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Fashion: American Dreams

Think All the Best Clothes Come From Europe? Just Look at These Home-Grown Classics
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98

(continued from page 2)

The decline of the long-drive cowboys marked the emergence of the rhinestone variety of boots, which were popularized by actors on the stage and screen. Buck Taylor, who acted with the Buffalo Bill Troupe, was the first "King of the Cowboys." Then came the celluloid heroes: William S. Hart, Bronco Billy Anderson, Tom Mix, Tex Ritter and, at the pinnacle of the genre, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. They were responsible for the most picturesque outfits ever worn by Americans: crimson shirts with lavender yokes and ornate cuffs, fancy pocket flaps, and pearl buttons; drainpipe pin-striped trousers with piped pockets and badge-shaped belt loops (the belts themselves of ornately detailed leather with large engraved silver buckles); fancy silk bandannas; wide-brimmed beaver felt hats with turquoise bands; and, of course, boots. Boots designed and made with more detail, artistry and color than were ever worn before or have been worn since: dove gray and citrus yellow, powder blue and orange, peacock blue and emerald green, and all of the most ingenious design. Merely to stitch an ornate monogram was absolute child's play compared with the cherry-red calfskin inlaid with white longhorn-steer heads or the sleek black ostrich hide decorated with climbing roses. Rogers was particularly fond of a pair that was ornamented with red, white and blue spread eagles.

The Leather Flight Jacket
Properly called the "U.S. Army Air Corps A-2 Flight Jacket," this most popular of garments ever issued to aviators was standardized by the U.S. Army in 1931 but found its greatest moments during the Second World War (as seen on Jimmy Doolittle, Flying Tiger commander Clair Chennault, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the crew of the Enola Gay and thousands of other courageous soldiers). The backs of many of these battle jackets that saw action over the skies of the European and Pacific theaters of the war were adorned with hand-painted emblems, maps, names and the occasional pinup queen.

The design was a model of efficiency for duty in the cockpit of a fighter plane. Originally made of strong brown horsehide (now goatskin), with brass zipper and snaps, and a rayon (sometimes silk or cotton) lining, the jacket provided warmth and practicality. It was only waist length (the better for sitting), and the two snap-and-flap patch front pockets were set low (with hand-warmer slits) for easy access. Wool knit ribbing at the waist and cuffs held the jacket tight against the cold and prevented it from snagging on controls, and snaps at the collar points stopped the collar from flapping in the wind.

Perhaps hundreds of variations of this classic--blouson, as it is called today--are now available, but this one is the real thing.

G. Bruce Boyer is the author of Eminently Suitable.

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