What Men Wore in the 1800's

Added to February 4th

At the beginning of the century, the standard for men's wear still adhered to the styles of the 18th century, with knee-length breeches worn over stockings, tail coats cut high over the top of the breeches, collars turned up and ruffled cravats worn at the neck. The hat of choice was usually a top hat and most men carried walking sticks. Cloaks were still worn during this period; but by 1820 this gave way to the more practical and manageable overcoat.

Take a look at some of the most coveted and showcased fashions from the 1800's:

  • Breeches - A type of pant men wore often, either stopping at or below the knee and in some cases to the ankle. They typically fastened around the leg with a drawstring, buckles or straps. When wearing breeches at the knees, men's socks were pulled up and fully exposed.
  • Pantaloons - An early form of the relaxed trouser. This style of pants was worn by men as street wear because breeches were considered too formal.
  • Coats with Tails - During this era, men's coats had long tails in back with a short front. The designs during this time also featured standing collars and M-shaped lapels.
  • Shirts - Men's shirts prominently featured pleated cuffs, high collars and sometimes ruffles down the front.
  • Waistcoats - This coat style contained a squared-off bottom and a high waist. They were also double-breasted wide noticeably wide lapels.
  • Greatcoats - A dressier style of coat worn by men that often featured fur or velvet. To give it a truly grand look, several short caplets were attached to the collar.
  • Hessian Boots - A style of boot that had tassels and a heart-shaped design on top.
  • Wellington Boots - Named after the Duke of Wellington, these boots were very low-cut in the back, while the front was cut knee-high.
  • Cravat - A neckband or neckcloth men wore in the 1800's which was a precursor to the modern day necktie or bow tie.
  • Top Hat - The most popular style was cone-shaped and tall in height.

But what about the Cowboys?


In the 1800s, clothing choice was vitally important to cowboys riding the range and on cattle drives. Proper clothing could save a cowboy's life, or that of his horse. Every item of clothing, from the boots to the hat, was carefully chosen before the cowboy left on a cattle drive or started work on the ranch.

In classic Western films, however, cowboys are often seen in clothing more acceptable to the times the film was made. For instance, it is a popular misconception that cowboys wore blue jeans in the 1800s. Although Levi Strauss and his partner were hard at work on a design, blue jeans were simply not available to cowboys in the early to mid-1800s.

Levi Strauss teamed up with Jacob Davis, a Latvian tailor, in 1868 to make durable pants for miners and cowboys using canvas for fabric and rivets to hold them together. The pants were not introduced in San Francisco by Levi Strauss & Company until 1873. These pants were canvas, though, and dyed brown, not blue. It did not take long for the popular product to make its way around the country, but these durable pants still cost money. In the early 1800s, cowboys wore wool pants purchased in second-hand stores, discards from wealthier people in town.

In the mid to late 1800s, cowboy attire was a mix of the second-hand wool pants and military uniforms from the American Civil War. They also wore the flat-heeled marching boots required by the military until they could afford to have a custom made pair. They wore heavy, gray Confederate army coats, which served them well in winter blizzards.

The cowboy uniform changed over the next ten to twenty years as clothing mass-produced in factories became more accessible and less expensive. However, cowboys continued to wear loose-fitting cotton shirts and wool pants. When the clothing wore thin it was repaired by the cook in the outfit.

According to Russell Freedman's Cowboys of the West, cowboys often stitched buckskin across the seat and down the inner thighs so the pants would not wear out from rubbing against the saddle all day long.

Cowboys had difficulty reaching into their pants pockets while in the saddle, so they often wore vests with pockets that were deep enough to keep items from falling out. Cowboys in the Southwest covered these vests with heavy canvas jackets to protect their bodies from thorns and cactus spines. Northern cowboys wore knee-length coats made from sheepskin or wool, depending on the type of animals they kept on their ranches.

Slickers, or oilskin raincoats were a necessity on the range and cowboys kept these rolled up and tied to the saddle or in the chuck wagon if they were on a cattle drive.

Perhaps one of the more well-known items of cowboy attire--besides boots and hats, or course--would be chaps. Chaps were invented by Mexican vaqueros, the original cowboys, and originally called chaparreras. They were used to protect the pants and legs from thorns and cactus spines.

An early style of chaps, called "Shotguns" were more like pants made of leather that the cowboy would step into, and these leather pants were replaced by the more popular batwing versions seen most often in Western movies--chaps that wrapped around the leg and fastened in back.

Batwing chaps, like coats, varied with the region. In the Southwest, cowboys wore chaps made of smooth leather. In the North, cowboys wore chaps made of wool, or fur, depending on the animals raised on the ranch.




