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Jan 22, 2011

The RTW Western Shirt -- a close inspection

Readers, today we're going to look at a very different sort of garment from the Gap button down shirt, the Thomas Pink dress shirt, and the Cego custom made shirt.  We're going to examine the popular men's Western shirt.

The Western shirt, so beloved of fans of rodeos, dude ranches, and Annie Get Your Gun, has become an American classic, though on some it can look a little costume-y.  The one I own I found at Goodwill before I started sewing.  I've never actually worn it.

This Western shirt has some interesting construction details worth noting.  It is decorated up the wazoo: rhinestones, nail heads, embroidery, piping, pearl snaps -- the works.

It has all the traditional elements like arrowhead pockets and decorative front and back yokes.  And yet curiously, the actual fabric of the shirt feels like cheap muslin -- it's soft enough, but it's not fine in any way.

The shirt is made by Antik Denim.  Handcrafted in the USA.

Or is it?

While the shirts we've seen previously all had flat-felled seams, this one does not.  The armscye seams are simply stitched once and the seam allowance serged.

This is a completely legitimate way to make a shirt -- it's not traditional (not for a dress shirt certainly) but it isn't wrong.  Some of you making shirts next month might even want to consider this option.  Instead of serging you can overcast (stitching a zigzag along the outer edge of the seam allowance) or even use pinking shears.

Remember: from the outside no one is going to care whether you flat-felled, straight stitched only, or used mucilage to hold those seams together. They're going to be looking at the shirt and you -- or the person you made it for.

From the outside, the side seams look flat-felled.

On closer inspection, however, they were double needle stitched, serged, and the seam allowance simply stitched down.  Is this a cheaper way of finishing an RTW shirt?  Probably.

Look at the hem.  Serged and left as-is.

Paradoxically, there are details on this shirt that reflect excellent workmanship.

This is the inside of the sleeve placket.  Look how neat.

The collar band and inside yoke are made with contrasting black cotton.

Collar, cuffs, button (in this case, snap) plackets are all nicely done.

You can see more pics of the Western shirt here

You can also compare this to the Gap shirt here, the Thomas Pink shirt here, and the Cego custom made shirt here.

Which construction details on a shirt are most important to you?  As I mentioned the other day, there are multiple ways to judge the quality of a shirt (or any garment when you think about it): fabric, finish, and fit.  (You might also add fashion.)

Most of us sew our own clothes because we're concerned about fit, I believe.  It's easy to find a well-finished men's shirt at almost any price.  Finding one we can afford in a high quality fabric is a bit harder.  Finding one that also fits the way we want it to is hardest of all.  And of course we want the shirt to meet our idea of fashion -- a garment that's consistent with our own style preferences.

Anyway, friends, you have a lot to think about in the week to come.  But before we get there, we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow.  We'll be celebrating a very important anniversary and I know you won't want to miss it -- prizes, giveaways, and more!

Come hungry because they'll be plenty of food too.

Have a great day everybody!


  1. Really interesting shirt construction! I would love to learn how to do the arrowhead pockets as you see that quite a bit on late 40's/early 50's dress suits as well!

  2. Debi, check this Burda link out:

  3. I like the decoration on that shirt - really interesting. I sew a high volume of clothes for myself and my family, and I tend to use serged instead of flat-fell seams on shirts. I may do the flat fell on DH's shirt, but I doubt I will do it for my boys.

  4. Love the "handmade in USA", "Made in China" paradox. I love western shirts. They are a little costumey for daily wear, but perfect for chili parties and Halloween :)

  5. I had to look up the word 'mucilage'. Not just a sewing blog but an education!

  6. I like that shirt! That would be a bit "rock 'n roll" compared to Dallas western wear, but I really like it. We have a store here, just down the street from me, called Cowboy Cool that has some fabulous western-esque rock n' roll wear, and I LOVE to look! Too pricey for me but WOW!

    those pockets are awesome!

  7. My guess is that the shirt was made in China, then the decoration was applied in the US. Makes sense to me anyway.

  8. Years ago I worked for a sewing factory in Virginia. We would get garments in [huge wooden crates of them!] and these would come with their labels from the various ports of manufacture. However, we would then add designer labels [Halston, Claiborne, etc.] which stated "Made in U.S.A." I once asked how we got away with it. My supervisor told me that we weren't falsely proclaiming anything, because [get this], "the labels we sew into place ARE made in the U.S.!"

    I didn't last long. Only 10-months. And couldn't bring myself to sew for about three years afterward. [Literally burnt out!] But that was more than 20 years ago, and love it now!

    Love your blog!!!

  9. Hilarious. So we can be confident that at the very least that label was handcrafted in the USA!

  10. David Page Coffin wrote a great article for Threads, 'Updating the Cowboy Shirt' (Threads Issue No. 67, November 1996, pg 63). Worth the read if you are interested in the 'details' of the Western/Cowboy shirt and want to recreate them.

  11. My first thought was that the fabric was made in China and the shirt in the USA, but Texicanwife's insight is interesting and probably what's going on here.

  12. Am I the only one who thinks that western shirt is stinkin' ugly? Pierre, have you reached a point in your sewing career fame where people only appease you as those who surrounded Michael Jackson did? Should I be worried?

  13. Holy Temple Grandin, that's one decked out shirt! It sure is interesting to look at.

  14. Someone wore out their "bedazzler" on this one. I'm glad you never wore this in public, but it is a keeper if only for the construction techniques. I am looking forward to next month and really enjoying learning about shirt construction!

  15. Peter, I'm really enjoying the analysis of these shirts! And I like what you say about the inside of garments -- nobody is going to see that. I'm pining after a serger because the unfinished look in the clothes I make is really bothering me. I'm going to try to stop worrying about that!

    And in terms of western style shirts, my husband has two Ralph Lauren ones that are really cool looking. I should go inspect them...

  16. I'm also enjoying the analysis - thank you so much. It's all very interesting.

  17. Hi Peter, thanks for the pre-sew along posts!
    The details are very important to me. What's the most important to me? The sleeve plackets are high on my list (maybe because i don't yet know how to make them), as well as collars. Maybe because hands and faces are what you look at when a person talks to you...


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