-old company is based. On my pilgrimage, I found shirts with the appealing words “Flex” and “Relaxed Fit” on the tags, which explains why they passed the squat test with flying colors. I bought two, in charcoal gray and dark navy, for $20 each, compared with $35 online. A barbecue bargain!
Made in Texas? Well . . .
Although I found some smart-looking shirts from Texas companies, I had hoped to buy a few actually made in the state. My Howler Brothers shirt was made in China, my Dickies selection was produced in Honduras, and my Poncho shirts were manufactured in Vietnam and China. The Tejas Guayabera from Texas Standard was made in Mexico, but I love that many of its shirts are hand-sewn in West Texas. Ruddock Shirts is a great candidate for a true Texas shirt company. Founded in El Paso in 1955, it produces all of its shirts here in the state. However, the denim long-sleeve I ordered in January, which was supposed to ship out in early February, has yet to arrive, so I might not be able to really wear it until the weather cools down again.
No worries—I now have plenty of nice yet comfortable options for the summer cookouts and festivals on my calendar. I’ll see you out there on the barbecue trail—which I’m now thinking of as my personal runway.
The BBQ Top 3
Meet the new additions to my wardrobe rotation, all from Texas brands.
This outdoor apparel company, founded in 2011, offers the most consistently comfortable and durable XXL button- and snap-down shirts I’ve found in the state. My newest purchase is the Crosscut Deluxe ($85) in black chambray (really a dark gray) with gold embroidery over the pockets, a signature of the line.
Started by a former fly-fishing guide, this clothing line features great options, including the short-sleeve Burnt End ($70), which has the lightweight feel of a fishing shirt with the style of a more classic button-down. I also liked the long-sleeve Black Smoke ($80), another style with a great name.
The Tejas Guayabera ($119) in agave oro features two pockets rather than the four often found on the traditional style, but it’s got the classic vertical bands of ornamental embroidery down the front. I like this choice because of the cotton and linen blend, but there’s a less expensive version that is all polyester; both have a hidden button-down collar.
This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “My Smokin’ Hot Wardrobe.” Subscribe today.