On Sartorial Matters
From boots and buckles to skinny jeans and straw hats, the Texanist dishes on how to dress like a Texan.
Q: I was born and raised in Texas and have resided in New York City for the past couple of years. On a recent trip back home, I visited a friend on his ranch in West Texas and was mocked unmercifully for wearing skinny jeans. I will admit that the jeans were pretty skinny. But from the reaction I got, you would have thought I was wearing a tutu and a pair of elf boots. Have rural Texans always been this close-minded, or did I get what I deserved?
A: The Texanist is a little bit surprised that the reaction you incited with your big-city style has left you in such a state of shock. Did you really think that your fancy pants would fly in West Texas without eliciting derisive commentary from the locals? In Austin, where the Texanist lives, the skinny-jeaned populace is sizable enough that these creatures can roam freely about the city without much notice (or as freely as the skintight denim of their sausage-casing-like dungarees allows). This is surely also the case on the fashion-forward streets of Gotham. But it’s a much different story in the Texas hinterlands, where fashion is not forward—or leftward, rightward, or even backward. Those parts of the state are known to approve of a form-fitting j ean when worn by a female (see: “Tight Fittin’ Jeans,” by Conway Twitty; “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On,” by Mel McDaniel; and other similar examples), but when the wearer is a man, the people out there do tend to lean, somewhat en masse, toward a more generous fit. Once upon a time the parameters for acceptability began and ended with the Wrangler 13MWZ Cowboy Cut, a style so prevalent as to have been official ly sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1974. Nowadays, the variety of accepted looks has expanded—slightly. (Fun fact: just last year the PRCA updated its list of officially sanctioned jeans to include the new Wrangler 20X Collection Competition model, a.k.a. the 01MWX, which, in a sign of the times, features a cellphone pocket.) But as you surely know, West Texans remain a traditional folk in many regards, right down to the cladding of their lower halves. And since many of them are in the business, literally, of keeping the herd together, they are hardwired to take notice of mavericks and round them up. It appears that you may have pegged yourself as just such a maverick, sartorially speaking, and that your hosts, having spied you out there all alone in your skinny jeans, were only trying to get you back with the pack.
Q: I bought a fancy pair of brand-new Lucchese oiled-calfskin boots a while back and have not worn them out on the town but one time. They caught people’s eyes, but it seemed like it was only because of their newness. Also, they are not the most comfortable footwear. What can I do about breaking them in?
A: If experience has taught the Texanist anything, it is that new boots, like really rank broncos or compulsive tobacco addictions, are not easily broken. There are no soapy shortcuts here, no training of monkeys to do it for you. The union of foot and boot is not unlike the union of holy matrimony, and, as in the best marriages, the strongest bonds are forged by time—time spent traveling together, molding to one another, collecting a patina of character-building scraps, nicks, and scratches in strange and foreign lands together. Boots right out of the box are never a walk in the park, but if you love them and listen to them, they will learn in time to adjust to each and every one of your inherited anomalies. Patience is your friend. It has worked for the Texanist, and it can work for you too. As soon as possible, take your Luccheses on down to Mexico for a long weekend; go ahead and have a few too many Ramos Gin Fizzes at El Dorado Bar, in Nuevo Laredo; get into a heated grito contest with a rotund mariachi trumpeter; black out in the middle of an argument back at the hotel and regain consciousness in a taxi that bumps down a dusty road and drops you at a strange walled compound where everyone seems very friendly. When you wake up the next morning sweaty, confused, and thankful to be alive, apologize for everything and swear that it will never happen again. If the relationship survives (this may require years of counseling), you will soon find yourself able to trip the light fantastic, run quickly away from trouble, and certainly walk through any park without the pain and unfortunate mien of a new boot owner.
Q: I recently picked up my girlfriend to go out dancing and she laughed at me relentlessly just because I had my pants tucked into my boots. Did I really earn such ridicule by doing this? I thought it was cool. Is there a rule about tucking your pants into your boots?
