Most modern retailers of Old West period clothing seem to sell only “banded” collared shirts, yet old photographs show cowboys did wear shirts with collars. When did cowboys begin wearing these shirts?

Most modern retailers of Old West period clothing seem to sell only “banded” collared shirts, yet old photographs show cowboys did wear shirts with collars. When did cowboys begin wearing these shirts?

R.D. Alsop

Clinton, Missouri

Shirts with and without collars were around long before the cowboy era. Cowboys didn’t much care which style of shirt they wore; they wore whatever they could afford or get their hands on. In the 1880s, they even purchased Army shirts from soldiers and post traders.

Shirts in the late 1800s were generally wool or cotton pullovers, mostly with small soft, fold-over collars and a row of three or four buttons from the neck down. The sleeves might run long—they weren’t cut to size until 1911—and that’s why cowboys wore elastic garters on the upper arms.

The shirts could be solids, plaids or stripes. Dark colors were preferred because they didn’t show the dirt, hence the term, “thousand-mile shirt.” Dress shirts were often made without collars because men wore “paper collars” that they attached around the neck. A cowboy who purchased a collarless shirt might not have bothered to put on the paper collar.

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.