Costume collections manager Jessica Pushor writes about a fine example of western wear from the Museum’s costume collection.
Western wear and high-quality custom tailoring may not seem like they go hand in hand, but there was a time when western wear provided some of the finest examples of Old World tailoring techniques. While searching for a 1970s men’s dress shirt to pair with the Pucci suit in Chicago Styled, we unearthed this Nathan Turk shirt.
Men’s western wear shirt worn by Philip K. Wrigley, c. 1960. Gift of William Wrigley III, 1979.180.23. All photographs by CHM staff.
The 1930s through the 1970s is considered the golden era of western wear. It began with singing cowboys, such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, who were featured on radio, television, and in movies, and needed costumes to create a larger-than-life cowboy look for their public appearances. Nathan Turk (real surname Teig) was a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who, along with Nudie Cohn, helped establish the blueprint for the ornate western wear that adorned film, music, and rodeo stars in the 1930s. He built a niche within the early western wear business, combining Old World embroidery and tailoring traditions with cowboy style to create a totally new type of garment.
Turk began making a name for himself in the 1930s by creating equestrian and western outfits for riders in the Rose Bowl Parades held in Pasadena, California. When Gene Autry left the National Barn Dance radio program on WLS-AM in Chicago in the mid-1930s and moved to Los Angeles to begin his film career, he asked Turk to create his movie wardrobe. Autry was already accustomed to such clothing having purchased western wear from Bernard “Rodeo Ben” Lichtenstein, who worked out of Philadelphia and sold his clothes at large rodeos on the East Coast, such as the Madison Square Garden Rodeo in New York City.
Turk, working out of a small shop in Los Angeles, made tailored suits from expensive gabardines and used traditional techniques, such as hand-stitched arrowheads, to reinforce seams and pockets, piped collars, yokes, and cuffs. His designs were a performer’s spin on traditional cowboy clothes and an extension of flashy rodeo style. It was the perfect look for movie cowboys, who made many public appearances, and this soon lead to many musicians asking for the same sort of flamboyant stage clothes.
These custom western wear costumes were made of bright colors, fringe, embroidery, and rhinestones. Gene Autry and Roy Rogers were not actual cowboys, they were Hollywood’s depiction of cowboys, and to play the part, they wore outfits designed to take away their viewers’ breath. These clothes became much more important than just costumes to the stars and their fans. The tailors creating the custom garments made western wear a new trend. Tourists visiting dude ranches in the 1950s and 1960s helped spread this fashion further when they brought western wear back to their homes.
One example of fine western wear tailoring is this men’s peach-colored, snap front shirt that was owned by Philip K. Wrigley (December 5, 1894–April 12,1977), owner of the Wrigley Company and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. His son, William Wrigley III, donated it to the Chicago History Museum’s costume collection in 1979. The cotton blend shirt has light brown yokes and cuffs, brown piping throughout, two smile pockets with arrowhead points, brown enamel snap buttons, and wide pointed lapels. It also features high-quality details such as finished seams, quilted collar stand, satin lined pockets and yokes, and hand-finished details.
The cheerful smile pockets feature arrowhead points in the corners.
Each cuff features five snap buttons.
Turk’s label also effectively served as an advertisement for his business.
The shirt includes the label of Turk’s Ventura Boulevard shop in Los Angeles where he sold both custom pieces and off-the-rack items. All were finely tailored and quite expensive. This artifact speaks to the popularity for all things western and cowboy-related that gripped America for more than forty years.
February 2015: In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns. The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (2014).
This is the companion piece to the television series. The best reason for owning this very large volume is being able to savor the rich collection of archival photographs that have become Ken Burns’s trademark. Spoiler alert: Teddy is even more fascinating than we remember; Franklin, even more complicated; and Eleanor, even more influential.
In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.
Harold Holzer. Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion. New York: Simon & Schuster (2014).
We can be very grateful that Harold Holzer, one of the foremost Lincoln scholars, has written about the power of the press when, in today’s content-glutted world, that phrase almost seems like an oxymoron. Holzer begins with Lincoln as a boy and young adult reading every newspaper he could get his hands on. In a parallel story, Holzer turns to another child who grew up in a log cabin, Horace Greeley, whose life as a journalist would intertwine with Lincoln’s. Another key figure was Joseph Medill, the co-owner and managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, who did so much to promote Lincoln as a credible national leader of the Republican Party. As we have come to expect from Holzer, we also learn about less prominent figures on the local scene who, nevertheless, were critical to Lincoln’s rise to prominence, including the owners of Springfield’s Sangamo Journal.