A: The Texanist is unaware of any formal rule regarding the tucking of trousers into boots. But where he comes from, such an attempt at constructing a “honky-tonk look” for a Saturday night dance is likely to be regarded with harsh derision. The Texanist has seen men bullwhipped in parking lots for lesser transgressions. And since you brought it up, you should be forewarned that in some corners of the state tucking pants into boots may be construed as a preparation for the perpetration of an unholy act with a farm animal. Laws have been enacted to protect our livestock from despicable deeds such as these, and there should probably be a rule of fashion put in place to prevent a person from ever being misidentified as a farmyard Romeo. For the sake of your and your girl-friend’s reputations, as well as any sheep her father may own, the Texanist must vigorously warn against such outfits in the future.
Q: I happen to live on a small island near Port Aransas, and during the occasional hurricane threat I find myself in the Hill Country. I thought I would get a cowboy costume so that I might not look quite the surfer dude—beach bum and more the buckaroo. I seem to have a working knowledge of most of the footwear and other garments but have one big concern. How and why does one name his belt?
A: An important thing for you to note is that, typically, the name on a belt goes with the belt’s owner and not the belt itself. Those who would be so foolish as to take the time to give a name to a belt are, thankfully, few. Having a name stamped onto a leather strap adds multiple functions to a device that once served only to secure one’s pants safely in place. Think of the name belt as a sort of vanity plate. It enables its possessor to add a little flair to what could just as well be a length of rope. Or consider it an item of great utility, like one of those little “Hello My Name Is ________” stickers worn at social functions where formal introductions are not made. Always be mindful of the context too. The plate attached to the back of a little red convertible Porsche that reads “FXYLDY” identifies its driver quite clearly as an attractive female who might very possibly mean trouble. Similarly, the wearer of a sticker that reads “Hello My Name Is Craven Morebeer” is likely to wake up hungover, ashamed, and alone again. Note also that the traditional positioning of the name on the belt and its proximity, when worn, to the derriere is no accident in design. Thusly, a belt might not only say “Hello My Name Is the Texanist,” it would additionally say “Hello These Tightly-Wrapped-in-Denim Sweet Buns Belong to the Texanist.”
Q: Several decades ago, when I was in my formative years in San Angelo, men removed their hats when seated for indoor dining, whether in a private home or a public restaurant. Nowadays I regularly see people—of all age groups—eating with their hats on. Has the rule of etiquette changed?
A: While there has been no change in the official etiquette concerning the wearing of hats at dinner, there has been a pronounced shift in the acceptability of the corrective measures that were once used to communicate with violators of this code. The Texanist was taught, like you, to never wear a hat at the dinner table or even indoors, save for public places like the bank, hotel lobbies, and the post office. But—and here comes the important part—were he to do so, he would have been, like you, the recipient of a nonplayful whack to the back of the head, compliments of his mom, dad, brother, uncle, neighbor, pastor, teacher, dentist, barber, garbage man, or town drunk (it really did used to take the whole village). Today it would not be considered acceptable for any of these people to strike a child for improper hat usage, and, needless to say, once you stop striking children for wearing hats indoors, it’s very difficult to start again. So while the young are still probably being told that it’s not okay to wear a hat at the dinner table, this has become yet another one of those unenforced rules of conduct, the toothlessness of which has hastened the overall disintegration of our society. For this the Texanist is sorry.
Q: During a trip to the Capitol building last week, one of my friends wore his cowboy boots to a legislative hearing. They were very stylish, with intricate threading, but they had zippers up the side. I told him they were not true cowboy boots. What is your ruling on the matter?
A: Actually, there are some reputable boot makers who utilize a zipper—right before and right after they utilize the facilities. Seriously, the Texanist can under no circumstances condone the use of cowboy boots with zippers up the side. Such footwear is an abomination that he cannot stand behind—or in. Zipper boots, no matter the amount of threading, are not cowboy boots, and nothing will change this fact; they are Western-style zipper boots, or cowboy-themed go-go boots, more suited to the runways of Milan than the committee rooms of the Texas state capitol. You are correct, there is not a cowboy in Texas who would be caught dead, alive, or halfway drunk in a pair of zipper boots.
