New York — It's "high noon" for cowboy hats -- east of the Hudson as well as west of the Pecos. Long a fashion of the West, with Dallas and Houston riding herd as the leaders, Western dress has more than moseyed into New York, Washington, Boston, and other Eastern cities.
"There was a time you would be laughed at if you showed up on the streets of New York in a cowboy hat," says Jean Driscoll of the Men's Fashion Association (MFA). "Now the East is learning what the West has known all along -- that the [Western] clothes are comfortable as well as fashionable."
While there are statistics to back up the tremendous increase in the sale of Western wear, this reporter can personally attest to the fact one is no longer laughed at on Fifth Avenue.
I recently came into New York's La Guardia airport on a flight from Texas in a newly purchased pair of black boots and a white hat. I must admit that although the plane was filled with others in the same kind of cowboy garb, I wore mine only because the wide-brimmed hat and tall boots were too big to fit into any suitcase.
Possibly being mistaken for a Texas oil millionaire, I had no trouble at all finding a redcap, an airport employee who sometimes seems scarcer than a snowstorm in Dallas in July.
Joy Heckendorf, managing editor of Western Wear & Equipment Magazine based in Denver, says there are several reasons for the rush to Western dress. Movies such as "Urban Cowboy" have popularized the duds, as well "a big push for Country & Western Singers like Kenny Rogers." Top designers such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein have picked up the trend by making "quality" -- i.e. expensive -- Western clothes. Perhaps more important, the Western Wear editor says, is a "whole movement around the US toward traditional values."
Did the election of Ronald Reagan, a Westener, have anything to do with the trend, she was asked? "It was here before he was," she assures the interviewer.
A spokesman for the Western & English Manufacturing Association says that its 80 members rang up an average nationwide sales growth of 30-to-40 percent last year. The association says cowboy hats alone corralled some $325 million in sales in 1980, up substantially from previous years.
In New York, at Billy Martin's Western Wear store -- owned by the former New York Yankees manager -- it is not unusual to see women in fur coats asking to try on cowboy boots. "Sales have tripled in the last six months," says store manager Larry Degray. But part of the reason, he adds, is because the store moved to its Madison Avenue location just six months ago from a side street off Madison.
Meanwhile, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, and other stores located primarily in Eastern cities have opened Western wear departments. And it almost goes without saying that posh Neiman-Marcus, headquartered in Dallas, has one, joining seemingly dozens of shops in that city catering to Western wear enthusiasts.
The New York social scene is taking notice too. Tricia Wilson & Associates, a Dallas-based interior design firm, is tossing a party for prominent restaurateur George Lang, owner of New York's Cafe Des Artists. It promises to be the last work in Lone Star State fashion. Western clothes and decorations will set the tone, and even Texas chili is being flown in for the occasion. Mr. Lang, born in Hungary, is expected to wear at least a one- or two-gallon hat.