WESA Denver Daily
Old West Still Hot Fashion Look Today
By Jan Falstead

The Old West was won with the Colt revolver. In today’s New West, the battleground is the western retail showroom.

And here at the Denver market, the vintage style is emerging victorious.

Only a few manufacturers design and product “retro” clothing. But consumers are buying more vintage clothes and the look is moving even further back in time to the Old Frontier Days.

Retro fashion started with the Southwest look. Then the Rogers’ 1950s style blossomed. Now the style harkens back to the antebellum days of the Civil War and the Old West.

“Retro has gone through a lot of changes in the last 10 years,” says Sandra Smit, Vice President and designer for Riflefire Clothiers of Nashville, Tennessee. “Since the beginning of 1994, we’ve seen a real increase in the vintage look. Classic retro is really in the limelight.”

Still, Riflefire sticks with the ‘50s look in producing fancy hand-painted silk blouses with silver buttons. Prices on the American blouses run from $105 to $165. With that price point range, Riflefile markets exclusively through specialty stores.

Cattle Kate of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, started her business 14 years ago selling silk scarves to local cowboys and outfitters who wanted to keep their necks warm. Now the retail store and catalog offer a wide range of products from vests to bouses. In the retro market, we have a really loyal following who love the look and the romance and are very, very loyal,” says Production Manager Debra Markert.

Other than the retro silk bridal gown with a “million” buttons in front, Cattle Kate’s line is conservative rather than flashy.

For the increase in retro sales, Markert thanks two sources: history and poetry. “The cowboy poetry gatherings have really helped us out by putting us back in touch with the simple folk kind of cowboy,” she says. The simple look covers tiny patterned calico dresses with wagon train simplicity.

The back-to-basics look covers classic frontier china dishes and dolls modeled after Cattle Kate. (The real Cattle Kate and her husband were accused and hung for cattle rustling in Wyoming more than a century ago.) And Americans’ reemerging interest in their own history and period clothes helps sales, according to Markert.

Another company fashioning clothing from the 1860s days is Wah-Maker. The company meticulously researches period clothing from styles and fabric types down to the smallest details like buttons. If form follows function, the sales follow authenticity – at least for the Wah line which has enjoyed steadily increasing sales.

And Lazy LS Brand clothing, formerly Old Frontier, is focusing on romantic, but affordable, clothing from the “How the West Was Won” days.

Is the retrograde fashion world moving back to the future? Smit says vintage clothing is moving into crossover markets. She is selling more traditional western yokes, piping and 1860s pocket vents, but on non-western cuts. “The new clothing is melding hints of Hairston-Roberson design with more contemporary silhouettes,” says Smit. “this styling makes the clothing more appealing to a wider base of people.”