Q: Oftentimes, when my husband is contemplating fashion decisions, a regular necktie is just too much and can even seem somewhat pretentious here in East Texas. I recall Daddy and Paw wearing bolo ties to dress up their attire. The bolo can offer a bit of formality without overkill, is easy to use, and, more significantly, adds a bit of Texas cachet. I would like to enlist your sartorial influence to start a bolo tie revival in this great state. So can I count on you to be in the vanguard of this crusade
A: Nattiness, it’s been said, has never been the thing for which the Texanist is known. Nevertheless, he has been at the forefront of a number of campaigns—sometimes unknowingly—to “bring back” various garments and accessories. Not all of these undertakings have been met with universal enthusiasm, or acceptance, or, as in the case of the short-short cutoffs, anything other than open mouths, pointing fingers, and a charge of indecent exposure (which he is still paying a Fort Lauderdale attorney to have wiped from his record). Do you think the Texanist is kidding? He has taken similar stabs at the cavalry-bib Western shirt, the argyle sock, the nightshirt (“commando” style), buckskins, bow ties, woolly chaps (standard and “commando”), and the coonskin cap. Compared with woolly chaps, the bolo tie will be a cinch. You have not only the full backing of the Texanist on this but also that of the State of Texas herself, whose Eightieth Legislature, in 2007, made the bolo the official State Tie of Texas, declaring that “the selection of a bolo over a standard tie can suggest that the wearer refuses to be bound by convention and relishes the freedom to exhibit a distinctive sense of style even as they maintain a dignified, formal appearance.” Here’s to the bolo; long may it dangle.
Q: I have seen a number of toes and heels when it comes to buckaroo shoes, but let’s talk about the part of the boot that is concealed under the end of the britches. Seems as if the most flamboyant end of the footwear is the least exposed, unless you are one of those “boot tuckers.” So to get to my point, how does one ask a stranger if one might see the top of his boots?
A: The part of the boot you are referring to is known as the shaft, and you are right: this is often where the boot wearer, by way of intricate stitching, tooling, piping, inlays, overlays, and/or slogans, may choose to express himself. The Texanist has known members of the Texas House of Representatives, chart-topping songwriters, and at least one partaker of marijuana who have chosen to identify themselves as such via the shafts of their cowboy boots. During his recent presidential bid, Governor Perry showed off his custom 9/11-inspired ostrich boots, which feature the American flag and the words “Freedom” and “Liberty.” The intent of the governor’s shafts is probably to say, “Hello, I’m patriotic”; unfortunately, they also say, “But not so patriotic as to know that wearing the U.S. flag in this manner is, according to the flag’s own code, frowned upon.” But the Texanist has digressed (he blames Principal Tovar, from the previous question). Back to boots. The answer to your question is really quite simple. If you want to see a person’s boots in their entirety, the best and most polite way is with a simple, straightforward request: “Could you lift up your britches so that I might see your shafts?” Should do the trick.
Q: I recently bought a straw cowboy hat, and a friend told me that I can’t wear it after Labor Day. Is this right?
A: Your friend is referring to the old custom of straw between Memorial Day and Labor Day and felt the rest of the year. But if your recent acquisition is one of those already-broken-in, pre-crushed, bent-up strawbominations so prevalent today, you are advised not to sport it before, during, or after Labor Day. Otherwise, the Texanist finds the Memorial Day to Labor Day straw law to be nothing more than a rule of thumb. Similar dictates are often said to govern garments made from linen, seersucker, and madras; certain types of footwear; and white apparel in general. On these subjects the Texanist is silent. But when the mercury rises in September or, more often than not, October, he has never been afraid to don a sturdy Mexican palm leaf lid. Since his days in diapers, he has believed that fashion follows function. In the case of a late-breaking spring norther or a trip to cooler climes, he unashamedly doffs the Gus, a handmade silver-belly beaver crafted by famed hatmaker Manny Gammage, of Texas Hatters. Gammage designed the Gus for Robert Duvall’s portrayal of ex—Texas Ranger captain Augustus “Gus” McCrae in the television adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove , but the Texanist has been told that it suits him to a T.
Sartorial strictures are for crossing guards, newscasters, and French maids. Especially in a hot climate such as ours, you are advised to wear whatever fits. Just be glad that Texas is a place where the native headgear has not yet been abandoned in the same wild, modernizing rush that claimed the derby and fedora. Here one can stroll the sidewalks under a wide, shade-giving brim and incur no smirks. Here one can wear a hat.
