Western shirts and dead men's suits: The lost art of rocker style

From '60s Western Miller shirts to '70s suede jackets, there's a brigade of male performers pegging their wardrobes on a bygone era all in the name of rock'n'roll.

Melbourne musician Henry Wagons is one such lover of retro culture. When on stage, you'll find him rocking a gold sequined jacket, cowboy boots and western shirts. He's one shake Wild West meets an electrified country twang and styles his stage outfits in much the same way he writes a song.

Wagons, who has been making music for the past 20 years, describes himself as a tailored gent more than a distressed cowboy, preferring quality garments when it comes to vintage outfits.

"Both my music and my outfits are wrapped around my musical heroes," says Wagons.

"I have a devotion to all those '70s guys whether it be Elvis Presley and his famous capes or Waylon Jennings covered in suede. They are an important part to my creative output and I love channelling that on stage," he says.

Rock's fashion revival

When Wagons first started making music, trying to find a rose embroidered Western shirt was near impossible, but thanks to brands like Wrangler who have mythologised the cowboy look, a revival has long been underway.

But while vintage brands are a hit in his wardrobe, Wagons also says he's hooked on the glorified '60s mood of local labels like Jack London too. "They make a killer sequined jacket which I wear all the time," he adds.

A reflection of the sound

New Zealand-born, now Melbourne-based, musician Matt Joe Gow channels Americana in his songwriting and you'll always find him building his look on a similar theme. Think embroidered western shirts, skinny black ties and black suits for a nod to a country.

"When it comes to style and being on stage I try to do my best to reflect who I am as a musician and the music I am playing," says Matt Joe Gow who says Johnny Cash plays a big part in his musical inspiration.

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"Sometimes we rock the Americana look too. Our pedal steel player wears a cowboy hat and I recently bought a vintage H Bar C shirt which really transports you back in time because it's a classic slice of that era," says Gow.

A clash of cultures

Then there's the '70s punk of The Clash that gets channelled by musician Luke Yeoward who also has a hankering for rockabilly and 60s mod.

"I've always looked to The Clash for everything style related," says Luke Yeoward.

"They knew how to do it right and weren't afraid to change their look up either. I also love the 1950's of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. They were excellent dressers," he says.

Music's influence

Yeoward says it was music that introduced him to fashion style.  

"Music pioneers have always paved the way for me and presented looks I would never have seen on the streets of the small town I grew up in," he reflects of his youth spent in New Zealand.

"I always loved people that looked different even at the risk of being rejected our attacked for it. I love the elements of mod and skinhead culture from Britain – it meant you tried hard to look your best so nobody knew you were on the bones of your arse. But I also love the influences of American Rock and Roll too," he says.

Rhythm and blue suits

Best known for his trumpet playing with The Cat Empire, jazz musician Harry James Angus is touring a solo album with a nine-piece band and lives in Byron Bay. It's not uncommon to find him wearing a beautifully crafted suit (a rich dark blue one by The Kooples) and interpreting the jazz legends that came before.

"Wearing a suit on stage puts me in a different psychological place. It reminds me to play my music a little more crafted," says Harry James Angus.

"When it comes time to play jazz or gospel the suit goes on and my whole approach changes. The music is slightly more stylised and the suit definitely influences that," he says.

Dead man's style

Mikel Simic who performs as Mikelangelo and lives in country NSW, rocks a macramé owls lyrca jumpsuits to vintage '40s inspired two piece suits. He describes his style as "dressing in dead men's suits" since the age of 19 and at 47, sees no reason to alter his approach. He's also been rocking a pompadour since 1997.

"I love the crooners from Dean Martin and Elvis to contemporary balladeers like Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen," says Mikel Simic.

"Sharp suits have always appealed to me and what I've worn for most of my life. I usually wear and cowboy or Chelsea boots with open collared shirts. I'm a big fan of pearled pressed studs for quick changes," he says.

Embrace the plurality

He mostly purchases shirts, suits and pants from Anton's in Sydney and Skin Deep (now based in Katoomba) and adores a powder blue '70s number that was given to him by his Croatian aunt. You'll find him rocking a two–piece checkered suit as much as you'll see him in '40s silhouettes.

"As much as I am amazed by different eras of dress, I'm not a purist," says Simic.

"I don't dream of living in a time when things were different. I think the plurality of the world today is wonderful. As far as style goes, you really can do whatever you want."

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