EVEN COWBOYS GET THE BLUES | VINTAGE PHOTOS OF DUDES IN DENIM

Times sure have changed.  Playing “Cowboys & Indians” outside has been replaced with playing “Halo” or “Call of Duty” in a darkened room.  Heck, it’s probably so politically incorrect to even mention “Cowboys & Indians” that someone somewhere is having a tizzy.  The American cowboy is an icon of grit, honor, independence and masculinity.  Hard work, long days, and little pay except for the open sky, a horse to ride, a hot meal and a drink or two to wet your whistle.  Maybe even a dance with a pretty girl if yer’ lucky– and don’t stink to high heaven.

The 1910s – 1930s saw the Wild West American lifestyle move largely from a way of life, to ever-increasing faded memories and mythology.  Our country was getting smaller. Technology and transportation were ushering in a new era of industrialized cities and advanced accessibility.  The real jean-wearin’ cowboy lifestyle of days past were kept alive over the decades largely through the Western fashions worn by the stars of silver screen and music.

These images are some of my favorite captures of the American cowboy at the very end of his reign– many not surprisingly taken by LIFE photography giants like Loomis Dean, and Ralph Crane to name a few. Some, unfortunately, are uncredited.  If you know the pic, give me a shout  so I can give the photographer their due, please.

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circa 1934– “Rear view of a man wearing chaps and spurs”  –Photo McCormic Co., Amarillo, Texas.

Lubbock, TX, 1940– Matador, A Texas Ranch: Seven cowboys sitting along corral fence draped w. their chaps (which they don’t wear while not working), as they wait for brand irons to heat up during cattle roundup at Matador Ranch, the second largest in the state.  –photo by Hansel Mieth

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TSY STYLE HALL OF FAME | JAMES DEAN CULTURAL GIANT OF THE REBEL SET

The irony is that James Dean was considered anything but stylish by many of his Hollywood peers of the day. He turned heads and created a legend, not by dressing up– but by dressing down.  Established style icon Humphrey Bogart looked down his nose at Dean, considering him a punk and a slob.  On Jimmy’s passing, Bogart had this to say– “Dean died at just the right time. He left behind a legend. If he’d lived, he’d never have been able to live up to the publicity.” Bogart was right in that Dean was difficult, and definitely not a natty dresser– but his impact on style can never be diminished.

James Dean cemented the rebel uniform for his generation of youth, and for many to come, through his very personal portrayal of Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause. Immortalized onscreen in Technicolor wearing the now iconic red jacket, white tee, Lee 101 Jeans, and engineer boots, Dean seemed to hold the world breathless, and became the first actor to speak for the silent anguished teen– he gave them a voice they had been lacking. Before James Dean, onscreen you were either a boy or a man. Dean’s influence on countless great actors that followed him created some incredible performances, like Martin Sheen in Badlands, who owes Jimmy everything he knows about acting.

“Jimmy Dean and Elvis were the spokesmen for an entire generation. When I was in acting school in New York, years ago, there was a saying that if Marlon Brando changed the way people acted, then James Dean changed the way people lived. He was the greatest actor who ever lived. He was simply a genius.” – Martin Sheen

James Dean on the set of George Steven’s epic 1956 masterpiece, Giant. It was Jimmy’s last film, and was released after his tragic death behind the wheel of the infamous “Little Bastard'” Porsche Spyder. Jimmy was on his way with mechanic Rolf Wütherich to Salinas to pursue his other passion– racing cars. James Dean received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor posthumously, the only person to this day to ever do so– in 1955 for East of Eden, and again in 1956 for Giant.  — image via Hulton archive

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In 2006, the original Lee 101z Rider jeans worn by James Dean (pictured above) were auctioned off for $35,850. Lee Japan has introduced a replica of these same 101Z Rider jeans worn by James dean in Giant for the Lee Archives in 13,25oz narrow loom, Sanforized indigo cast denim with its characteristic one-side selvedge.

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James Dean as the surly and misunderstood Jett Rink in George Steven’s epic masterpiece, “Giant.”