Q: I have a close friend who has moved to our state after growing up on the West Coast. He has told me that he wants to acquire what he perceives as the Texan essentials: cowboy boots, a belt buckle, and a cowboy hat. Which should he acquire first, so as to fit in as rapidly as possible?
A: Your friend’s first acquisition should be the knowledge that the dime-store cowboy look went out shortly after Urban Cowboy. On the frame of a nonnative Texan, the holy trinity of hat, buckle, and boots should be made manifest only during Halloween costume parties and “Cotton-Eyed Joe” night at the local community center. Singly, of course, any of these items can be worn by anyone, but in tandem they are best reserved for the homegrown. Newcomers to the great Farm Belt of the Middle West do not appear at their local restaurants and bars in Big Smith overalls and John Deere gimme caps with wheat stalks dangling from their lips; nor do transplants to the Pacific Northwest rush out to buy bright-yellow hip waders and matching slickers. Clothes may make the man, but they may also make the man look foolish.
Q: I recently started dating a guy with a mustache, and now I’ve come to realize that I hate mustaches. I’ve tried to get him to shave it off, but he refuses because he thinks it makes him look tough. I keep telling him it just makes him look silly, but he keeps insisting that guys with mustaches are tough. What are your thoughts about mustaches and how they relate to a male Texan’s perceived toughness?
A: Your beau’s toughness barometer is ridiculous and fatally flawed. Among the Texanist’s associates, there are at least as many effeminate milquetoasts who wear bushy horseshoes as there are tough cusses with faces as smooth as satin skivvies. There simply is no correlation between a man’s mettle, or lack thereof, and his mustache, or lack thereof. The Texanist provides the following list of mustachioed Texans (some fictional) for your boyfriend’s perusal.
Texas Ranger Cordell Walker
Texas Ranger Woodrow F. Call (with Kenny Rogers beard)
Kenny Rogers (with Kenny Rogers beard)
Dr. Red Duke
Mean Joe Greene (sometimes with beard)
A few minutes with this list will easily impress upon him that facial hair has nothing whatsoever to do with brawniness. The fact is, a mustache is as likely to make a man tough as it is to make him a barbershop quartet tenor, cowboy poet, cop, female Mexican painter, or soon-to-be-formerly-bewhiskered boyfriend.
Q: What is the appropriate sock wear for boots? White athletic socks seem too thick, and dress socks can get too hot in the summer. Is it ever acceptable to “go commando” when wearing boots?
Kansas City, Missouri
A: The Texanist has been known to offer strong opinions on the subject of outerwear, formal wear, footwear, and head wear, but he generally steers clear of undergarments. What a man wears beneath his pants or inside his boots is strictly the bailiwick of that man, and perhaps that man’s doctor. That said, the Texanist is reminded of a question he once received about how to break in boots. The foot-boot relationship, he postulated at the time, is akin to the union of man and woman. Time spent together is the key. Similarly, with regard to booting up commando-style, the Texanist would simply advise you to take it slow, be on the lookout for signs of resistance, and advance only when both you and your naked foot are comfortable with it.
Q: I am a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a hard-core Horns fan. Needless to say, I am anti-Aggie. And as such, I have always shied away from maroon clothing. Now that the rivalry has come to an end, do you think it would be okay to introduce a maroon piece into my wardrobe?
A: Sure, go ahead and buy yourself a maroon blouse. Why not? In fact, fill your closet with them. Who cares anymore? Why even have Thanksgiving? What’s the point??? [Editors’ note: The demise of this rivalry remains a sore subject for the Texanist and has rendered him unable to provide fine advice on this or other related matters; please ask him about something else.]
Q: I recently won a game-worn jersey at “Shirt off the Back” night at our local minor league baseball stadium. My question regards laundering. I thought it would be a good idea, since the player whose jersey I won had slid into base and dived in the outfield during the game. But my friends said, “No, you NEVER wash a game-worn jersey.” What is the proper thing to do?
