Jeans are really the key to western wear, so most of the variety in your wardrobe is going to come from shirts. Here’s a list of shirts that should have you covered for any occasion.
1. White Button Down
Paired with the bluest blue jeans you have, this is part of the standard “dressed up” uniform of the West. It’s a classic combo that fits in perfectly at a country wedding or family reunion. It’s also really handy to have, period. It looks good on it’s own or with a blazer. For the higher end of the spectrum, there’s this one from Miller Ranch, or, you can go with the Wrangler version, which is incredibly easy to find and should only set you back $25, if you’re on a budget. You’re going to want to keep this one as pristine and blindingly white as possible, which can be kinda hard, as noted here.
Miller Ranch at left, Wrangler at right.
2. Light Blue Button Down
The other essential shirt for any man’s closet. I prefer an Oxford Cloth Button Down (I own about 4 by various makers, they’re kind of my personal uniform) but there are some western versions that can be found. Stetson makes one, as does Miller Ranch. This shirt is a little more versatile than the white because it’s a little more casual. The western cut versions can be a little harder to find, but a regular light blue button down can be found in virtually any store than sells mens clothes and most thrift stores. It’s that ubiquitous in menswear. This shirt still works under a blazer or on its own, and, as I mentioned earlier, is a staple of mens clothing. Random bit of trivia: this shirt was designed around the turn of the last century for polo players. The buttons kept the collar from flying up into the riders face while he was riding. The OCBD has it’s roots in equestrian culture, which is why I’ve included them on this list.
3. A button down patterned shirt (or two)
It’s not hard to walk into any western wear store and find conservative, classic patterns like tattersalls, graph checks or stripes. One or two of these will round out your wardrobe and serve you well for years to come. Everything I’ve listed so far hasn’t gone out of style and won’t for the foreseeable future. By buying conservative classics, you’re stretching your clothing money and taking clothes shopping off the to-do list for awhile. Don’t you feel productive? You just freed up some more time to enjoy a cold beverage.
4. Two heavyweight plaids, two lightweight plaids
Button down plaid shirts go almost everywhere and are super easy to find. I’d recommend two in a heavy weight cotton and two in a light cotton fabric. Pick light colors for summer/spring and bolder colors for winter/fall. Gingham is always nice too, so long as you choose a red that doesn’t look like the tablecloth at a pizza place…
5. Four pearl-snap shirts
If you’re short or stocky, solid color pearl snap shirts are going to make you look taller and slimmer. Or get some plaid shirts. I’d generally avoid wild paisleys or neon plaids, anything with crosses or wings and definitely no sparkles or embroidery they have a tendency to age really fast and look silly after a few years. Metallic threads in shirts like kinda cheesy and I’ve always found them to be itchy against bare skin. Cotton/Poly blends are also very low-maintenance and comfortable, depending on how you feel about synthetic fabrics. (I own a few, but I’m not wild about polyester.) I’d also recommend getting a pearl snap shirt in chambray or denim, because it’s one of THE iconic pieces of western wear. I’m going to have to go with the Wrangler versions here (see below), because they come pretty raw and set the gold standard for that style. Beyond that, they’re very easy to find and age really beautifully with wear and washing. So long as you manage to wear jeans that are a few shades different than the shirt, you’ll avoid the much-ballyhooed ‘Texas Tuxedo.”
6. One Wild Shirt
Pick one wild, bold shirt. Crazy paisleys or big, lively plaid. Whatever you like within reason (see above re: embroidery, crosses, etc.). Buy this shirt knowing that it is going to go out of style a couple of years down the road. Western wear is supposed to be bright and bold. This is the shirt you’ll wear when you’re headed out to the bar or a party.
I think that pretty much runs the gamut. You don’t have to run out and buy all these all at once, the game is to build a wardrobe slowly, as you go, and donating the stuff you’re not wearing anymore. By building a wardrobe of classics that won’t go out of style you’ll save yourself time and money down the road, not to mention the extra benefit of not looking like yesterday’s b-list country stars.