Leaning West in Good Denim
After a long weekend in Marfa, the cowboy-turned-artist enclave in out-past-everywhere West Texas, it became a startling reality that I needed a good denim shirt. The easy, rumpled Western style looked good washer-clean or caked in desert grit.
Out there in the dust, it was hard to tell if the wranglers looked like Nashville rockers or the Nashville rockers looked like, well, wranglers. No one seemed too concerned about the distinction. Either way, I needed an excuse to wear the bandanas I picked up from El Cosmico Provisions.
Meanwhile back in New Orleans, I decided on the Washed Denim Shirt from the brick and mortar Billy Reid. Billy opted to use denim from a domestic loom, sidelining the usual Japanese selvedge for a softer wearing fabric.
The denim isn’t regular across the shirt. It shows good signs of initial weathering from the factory. Each shirt off the rack had a unique set of cuts and bruises. They shrunk the traditional long point collar for a spread, which updates the shirt considerably.
Also, the designers wisely chose antique brass snaps for closures. It’s a wise gateway into Western shirts for the average city slicker and avoids the often-polarizing pearl buttons, which sometimes makes a good shirt feel too cute.
The bellow pockets with angled flaps echo the classic Levi’s pattern but in a smaller proportion which reads modern. They tossed out the Western yoke and it’s not really missed; the shirt gains heaps of versatility.
Single barrel cuffs are easy to roll up and forget. Inside, there’s an elementary construction with naked seams and no gussets—somewhat disappointing considering the $195 price point and my likeliness to wear without an undershirt.
Billy Reid deems the Washed Denim Shirt to be standard cut. I wear a small across their styles, despite measuring for a 40 jacket with an athletic build. It’s pretty trim across the chest and shoulders, I like my shirts to hug my body, but has a good amount of room in the waist.
I’m 5’8”—the length of the shirt just covers my seat without being too long; I’m never tucking this thing in. Billy Reid has a little trouble nailing the proportions of its ready-to-wear, the denim shirt takes a good couple hours to start looking tailored as the denim relaxes.
Basically, if you’re the athletic type, spending some time in the gym or on the sports field, you’ll find the sleeves run too trim and the waist too forgiving. More importantly, I wear the shirt with three buttons undone down the chest, luckily by personal taste; otherwise the placket would pull awkwardly at the breastbone.
I’ve had friends feel as though they’re stuck between sizes in this shirt who usually wear 38 to 40 regular: too slim in the shoulders in a small and too forgiving overall in the medium, which sacrifices the smart, trim look. You either get lucky, compromise, or move on.
After a Wash
Like all denim, I try to go as long as socially acceptable between washes. The fabric has held up extremely well, only losing a small amount of indigo after clocking over ten washes. The shirt never sees the dryer so it wears a bit stiff after a hang dry, but naturally this prolongs the lifespan.
Lately, I’m starting to see some creasing and feathering around the shoulder area where the shirt wears closest to the body. Overall, I appreciate that age has made the shirt more attractive. Lesser denims are traditionally headed for the trash heap after this many washes as they lose their factory mojo.
While this shirt will likely last well into next season, I’ll probably search for a more inspired design and construction for its replacement. It’s been a learning experience deciding on what’s most important in a Western shirt.
You really have to love the garment through and through; it’s an extension of your personality more so than a prized tee or button down. Unfortunately for my wallet, that will mean spending more than the $200 dollar mark, digging into smaller boutique designers or even Ralph Lauren’s Double RL.