“Take me back to my boots and saddle. Let me see that general store.” — “Boots and Saddle”

 

I wonder how many boys or men got a jean jacket for Christmas, or a pair of cowboy boots.

There was a time when that was standard attire for the American male.

Jean jackets (I’ve also heard them called jumpers) have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. And they have been a part of American life as well.

Denim pioneer Levi Strauss reportedly developed them around 1880, about a decade after he came up with blue jeans.  

When I was growing up, tough guys wore them on the screen. On TV there was Chuck Connors in “The Rifleman” and Jack Lord in “Stoney Burke.” In the movies, Kirk Douglas in “Lonely Are the Brave” and Paul Newman in “Hud.” Just to name a few.

In those days we didn’t have the mind-boggling variety of coats and jackets available today. I had a jacket for cool weather and a heavy coat for cold. That was it.

Now my closet is chockful of jackets and coats, most of which were given to me, usually for Christmas. I’ve given several away, but more came in.

It has its limitations

One of the first jean jackets I owned as an adult was a denim barn coat made of very thin material. I made the mistake of wearing it on a winter rabbit hunt and spent the coldest morning of my life.

I had made the rookie miscalculation of stepping outside from the warmth of my wood heater before dawn and deciding it wasn’t really that cold outside. Once I got in the woods, though, that heat quickly dissipated. After a while I was more concerned with hypothermia than rabbits.

On the other hand, a jean jacket — traditional design, not the flimsy barn coat — served me well in cold weather in the high sierra of California.

We left the trailhead in mild conditions but hiked uphill into flurries and camped in a snowfield. The temperature dropped into the 20s, but with an insulated vest under my jacket and a campfire, I was toasty.

Generally speaking, though, a jean jacket isn’t much good when the temperature drops below the 50s. It’s also not effective in a heavy rain, as it soaks through and takes days to dry.

To be effective in cold weather, it needs to be blanket-lined or insulated with fleece, or else you need to wear warm clothes underneath.

The reason every male doesn’t own a jean jacket nowadays is the variety of other styles available: nylon, fleece, chamois, canvas and every possible combination thereof.  

Also, Carhartt canvas jackets cut deeply into the market, I suspect. Although Carhartt is nearly as old as Levi Strauss, the brand has really come into its own in recent years.

The lure of cowboy boots

Cowboy boots were another male necessity back in the day.

When I was little, boys wore three types of shoes: cowboy boots, Keds tennis shoes (similar to the canvas Converse models we see today) and Sunday dress shoes.

Except me.

When I was a toddler, my feet turned outward, so my doctor prescribed “correctional shoes” — big, awful, clunky, lace-up, ankle-high brown things that I hated. They looked like something Jed Clampett, Lurch or Frankenstein would wear.

My mother later learned they were unnecessary and that my feet would have naturally straightened up as I got older, but in the meantime I suffered, fashion-wise.

I’ll never forget the day the doctor released me from the accursed brogans. Our next stop was a shoe store — and a pair of black cowboy boots. You’ve never seen a happier young cowpoke.

Since then, I’ve never been without a pair of cowboy boots in some form or fashion: suede, tan, brown, black, square-toed, round-toed, pointy-toed, you name it.

Cowboy boots have come a long way over the years. Now some are as comfy and light as tennis shoes, almost.

All of which reminds me of a Tex Ritter album we had when I was a kid, with the song “Boots and Saddle.”

“Take me back to my boots and saddle, let me see that general store.”

Swap “jacket” for “saddle” and that pretty much sums it up.

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