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MARILYN MONROE & MONTY CLIFT | HOLLYWOODS DENIM-CLAD MISFITS

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1960, Reno, Nevada — The cast, writer, and director of The Misfits. Montgomery Clift as Perce Howland, Eli Wallach as Guido, screenwriter Arthur Miller, director John Huston, Clark Gable as Gay Langland, and Marilyn Monroe as Roslyn Taber (and who had recently divorced Miller) — Image by © Underwood & Underwood

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There are certain films of the 1950s-60s that capture what I love best– Hollywood icons clad in cool denim.  The Wild One… Rebel Without a Cause… and the list goes on.  Wild, rebellious, good-looking misfits wreaking havoc on the mainstream squares– and doing it wearing denim all the while.  Yes.

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Marilyn Monroe (in her Lee Storm Rider jacket) & Monty Clift (who wore Lee Riders jeans) in John Huston’s 1961 film The Misfits.

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Marilyn Monroe wore her fair share of denim back in the day– both onscreen and off.  In The Misfits, alongside costar Montgomery Clift, you see great Lee icons of denim history well worn by Hollywood’s finest. It’s an added bonus for a film that’s a true classic, and full of real-life  irony, sadness and loss of epic proportion– which just serves to add to my sentimental yearnings for this bygone Hollywood era.

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HISTORY OF DENIM THROUGH THE AGES | WESTERN WEAR GOES HOLLYWOOD

I was in 5th or 6th grade, 10 years old, when I started making my own money. I’d go with my Mom on the weekends to the restaurant where she was working at the time out at little ol’ Litchfield Airport in Arizona. The place was called Barnstorm Charlies. I’d bus tables there, re-stock, clean-up, help out in the kitchen– whatever they needed. It made me feel independent, and like I had something to offer the world. I worked hard and didn’t complain– I was proud to have a job, and wanted to be the best employee I could be.

With my hard-earned little fistful of cash, the first thing I remember buying was a pair of Levi’s 501s. I still recall heading to the local Smitty’s, going through the stacks of shrink-to-fits looking for my size, doing the shrinkage calculations printed on the Levi’s tag in my head, holding that dark, rigid denim in my hands– and feeling a wonderful inner glow that’s hard to explain. It was the birth of an intense Levi’s ritual that is still a part of my life.

The preamble is meant only to let you know that denim, Levi’s in particular, probably means more to me than it does to most people.  It may sound strange, but denim represents all that I consider to be good and of value in the world. It’s  pure, honest, unpretentious, reliable, hard-working, American tradition that gets better with age. It doesn’t get any better than that in my book. The story of denim is forever entwined with the story of America. It’s part of our heritage, and a genuine American Icon.

Jack Benny, Dick Powell, Ken Murray, Bing Crosby on drums, Shirley Ross.

Jack Benny, Dick Powell, Ken Murray, Bing Crosby (in head-to-toe denim) on drums, Shirley Ross. Tommy Dorsey is just out of sight on the right on the trombone. Amateur swing contest, ca. 1939.

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Summertime Separation Anxiety | Living Without Boots

In all honesty, Summertime is not my favorite time of the year for several reasons.  

First off, extreme sun is not my friend.  I just wasn’t built for it.  I’m Irish (read: fair) with skin that burns like nobody’s business.  It ain’t pretty.  

Secondly, I prefer Winter dressing over Summer slacking– always have.  What can I say, I’m just not a shorts and flip-flops kinda guy.  

My lust is for layers of patinated denim, old worn-in oilcloth, chunky woolens, beaten & abused leather jackets, belts and boots.  So come Summertime, I hold on to wearing my favorite boots, jeans and jackets for as long as I can– before it’s just too darn hot.  I usually make it to July, then come back in September. What do I trade ’em in for?  Clarks suede desert Chukkas, what else?  Maybe a Chuck or Jack Purcell here and there on the down low.  Might even breakdown and get crazy with some sandal action on the side– when my guard is down and it’s just us chickens, that is.  

And in all seriousness guys– listen up, and never wear flip-flops or sandals on the job.  Your co-workers (especially the ladies) should never have to be exposed to the sight of your messed-up cheetoes.  Keep ’em under wraps, bro.  Please.      

 

An old worn-in pair of Chippewa Engineer boots and an arsenal of vintage Levi's 501s, with a helping of RRL thrown in for good measure.

An old worn-in pair of Chippewa Engineer boots and an arsenal of Levi's 501s and RRL denim thrown in for good measure. Had the Chippewa Engineers for about 10 yrs now-- you can't buy what can only come with time.

