How clothing design and cultural industries refashioned frontier masculinities: a historical geography of Western wear
Gendered subjectivities emerge historically and geographically, not only in situ, within an 'authentic' origin period or site, but through later retrospective commodifications and fantastical popular culture depictions. This article traces the masculine identity of the cowboy as commodified and performed through clothing. The cowboy emerged from colonial origins as a model and myth of frontier masculinity: the 'rugged outdoor type'. But it was then formularized and stylized when subject to popular culture diffusion, and as accompanying clothing design evolved. Through clothing - advertised by metropolitan manufacturers and consumed across America and beyond - an archetypal, sexualized cowboy 'look' thus emerged. The author traces a historical geography of cowboy masculinities in clothing design, from early 'frontier garments for the outdoor man' to later Western-wear 'for that long, lean look'. Related constructions of femininity are also considered, after women's Western-wear clothing lines were produced in the 1950s. To illustrate, I draw on archival brochures, catalogs, and advertising materials from the 1920s to 1970s, as well as discuss the material design of the clothes themselves. I focus especially on the Western snap shirt - an apparel item never actually worn on the nineteenth-century colonial frontier, but that became an 'essential' element of the cowboy look, and a vehicle for masculine appearance. Western-wear epitomizes how gendered subject positions are visually constituted in relational fashion via bodies, materials, media, and imagined geographies.