A: First, congratulations. You are a lucky lady to have walked off with an authentic souvenir, smelly though it may be. Normally, the Texanist likes his team jerseys spic-and-span—whiter whites and darker darks—but a game-worn jersey can be a special memento, which laundering may diminish. If the player who wore the jersey were to somehow make his way from Corpus Christi to Cooperstown, you’d certainly want to have every grass and sweat stain preserved in the garment’s fibers for posterity. If, on the other hand, he were to spend his career languishing in the minors, you’d have yourself nothing more than a dirty shirt. Considering that the Corpus Christi Hooks are the Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, who are currently the worst team in all of Major League Baseball, you could be forgiven for reaching for the detergent. But the Texanist would advise root-root-rooting for the home team, following the player’s progress, and holding off on the heavy-duty cycle, at least for now.
Q: I am an avid South Texas hunter. A while back, I was en route to Concan and stopped to get gas when I saw a group of grown men shamelessly flaunting their pink camouflage hats and shirts. In almost three decades of hunting I have never seen a pink tree. Please tell me why this is happening.
South Padre Island
A: Several explanations come to mind. As an avid enthusiast of the outdoors, you know well that when a person (like, for example, Harry Whittington) wishes to ensure that he will remain visible at all times to his fellow hunters (like, for example, Dick Cheney), he will accent his camouflage with a splash of blaze-orange. And if that person (again, Whittington) feels that circumstances call for him to take an extra step for safety’s sake, he might easily conclude that head-to-toe pink camo would not only get him noticed but possibly so confuse and dismay his companions as to cause them to lay down their firearms entirely and just sit on a stump feeling funny. Then again, based on your description, the Texanist wonders if you might have crossed paths with the elusive creature known as the Fabulous Ol’ Boy. If so, congratulations. This is a rare and thrilling encounter for any outdoorsman. The Fabulous Ol’ Boy—not to be confused with his less colorful cousin, the Good Ol’ Boy—is identifiable by his habit of vivid self-expression, eschewing the gender-specific color palettes prescribed by his upbringing while still clinging tightly to his gun and truck. Theories abound as to where the Fabulous Ol’ Boy comes from, but seeing one is always a treat. As for the existence of pink trees, the Texanist recalls once finding himself taking cover in a grove of pulsating pink foliage while waiting out a disturbance brought on by the ingestion of a hallucinogenic mushroom tea that was surreptitiously served to him at an otherwise pleasant afternoon yard party outside Blanco. In trying to go unnoticed by fellow partygoers and the frighteningly grotesque creatures that tormented him that day, an outfit of pink camouflage would have suited him just fine.
Q: Is it wrong to wear your football team’s jersey to church?
A: The Texanist will endeavor to put the answer to this question in terms that you will understand. As a devoted football fan, you are undoubtedly aware of the phrase “not in my house,” a defiant cri de coeur that is generally shouted by a swaggering defensive end who’s just sunk a running back for a loss on third-and-short. Well, imagine for a moment that the Almighty is a 265-pound linebacker with meaty arms, a penchant for smashmouthiness, and one of those scary dark visors on His helmet. He who would attend a gathering held in this gentleman’s house would do well to observe the accepted dress code or risk the loudest “not in my house” you have ever heard. The proper duds are known as Sunday-go-to-meetings or sometimes even church clothes; an untucked, knee-length football jersey may be considered acceptable and even quite sporty in certain arenas, but not in God’s house. The Texanist is sincerely shocked by how suddenly the sartorial sands seem to have shifted. It wasn’t all that long ago that Tom Landry could be found patrolling the sidelines in jacket, tie, and trademark fedora. And this was after church. Nowadays jackets, ties, fedoras, and all garments not league sanctioned are forbidden on the sidelines. Forbidden. Although the Texanist, who is himself a high-spirited soul, applauds the gusto with which you aim to express your boosterism, he would have you suit up for church and save the jersey for the postworship Barcalounger.
Q: I’m a fifty-year-old boy from West Texas and I’ve worn jeans and boots every day for as long as I can remember. Recently I started putting a crease in the jeans that I wear when I go out at night. My buddies are now giving me a hard time about it, telling me that I’m putting on airs. What do you think? Should I quit creasing my jeans?