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LEVI’S 501 DAY | CUTTING FROM A GREENER DENIM CLOTH

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If you had to pick just one article of clothing to represent pure American style– what would it be?  For me it would without a doubt be the Levi’s 501 jean without a doubt.  It embodies so much of this great country’s heritage– from tough prospecting roots, to a symbol of 1950’s teenage rebellion and everything in between– it’s a staple of everyday life, and at the same time a firmly established fashion icon that still inspires designers here and abroad.

Buying a new pair of 501’s has long been a ritual of love for me.  Going through the stack, looking for little signs that will lead me to the perfect pair– side belt loops stitched directly to the back-yoke seam, side seam spread wide to provide great wear ‘tracks’ down the road, maybe even a little hint of leg twist already apparent…

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The iconic Levi's shrink-to-fit 501 jean

 

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To celebrate this year’s 501 Day (on May 1st of every year) Levi’s is launching an organic update of the classic 1947 501 jean.  It’s a reflection of their ongoing commitment to move towards more humane and environmental practices for their workers and the planet.

From the San francisco Business Times–

For the world’s oldest and most iconic jeans maker, going green is about more than doing what’s right.

“In one way, it’s a matter of survival as a company,” said Michael Kobori, vice president of supply chain, social and environmental sustainability at Levi.

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denim prospecters miners


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WHITE TEE | BLUE JEANS

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Classic shot of writer Mickey Spillane in Levi 501 jeans.

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Sometimes it is as simple as that- a white tee and a well-worn pair of jeans.  Mickey Spillane isn’t trying too hard here– but sometimes we do.  Let the jeans do the heavy-lifting.  Keep them classic, but do be selective.  I love a great old pair of Levi 501s with that classic leg twist and a lived-in personalized patina that can only come from wearing them in yourself.  It’s all about making it your own– not buying it off the shelf.  We’ve all probably seen guys ruin this look by over-thinking, over-accessorizing, over-shooting, over-posturing– what have you. White tee, blue jeans, belt optional, classic watch recommended, personality required.

K I S S–  Keep it simple, stupid.  A mantra that still works with just about anything.  Like today– I was over-thinking what I would write.  Well, sometimes it just is what it is, and if you force it– it becomes contrived.  Today I feel like a white T and jeans.  I’m learning to listen everyday and go with the flow a little more.  When you’re obsessed with trying to control everything and everybody– you can leave a trail of brokenness and missed opportunity behind you.

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THE “REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE” CURSE | A CURIOUS CAST OF CHARACTERS

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James Dean in 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause”

The 1950s were a very cool time, I only wish I could have experienced them for myself. It is a time in American pop culture that is highly idealized for it’s music, fashion, style and culture. Everyone looked incredible, and seemed so squeaky clean– but you just knew there had to be much more going on behind the scenes. Rebel Without a Cause is one of the most iconic films from that era, and the stories behind the making of the James Dean classic are as incredible as the movie itself. And truth be told, Dean was not the only rebel on the set. Nicholas Ray, Dennis Hopper, Nick Adams and Natalie Wood definitely held there own.

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Got Rips?

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It’s become pretty obvious through the search queue, that there are many among us looking for a way to repair our favorite jeans.  I know that I definitely have a couple pairs of vintage Levi 501s in need of some serious mending.   I have a few others that I can’t even wear for fear that with my next squat I may unleash a bountiful Sunday turkey dinner with all the fixins’.

Now, it goes without saying that not all of us are as skilled a craftsmen as Carl Chiara here, and it’s also possible that we want our rips repaired in a more discreet manner.  That being said– we need the assistance of a reputable and professional denim repair service. 

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OLD NAVY

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U.S. Navy recruiting poster– circa 1917.  She’s sporting standard naval issue enlisted dress blues– or “crackerjacks” as they were commonly called in reference to the sailor boy on the popular Cracker Jack box.

Women have served as an integral and invaluable part of the U.S. Navy since the establishment of the Nurse Corps in 1908.  Nine years later, the Navy authorized the enlistment of women as “Yeomanettes.” In 1948, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was signed, making it possible for women to officially enter the U.S. Navy in regular or reserve status.

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It’s commonly thought that the “bell bottom” trouser was introduced in 1817 to permit men to roll them above the knee when washing down the decks– and to make it easier to remove them in a hurry when forced to abandon ship or when washed overboard.  Old Navy folklore has suggested that they may have also been used as a life preserver– by knotting the legs at the opening and filling them with air.

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