Cowboy Duds on a Budget
By Abilene, SASS # 27489
When I started CAS I was like a lot of other folks. My bank account was not as big as my enthusiasm! Four guns, if you don't already have them, can be expensive! Leather ain't too cheap either, and even for reloaders the ammo is a cost factor. Then there are those expensive duds! My oh my! Well, the expensive stuff does seem to be mostly pretty high quality and the makers have a very limited market so they have to charge more than the mass produced jeans and shirts we are used to buying at Wally World.
When I first started I had two pistols, a .44 Special SAA and a .45 Vaquero. I asked a CAS guy at a gun show if there were handgun-only classes for those without long guns, and he said no. Dang, I was gonna have to spend money on a rifle and shotgun which didn't interest me too much (at that time!). Now I'm sure glad it was like that and I love the long guns as well!
So spending $500 or more for an outfit wasn't too feasible. Scrounge time. My mom was always a garage saler and flea market bargain hunter, and some of that rubbed off on me. Time to do a little Southern Engineering on the wardrobe.
Now, for my very first shoot I didn't even have boots. I had a pair of shoes that zip up the sides with high tops, about 6 inches. Well, with the trousers over the shoes, they looked a lot like boots! And I wore a pair of black jeans with suspender buttons added, as suggested in the SASS handbook. I borrowed a cheap hat from my brother. Don't have a photo of that outfit, but the first picture you see was what I wore for several shoots right after that. I have just a little over $100 in that entire outfit, minus the gunleather. Most of that was for the boots. Not too shabby!
Here's the details, starting with the boots. These were well-used Cavalry boots bought from a friend for $50. Another $35 to replace the worn out heels, then $5 for a pair of conchos to spiff them up. They were a little large for my feet but perfect when I put a foam insert in the bottom and wore two pair of socks, and all that added padding helped with being on my feet all day. The pants are a wool pair of dress pants from the Goodwill that had a subtle stripe thing happening. These already had suspender buttons. I think I paid $6 for them. The gray banded color shirt and the suspenders (which can't be seen) were given to me by a brother. But lets say you don't have a generous brother. I've bought several banded color shirts at Goodwill for $6. And sure, a shirt with a collar would be fine, too. Both would be period correct, although it wouldn't matter if they weren't. Both are definitely silver screen correct. A shirt pocket might not be period correct either, but you can't tell if it is under a vest and I like to use them for sunglasses, pen, etc. You can spend $15 on a decent but inexpensive pair of suspenders. I've found a goodly variety of them cheap on E-bay, as little as $5 each (plus shipping, of course). The black suede vest I must admit was found on sale in the women's department at K-Mart. $6. Fits good. I made the arm garters from a short piece of black elastic with some little decorative metal stud thingies from the craft store attached. The bandana was $1 from the craft store. The scarf slide is just a favorite ring of mine. The hat, another item that can set you back a bunch, was free. It is a cheap felt hat my mom found in the attic. If I had to buy one like that at a second hand store, I can't imagine it being more than $5 or $10. Don't let the clothes nazis give you a hard time for wearing a hat with less than ten X's on it. Sure I'd like a high quality hat, and one day I'll have one (when I can find a used one for a bargain, heheh). My most expensive hat now is a 4X Resistol that I got on clearance at Shepler's for $50.
Even the leather I started with was pretty reasonable. Got a buscadero rig with added crossdraw for about $105 new. It was made in Mexico. The holsters are unlined, but other than that they aren't too bad. I still use that crossdraw sometimes with my nice Mernickle rig. I guess I should mention that I found a beautiful Bob Mernickle black rig with left and right strong side holsters at a gunshow for $75! A dealer in western art had taken them on a trade-in. I jumped on that gem! The lesson to be learned here is to keep your eyes open and keep looking! Occasionally bargains will cross your path, then jump on them!
Take a look at the second picture. These cost even less than the starter duds I mentioned. The hat is a Stetson wool felt, again on clearance at Shepler's for $20. It was one size too small, but the hat guy was able to stretch it out. It started out with a flat brim which I liked, but stretching it caused the front and rear to bend downward. That's okay, I like that, too! The bandana is another $1 item from the hobby store. Another $6 shirt and $6 vest from Goodwill. Let's add $10 for the braces underneath which you can't see. Those pants cost me $20 used. And the boots were only $13 at Goodwill. They are 2 inches shorter than my black Buffalo Runner stovepipe boots, but still look pretty good! That's $76 excluding sox and underwear!
As time went on I got lots more duds. Usually jumping on good deals when I found them. Got a couple vests on clearance, another in the SASS Classifieds, and a couple more from the Goodwill. Bought a few pair of new pants, but also bought a couple pair used. One of these only comes down to mid-calf, but when tucked in my boots no one can tell, and they were cheap! I did pay full price for a nice silk jacquard wild rag which I wear a lot as it goes with most of my outfits. East German military boots are available very inexpnsively from Sportsman's Guide. I understand that these are not very big in diameter so you might not be able to use them if your calves are big. Regular pointed toe cowboy boots are fine, of course, and these can be found fairly easily at second-hand stores.
Speaking of hats, in Texas and other areas that are sweltering in the summer, a lot of pards wear what would commonly be called straw hats, but are often made of Guatemalen Palm. These are available with large brims and tall crowns and can be very easily shaped into the common cowboy shapes. I picked up one of these at Texas Jack's for somewhere around $35. Later I found one at the Goodwill (you can see I go there a lot, huh?) for $3. It had a rather badly bent brim and crushed crown. Took it home, got it wet (cold water - no steam needed for these) and pushed the crown out until round and flattened the brim, then placed it on a flat surface with books on top of towels on the brim to keep it flat until it dried. Then I wetted it again and shaped it like I had seen George do at Texas Jack's. The result is seen in the 3rd photo. Oh yeah, that hatband cost $8 from some local pards, can't leave that out! So keep an eye out for these palm hats as they are very easy to work with.
A few brief words about leather. Some gunleather is really expensive! But it is usually worth it and will probably outlast you. However, it is not imperative to have top quality gear to start out. There are a lot of small-time leather suppliers, perhaps a member of a CAS club in your area, that have good deals. I will just suggest that you try to get holsters with a mouth that stays open after you draw the gun. Trying to return a gun to a holster with the mouth collapsing inward is no fun and can cause potentially result in a dropped gun! Just as in the concealed carry market, consumers often find themselves with a drawer full of holsters they don't use as they find their needs and tastes (and waist size!) changing. Ask at a local club and you may find several folks who have stuff they aren't using. They may want to sell it, and if not it is usually easy to find someone with extras they will be happy to let you use until you can get your own.
So you see you really don't have to go into debt to look decent. As the Handbook says, you can start out with the bare minimum (no ballcaps , T-shirts, or sneakers!) and nobody should look sideways at you if you don't look like you just walked out of a western movie like a lot of the other pards. But keep in mind that the clothing is an integral part of this game, and you really should make an effort to go beyond the minimum after you've had a chance to get all your gear together. But be inventive and shop wisely and you will have more money to sink into the most important items: MORE GUNS!
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