The design of cowboy boots is strictly utilitarian, as well--pointed toes to slip easily into a stirrup; high heels to keep the heel in the stirrup; knee high to protect the legs from thorns and keep the dirt out of the boot; and tabs, or "mule ears" to tug the boot onto the foot. Fancy spurs attached to the boots were important to keep the horses moving, though cowboys enjoyed a variety of shapes and styles available for show.

Although current styles keep the pant leg outside of the boots, cowboys in the 1800s wore their pant legs tucked inside so they wouldn't snag on twigs and thorns.

Cowboys spent as much as a month's wages to have their boots custom made. The only cowboys who wore ready made boots were either inexperienced green horns or cowboys saving their money for the real thing!

 The boots they wore...

After months on the dusty trail following the behinds of cattle, the first thought on the cowboy’s mind when he received his pay was a hot bath and clean clothes. Women, drinking, rough-housing—these would all come later. First, the cowboy needed to track down the proper attire, and proper attire included cowboy boots.

Most cow towns had a boot store with first-rate, custom made boots. Although they were available, according to Russell Freedman's Cowboys of the West, only the poorest cowboys wore ready-made boots. According to "The Real McCoy," part of The History Channel’s Cowboys and Outlaws television series, one Abilene boot maker in the late 1800s hired 20 employees so he could keep up with the demand for boots when the cowboys hit town. His boots cost around $20 a pair in the mid to late 1800s, which would have a contemporary equivalence of $300. In the Time Life Books Series The Old West: The Cowboys, William H. Forbis states that cowboys were willing to pay $50 a pair for their boots, or about two month's wages.

Tony Lama, a US based corporation selling one of the most popular brands of ready-made western boots, was named for its founder who lived from 1887 to 1974. Lama learned his craft while serving as a cobbler for the US Army stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas. He opened his first shoe repair shop in downtown El Paso in 1912, according to the Texas State Historical Association.  Lama's business skyrocketed during the 1930s with the popularity of cowboys such as Tom Nix and Gene Autry.

The leather on a cowboy boot was the finest, softest leather with an abundance of fancy stitching. The leather reached as high up the leg as comfortably possible to protect the cowboy’s ankles and legs from thorns and snake bites. The length also kept out rocks and pebbles, or for New Mexico cowboys, sand. According to Forbis, cowboys in the 1800s preferred a snug fit, yet another reason why they had their boots custom-made. They also tried to make their feet look as small as possible as big-footed cowboys were believed to be clumsy.

At the top of the boot there were--and still are--two flaps called mule ears, which are used to help the cowboy pull the boot over the foot and onto the leg. As discussed earlier in the post on cowboy attire, most cowboys tucked their pants into the boots to help keep the sand and pebbles out and protect clothing from snagging on the brush. The toes were pointed so they fit easily into the stirrups. The pointed toe was also important as it allowed the cowboy to quickly slip his foot from the stirrup if he was thrown from the horse, particularly during a cattle stampede when the risk of being thrown and trampled, or dragged to death, was high--according to Forbis, one of the leading causes of death among cowboys was being dragged to death behind the cowboy's horse when the boot was caught in the stirrup.

Short heels were required to hook the boots onto the stirrups and keep them from slipping out during the ride. The sole of the boot was thinner so the cowboy could feel his boots in the stirrups and know his feet were secure. Heels angled in the back are called buckaroo style. Roper boots have square, short heels. 

In The Cowboys, Forbis also explains the four different styles of cowboy boots worn during the 1800s. The earliest style of boots had the pointed toes and short heels, but no mule ears. The next style had a raised arch and stitching up the sides. Mule ears were added, most likely when an enterprising boot maker noticed cowboys struggling to pull the boots over their feet. The fancy boot came last, with a raised arch, slightly higher heel, intricate stitching and longer length.

Contemporary cowboy boots match design with purpose. Working boots tend to be of uniform color with less fancy stitching. Dancing or dress boots might be a bit fancier. A quick look at boot stores reveals cowgirl boots with intricate stitching showing flowers and vines climbing the length of the boot, or with pink trim around the leg and tan, suede shoe, or even multiple colors on the toe and at the top of the leg.

A popular style in Texas has boots made with the famed Texas star stitched onto the front, sides, or back. Snakeskin or imitation snakeskin boots have been popular for many years. Alligator boots are also popular. Although boots made from the skin of exotic animals may be popular as show boots, most working cowboys still prefer old-fashioned cow leather. Whatever the color, style or cost, one thing is certain--you'll never find a cowboy who doesn't own boots!



Starting with some civil war Calvary boots



To more old west…


 Ropers (all function, no flash)


To boots worn by really mean cowboys who shouldn’t even BE on a horse.


