Nashville, TN

Suiting the Sound: Online Exhibition portraying the rodeo suit

Devon Williams

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Unsplash/Ksenia Chernaya

NASHVILLE, TN — Have you ever wondered why country music performers wear specific sets of outfits when performing? Well, you might find the answer here.

Back since the late 1940s, county music performers have been lighting up stages and turning heads in spectacular due to their custom-design Western wear. They wore this kind of clothes to catch the audience’s attention as that era was known for “dim lights, thick smoke, and loud music”.

Buck Owens recalled, “The sound systems were so lousy back then that the crowd couldn’t hear the music, so the CLOTHES had to be LOUD.”

By the 1950s, the cowboy-inspired stage attire became the signature look of many country music performers.

Through the exhibit galleries and extensive collection of stage costumes and archival materials, photographs, and moving images, ‘Suiting the Sound: The Rodeo Tailors Who Made Country Stars Shine Brighter’ explores the couture design that created a lasting image for country music. The exhibit also highlighted the story of immigrants who carved a successful niche by embracing America’s fascination with cowboy culture and Western imagery.

Bernard Lichtenstein, Nathan Turk, and Nudie Cohn immigrated to America and the three of them created a successful niche when America’s fascination with cowboy culture and Western wear highly influence them in creating the fashion pieces. Manuel Cuevas and Jaime Castaneda also emigrated to Los Angeles. They start to incorporate Western-wear design with elements highly influenced by Native American art, Mexican folk art, and religious iconography.

During post-World War II America, due to the popularity of all things, Western created a demand for fancy cowboy garments that could only be partially appeased by rodeo tailors around the country. Influenced by the colorful costumes worn by entertainers and rodeo stars, commercial manufacturers such as Rockmount Ranch Wear launched their own shirts. But some artists still choose to go on stage in homemade costumes modeled on Nudie, Turk, and Rodeo Ben’s dazzling creations.

The rodeo tailors had created work that applies a powerful influence on Western-wear designers. One of the clothing houses, Union Western, took the inspiration and tailoring techniques from their predecessors’ expression of the Western-style. The modern spins on classic suits and vintage costumes can be seen on various artists including Post Malone, Lil Nas X, Charley Crockett, Margo Price, Jenny Lewis, and Midland.

Currently, the exhibit can be seen online through here.

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