R. L. Kranepool
A: Blue jeans, as you may have guessed, are a staple in the Texanist’s wardrobe as well. And while he tends not to starch, iron, or even launder his dungarees all that often, he doesn’t hold this kind of personal kemptness against anyone. And neither should your friends. The haves and have-nots are not separated from one another by way of the existence or nonexistence of a crease in the legs of their britches. George Strait, who, being George Strait, doesn’t have to put on airs, keeps his jeans crisp and creased, but so does the guy who empties the Texanist’s office wastebasket at night. It’s pretty hard to put on airs while emptying wastebaskets. Putting on airs would be if you showed up next Friday at the dance hall wearing those jeans with the curlicue stitching on the back pockets. But so long as we’re just talking about Levi’s or Wranglers, the only real difference between the man with creased jeans and the man with no crease in his jeans is the crease itself. Keep it, and keep the friends too—just give them something else to tease you about, like maybe a pair of gold-nugget pinky rings.
Q: There is a young woman at my office who has recently started wearing skirts and boots to work. I’m more of a pants-and-flats type myself, but I’ve been tempted to follow suit because she looks so cute. This girl is in her twenties, though, and I’m in my forties (though I don’t look it!). My question is, Does the cowgirl look come with an age limit?
A: The Texanist’s reputation as one of the state’s great fashion arbiters is mostly self-proclaimed and virtually unknown to anyone outside the tiny inner circle that includes himself, the handsome devil that stares back at him from his dressing-table mirror, and the family dog. But the sign proclaiming “Fine Advice” that hangs outside his office does so without fine print; situations of a sartorial nature are not excluded. The Texanist would have you look inward for the answer to your question. Is a 25-year-old cowgirl in there somewhere? Look past the 35-year-old with the mass of permed hair, and past the 29-year-old in the pocketless Rocky Mountain jeans. Keep going till you find the cowgirl. Then summon her up, take her out for a drink, and turn some heads. Every woman has a cowgirl inside her somewhere.
Q: Square-toed cowboy boots? Oxymoron?
A: The Texanist gathers from the last half of your short letter that you are agin the toes of boots being square. And possibly even agin the cowboys who would choose to slip their piggies into such footwear. Folks are particular about their cowboy accoutrement, be it boots, hats, belts, spurs, or saddles. It was once a fairly well-accepted rule that a pair of pointier roach-killers would, almost without exception, be found exclusively on honky-tonking rounders, while a less pointy, roper-like toe was considered appropriate for your more conservative gentleman-rancher type. But before that, it had been common for a gentleman rancher to sport a pointier-toed boot. Over time, styles change, and since cowboy boots can serve an actual purpose while also serving as a vehicle for a little self-expression (for a good laugh, Google “Mexican pointy boots”), they have come in all shapes and sizes. However, this is not the same as saying that all shapes and sizes of cowboy boots should be worn. Remember not too long ago, when some cowpokes were wearing those lace-up-style boots, those frilly flaplike things that always remind the Texanist of something you’d find on a gal? So, to get back to your questions, the answers are, respectively, “No” and “Not really.”
Q: I have lived in Texas off and on for about eight years now. My long-suffering fiancée still lives and works in Chicago. Her wardrobe consists primarily of black dresses for all occasions. How can I convince her to dress a little more Texas-casual when she’s in town?
Name Withheld in Fear
A: Every gal’s closet has a hanger or two reserved for the ubiquitous little black dress. They’re the female equivalent of the male blue blazer (or, in the case of Little Bubba, the Texanist’s winged, claw-footed, man-handed—and some might say, imaginary—tiny friend, the colorful wizard’s sombrero). Unfortunately, it appears that your bride-to-be has turned her rack of pitchy numbers into a uniform. While there are appropriate venues for this classic outfit, the tractor pull is not one of them. Nor the rodeo, town dance, or late-night hog hunt. Nonetheless, the Texanist would be failing in his duties if he did not strongly urge you to say nothing of the sort. The topic you have broached is laden with prenuptial peril, Mr. Name Withheld in Fear. You are treading on dangerous ground. A gentleman must never give the impression that he knows better than his lady what she ought to wear. To any event! Ever! If you are truly intent on joining this woman in matrimony, going all Mr. Blackwell on her is not advisable. Here is your best option: The next time she is in town, find a reputable bootmaker and treat her to a pair of custom boots. Not only will this garner points, but it will allow her a good foundation on which to build a look with a bit more regional panache.