To just when you want to look cool…

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Although one might think a bandanna would be used for show, this is far from the truth. Bandannas came in a variety of bright colors to make the cowboy more visible in bad weather. They served--and still serve--many purposes. They block the hot Southwestern sun to prevent sunburn and mop up sweat from the brow. They keep the dust out of the mouth and nose during dust storms and warm the ears in cold weather. They are also used as washcloths, tourniquets, and blindfolds to lead horses out of burning barns.

Ahhhh… Sam… who always get’s our hearts burning….































Finally, the cowboy hat. Cowboy hats shield the top of the head from the heat of the sun, and the eyes from the sun's glare. The keep rain off the face. They can be used to wave to a friend from a distance, and to smack a slow horse on the rump.  Nowadays, cowboys wear hats according to what they need for their job more than fashion or to show what part of the country they come from. In the 1800s, style choice depended on region. In the Southwest, cowboy hats had tall crowns and wide brims. In the North, brims were narrow and crowns lower so they would not blow away. It was easy to identify where a cowboy came from by the style of his hat.   Although styles, colors, and patterns used on cowboy attire has changed over the years, the basic items remain the same because each item serves an important purpose in the life and work of a cowboy.




Stetson History

courtesy: Stetsonhat.com

In 1865, with $100, John B. Stetson rented a small room, bought the tools he needed, bought $10 worth of fur and the John B. Stetson Hat Company was born. A year later the "Hat of the West" or the now famous "Boss of the Plains" hat was born and the name Stetson was on its way to becoming the mark of quality, durability, innovation and beauty.

John B. Stetson experienced trying times in his life but after it all he relied on the one thing he did exceptionally well, making hats. He was trained by his father, a master hatter, and applied his skills and knowledge to a trade that, at the time was not held in high regard.

A hatter was seen as unreliable, lazy, or aloof, only looking to make his money and go have fun. John B. Stetson changed all that and built one of America's most well-known and successful businesses. The longevity and history of the John B. Stetson Company is based on innovation and quality! John B. Stetson led the hat industry his entire career by designing new hat styles for fashion and function. When it came to quality it was his creed and for the past 130 years it has so stamped the product that the name and the word are synonymous.

Today the Stetson hat factory in Garland, Texas is one of the largest in the country and produces a line of hats in hundreds of different styles and colors. In spite of this size, however, classic styling and premium quality remain as the driving forces behind each and every hat. As a result, Stetson hats are the most well known hats in the world. Wherever and whenever hats are discussed Stetson will be mentioned.

Stetson is the standard in hats, the essence of the spirit of the West and an icon of everyday American lifestyle. Because of its authentic American heritage, Stetson remains as a part of history and, for the same reason will continue into the future.

Stetson, it's not just a hat, it's the hat. 

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 Ok ok… the problem with having a woman do this….


All of us love looking at our favororite actors playing great cowboys.  But how about some ‘real’ cowboys….

Full Dressed Armed Wild West Cowboy ca 1880s

Full Dressed Armed Wild West Cowboy c 1880’s

Photograph of Two Armed Cowboys ca 1890s

Two armed cowboys c 1880 - 1890’s

B. K. O'Dwyer - Scout, Wagon Master, & Saloon Keeper ca 1870s - This early Cartes de Visite of this government scout, wagon master, teamster and Dodge City , Kansas saloon keeper

B.K. O’Dwyer - Early photo of government scout, wagon master, teamster and Dodge City, Kansas saloon keeper

The man standing has a triple loop holster, and what appears to be a breech-loading centerfire Whitney double barrel shotgun. You can see three triggers.

The man standing has a triple loop holster, and what appears to be a breech-loading centerfire Whitney double barrel shotgun.  You can see the three triggers.

hotograph of Great Armed Scout from Colorado 1880s

Armed Scout from Colorado 1880’s.  wow… he looks so young.

Outstanding image of what appears to be a wily mountain man in rough fringed buckskin jacket and pants - unfortunately, his lace-up shoes give him away as a city dweller.

Great image of what appears to be a mountain man in rough fringed buckskin jacket and pants - unfortunately, his lace-up shoes give him away as a city dweller.

Presumably members of Capt. David L. Payne's group of renegade settlers, who made a series of "raids" to illegally settle Indian lands in the Territory in the early 1880s.

Presumably members of Capt. David L. Payne’s group of renegade settlers, who made a series of ‘raids’ to illegally settle Indian lands in the Territory in the early 1880’s

Cabinet Card Photograph of Sheriff with pistol Arizona Territory ca 1880s

Cabinet Card Photo of Sheriff with pistol Arizona Territory c 1880’s

Tin Type of Three Men, One Holding "Large Size Currency" ca 1870s

Tin Type of three men, one holding ‘large size currency’ c 1870’s

                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012