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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Price to Pay for Being a Rugged-Dressed Man

Last week in the Life and Style section of the Austin American-Statesman a column caught my eye - "Crazy for a rugged-dressed man" with subtitle "Today's menswear celebrates the masculine mystique of yesteryear" by the "Style and Substance" writer, Marques G. Harper. I don't make a habit of reading the "Style and Substance" section or articles by this guy Marques. I'm so clueless that I have no idea what "substance" means in this context. The whole section would have escaped my critique if it were not for the
accompanying photo.

The photo shows what's purported to be a "rugged-dressed" man wearing clothes very similar to some I have owned - not only back in "yesteryear" but also into the twenty-first century.

His shirt, a pinkish and grayish plaid western style "snappy" shirt looks very much like one I was wearing when I caught a whopper of a trout in the Deschutes River of Oregon in the fall of 1966. A photo, that day, shows me holding my 36" catch and wearing the strikingly similar shirt. It was a Wrangler denim, western shirt. I may have received it as a Christmas gift. If I bought it, it was for the durability of denim and not to make a fashion statement - and quite likely on deep discount at the Ranchland western-wear store in Ainsworth, Nebraska.

The summer of '66 was the final of seven that I worked for Morris Skinner and the American Museum of Natural History. I had graduated that June from Colorado State University and as a new Second Lieutenant I was awaiting my orders to Air Force active duty in October. A few weeks prior, I visited my mother in Oregon and we went fishing. As I was a college graduate and military officer to boot, Morris raised my pay that summer to twelve dollars per day (before taxes) - yes, you read that correctly - per day. Being somewhat frugal, I know that I hadn't squandered days of pay on that shirt; yet, those were the days when a lowly dollar had some weight. A quick check on the internet reveals that a similar Wrangler shirt can be purchased today, for around twenty bucks.

The model in the newspaper article has his shirt-tail out; a manly man of yesteryear would not be caught in public with his western shirt flapping at the tail. He might wear it out if he's pitching hay or engaged in other dusty chores just to keep sharp grasses and debris from trickling down inside his pants and causing a pain in the posterior. However, any guy celebrating his manly mystique would definitely have his shirttail tucked in so you could admire his silver rodeo belt buckle the size of a serving platter. The newspaper model's shirt-tail hides his belt - if any - underneath. It also shrouds any distinctive markings of his blue jeans that might betray their maker. At the bottom of each leg of his jeans is about a four-inch cuff.

I seldom wore my Levi's with a cuff - yet, back when Levi's shrunk a size or two, it wasn't uncommon to start out that way. I have a photo of my father wearing at least four inches of cuff. I remember when smokers who were caught indoors without an ash tray would use the cuffs of their Levi's to catch the long gray ash that precariously teetered on the ends of their cigarettes. I wondered, back then, if this was risky, but apparently not; cowboys usually have enough common sense to not deliberately torch their Levi's in polite company.

Having recently bought some "good" Lee jeans for twenty-nine ninety-five when I could have bought some inexpensive blue jeans for ten dollars less, I figure both shirt and pants, today, should easily fit inside a fifty dollar bill - and that includes the sunglasses and gloves.

The masculine mystique model wears a pair of sun-glasses - aviators - much like those I'm wearing in my fishy photo. I'm certain, however, having been an aviator, that there are many more aviator wannabes sporting aviator sunglasses than aviators. It's the same phenomenon as horses' arses. A sage once opined, "Why are there so many more horses' arses than there are horses?" Aviator glasses that could pass for the ones in the newspaper article are hanging by the dozens on the rack at the local grocery store. Ten bucks would get you close to the top of their line.

The black work boots protruding below the masculine mystique model's four-inch cuffs are similar to the "engineer boots" that some rugged-dressed men wore back in yesteryear - heavy black leather with a buckle across the arch. They were durable, long-lasting work boots that I believe most wearers would kick off on Saturday night in favor of some Justin's or Tony Lama's for "boot-scootin'" at the Johnstown dance. It's certain that a pair of engineer boots, bought for work, would cost far less than a fancy pair of pointy-toed boots with eagles stitched into the leather shafts.

The engineer boots were for necessarily long wear and were not necessarily for good looks. However, I can think of one exception where both may have been in play back in yesteryear. Lyle Wheeler - a rather handsome and rugged young fellow who lived a few miles south of us and who baled hay on contract - dressed top-to-bottom pretty much like the guy in this newspaper photo.

Lyle's orange Allis-Chalmers baler kicked out little round bales in those days. Lyle had wavy black hair that was slicked into place with ample slatherings of hair oil. He baled hay for my Dad one summer and I noticed his black engineer boots with some admiration. His tractor had to be clutched twice to produce one hay bale. After conveying up enough hay for a bale, the tractor was clutched and taken out of gear. Then the clutch was released while the baler wrapped twine on the bale and kicked it out the back. Then he depressed the clutch again, shifted back into gear and released the clutch to move forward into the windrow so the conveyor could pick up hay for the next bale. Lyle's engineer boots with thick soles and heavy heels were ideal for all that clutch work - at least two depressions for each hay bale. Hay baling was obviously depressing work. When Lyle clomped around with his shirttail out, kicking wayward hay bales out of the way of his tractor, you could say he was a reasonable facsimile of the guy in the newspaper photo - minus the cuffs.

In one hand, this guy in the photo, the guy who is advertised to ooze masculine mystique is holding a pair of work gloves. I have a pair exactly like them - think I bought them at Lowe's or Home Depot. They are my "cheap" work gloves - split horsehide leather fingers and palms with a canvas or denim back. They are too stiff for general work but are handy for handling rough stuff like cinder blocks. They aren't expensive - no point wearing out the fingers of twenty dollar gloves in an afternoon. I think I gave about eight bucks for my pair. I'm not sure if the masculine mystique look is to wear the gloves or to hold them in one hand as an accessory. I presume it's the latter.

Here's the price tag as per the newspaper article: "Shirt by Ben Sherman, $88, at Service Menswear; jeans by Levi's, $55 at Service Menswear; sunglasses by Mosley Tribes, $170, at - you guessed it - Service Menswear (Service Menswear has quite the markup, it seems); gloves $14.50 at Stag and boots by Red Wing, $308, at Luther's."

I can't price this fellow's underwear - or lack thereof - but what you see in the photo is what you get for $635.50 if you want to look like a rugged-dressed man with masculine mystique.

If you are the real deal and if you shop where I shop, you will save about five-hundred bucks on the regalia.


  1. Very interesting. As I recall the engineer's boots left black marks on our linoleum floor (another vestige of the past). Dave

  2. Yep... that's certainly one black mark against them.

    I have a pair of handmade boots from Thailand that have that nasty habit. I haven't worn them in twenty years, I suppose, but they are still kicking around in my closet somewhere. Maybe I'd wear them more often if I had the black rubber heels replaced with something that leaves no trace.

  3. I think you're right about the black heel marks from the engineer boots. I had also forgotten about smokers using the rolled up cuffs on their pantlegs for flicking off the cigarette ashes.

    Thanks for the memory walk.

  4. Like your photo Brother Raleigh, good memories and you have it figured right with the cost of clothes just to be cool.


  5. Yep ... I was way before my time when it came to the "Grunge Look."

  6. Anonymous5:23 PM

    This brought a smile to my face . . . and I was laughing outloud at some of your comments . . . they're so true! As the song says . . . we were country when country wasn't cool . . . we know better though. Country is always cool and makes for wonderful memories!!!!


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