Dallas — I'm too short to make a really convincing cowboy. It's a minor point, and not one that I frequently dwell on; but I have always lacked the stature to fill in the wide-open spaces between a pair of boots and a cowboy hat. So, somewhere in my late childhood, I gave up any dreams of ever living the legend of the West.
Robert Kelly, on the other hand, has no such worries. In his leather vest, slightly faded blue jeans, and weathered boots, he must stand a good six-foot-one and weigh a hefty 200 pounds, and he looks as though he wouldn't feel out of place swapping silence with Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson.
He also happens to be manager of a Western clothing store, called Cutter Bill , on the LBJ Freeway in north Dallas, which carries gear that, if Mr. Kelly is right, can make a plausible cowboy out of just about anybody. According to aficionados, Cutter Bill, which was named after a champion cutting horse (the kind used to "cut" steers out of the herd), ranks among the great Western clothing stores in the world.
Apparently, a lot of people think so.The Dallas store, with its golden horse sitting on a stone pillar, and its companion shop in Houston, corral $7 million to $8 million a year in sales between them. And no wonder. The stores pride themselves on using the most expensive leathers, rarest farm-grown alligator (and even ostrich) skins, and an occasional dash of mink in their cowboy hats.
"Everybody says when you go to Cutter Bill you're going to drop a lot of money," drawls Robert Kelly through a shaggy mustache. "But that's not necessarily true. We have boots that start at $120 for those who want to spend that little. On the other hand, we also carry Lucchese 18-inch gator- topped boots that go for $2,500."
So there's something for every pocketbook. Or almost every pocketbook.
Rummaging around his office (which sports a fine color photo of Cutter Bill, an autographed picture of John wayne, and one of John Connally), he comes up with an exquisitely printed store catalog offering what must be the obligatory gear for a Texas oilman celebrating a new gusher or dressing for a date with one of the Dallas Cowgirls.
Hand-tooled leather boots adorn the feet of models wearing horseshoe-shaped diamond pinky rings, silver-dollar belts with gold-inlay buckles, and hats that look too yieldingly comfortable to even mess up your hair. Saddles that you would hesitate to put on a horse -- they are so pretty and decorative -- sit beside heavy-oiled English leather harnesses and handmade harness leather reins. And a "Western-yoked velour robe, all plush and pamper in navy and cream," invites you to relax in a brown-and-white calf-hide calfhide seat, "hand-constructed, comfortable, and spectacular."
Browsing dreamily through these pages, one can't help wondering if clothes really do make the man. Could it be that, by spending a little money, I could realize my dreams of looking like a cowboy?
The young saleslady Mr. Kelly commended me to for my answer, eyeing my three-piece business suit, pavement-fatigued shoes, and hopelessly Eastern posture, seems skeptitical; but she gives it the old college try. So -- with a cowboy singer mournfully crooning in the background, "I've always been crazy, but it's kept me from going insane" -- I begin to suit up in the finest Western wear money can buy.
Black lizard-skin boots, tapered, shiny, ridged, and elegant, hug my feet and ankles. A calfskin vest, soft as a baby's kiss, has to be left open to show off a hand-tooled belt adorned with a shimmering silver-and-gold belt buckle. The hat (which comes in a box more elegant than most of my best clothing), a beautiful soft-brown, short mink with a thin band of neck feathers from a pheasant, sits on my head as gently as afternoon sunshine. For good measure, I don a calfskin jacket to match my calfskin carrying case. then, for finishing touches, an alligator wallet, sunglasses, and a boot bag.
Standing in front of the mirror, looking at all this, I realize that if I saw myself on the street, I'd say, "Now there goes one rich cowboy." I wasn't only authentic-looking. I was the real thing! Steve McQueen, move over. All that remained was to total up the cost, saddle up, and ride away into the sunset.
Now, let's see. . . . That's one pair of black lizard boots at $725. A pair of jeans for $30. One pale blue shirt, $45. A leather vest, $125. Belt and buckle, $289 (gold and silver are expensive). One really pretty bandana, $20 (it was specially matched to my outfit). Collar tips and a really neat miniature steer-head for my hat, $100. The hat itself, $1,000. Calfskin jacket , $375. Briefcase, $250. Alligator wallet, $200. Sunglasses, $35. Boot bag (you want a little protection when your boots cost this much), $40.
And that will come to only $3,234.
Sigh! As I was saying, I've always been too short to make a really convincing cowboy. Short of stature. And short of cash.