Vintage Original Levi's late 1950's Shorthorn Sawtooth Denim Shirt
Maker - Levi's
Era - Mid to late 50s
Material - 2x1 cotton denim
Acquired - by Douglas Luhanko around 2008
This weeks vintage item is one of the three parts in a "Canadian Tuxedo". A western style denim shirt is just like a pair of blue jeans, garments that has proven to deserve there spot among the classics when it comes to clothing.
Denim was not part of the traditional western wear worn by cowboys in the early 19th century, but started to become popular during the late 19th century when ranchers and cowboys adopted the miners pants. It wasn't until the 40s/50s that denim became the outfit synonymous with the American west and that was mainly because of to the uprising popularity of the cowboy lifestyle thanks to role models such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry among many others who introduced western wear on the movie screens.
In post-war America during the 40's and the 50's many brands started to make western wear garments that celebrated the new lifestyle and joyful times that followed the bitter beginning of a century which was plagued by war and the great depression. In these days the economy was booming, and people got more sparetime witch set of the new entertainments, such as visiting dude ranches which you can read more about in a previous blog post here.
The back of this shirt has fading showing that it has been used a lot and it looks like the lower part has been tucked into the wearers trousers, leaving a darker shade on those parts.
This type of western shirt is called a "Saw tooth shirt", named for the shape of the pocket flaps. I'm not sure when these pockets were first used but I do know that they were popular on a lot of western wear garments in the 40/50's. The design makes it easy to un button just one of the snap buttons and to easy to reach into the pocket to fetch whatever you store in it. Leaving one of the buttons fastened also stops objects from falling out of the pocket. The saw tooth is also a decorative style that really captures the fashion of that era!
During this time Levis actually made this kind of shirt in two different lines. This one is the so-called Shorthorn version, named after to the logo that features the skull of a shorthorn cattle. Earlier shirts from the 40's are referred to as "Longhorn" shirts because the logo features the skull of a longhorn instead. I'll save that story for a future post!
The other version was made in the "Denim Family" line, you will find more information on that and also see the logo in this blog post
I suspect that the main reasons for the two lines was that they was marketing to two different audiences. The Shorthorn was for the authentic cowboy, while the Denim Family was intended to be used by families living in the cities and who dressed up as a cowboys on their spare time. This is just speculations and if you have more thoughts on this I would be happy to here your thoughts regarding this so please give me a comment!
The label of this shirt is printed on a cloth and the earlier versions most likely made in the early 50s had embroidered logo instead. Im not sure if there is an exact date of when Levi's made this change.
The Dot Snappers, designed to unbutton by themselves when needed. As mentioned in an earlier blog post legend says that the snap button was first used on shirts worn by bull stock riders.
The cuff is fastened with three snap buttons.
The front of the shirt is cut slightly longer than the back and I believe this was made in order for the shirt to stay tucked in at the front while riding, and that the back was supposed to be untucked to allow movement when the wearer was sat in the saddle.
When comparing the original shirt with the reproductions made by LVC one detail has caught my attention. If you have seen a reproduction of this shirt you might have noticed that the shirt most likely will have a red tab on located on the side of the left chest pocket. This is something that I never have seen on a vintage original Levi's denim shirt, and Im not sure how it comes that they made the reproductions with it. Might it be that Levi's wanted to add a visible logo to the reproductions, and that the story with the big E red tab made it easier to talk about the history of the garment and for it's wearer to identify with the vintage community? Or maybe the designers behind the reproduction missed this detail, adding the Red tab just because it felt natural to have one on the left chest pocket. Red tabs have been used on vintage Levi's shirts, but never on the early denim shirts as the one shown here.
We keep this shirt in the store as a part of our archive with a purpose to inspire when it comes to classical garments. If you would like to have a closer look at it you are more than welcome to stop by to see it up close over a cup of coffee.
Last week we took a break from the weekly vintage blog post because of the easter holidays, but the week before that we wrote about a pair of heavily worn Wrangler Blue Bell 13MWZ jeans and you will find that blog post here.