The Inventor of The Pearl Snap Shirt

by Thomas Brady


From the I’d-be-lying-if-I-said-this-didn’t-fascinate-me and okay-yeah-half-my-wardrobe-is-pearl-snaps bureau…

Design Observer interviews Jack Weil, inventor of the pearl snap cowboy shirt. Some highlights:

Back in the 1940s, Jack A had realized that the cowboy shirt could be something more than a simple product. The idea behind the cowboy shirt, he said, was to reflect the flamboyance of the rodeo riders, their reckless bravado. His job was to translate those qualities into the language of pattern and cut: shaped cuffs, bold yokes, tapered waists, and vibrant colors. “In those days, when cowboys rode into town they wore simple chamois shirts and denim Levis. They had two or three months pay in their pocket to raise hell with and get drunk and I got the idea that they’d buy a few fancy shirts while they were at it.” His innovation, in other words, was to sell back to the cowboy the very idea of what their life was all about. From the start he realized that an industry couldn’t be built solely on the boom-and-bust spending cycles of the then dwindling cowboy. He had to attract other customers, the type of people who were turning up in Denver just after the war to attend Elks Conventions or go to the rodeo. “I had to appeal to a public who considered the western way of life truly American, and those were people who mostly didn’t live out here. Easterners ate this stuff up.” Having come from Indiana himself at a time when “the west was still about romance,” he viscerally understood this market. He was selling his products to people just like himself.

This is a DiCaprio project in the works, I bet: 

In 1946, when the war was over, he traveled by train to the swanky offices of the Scovill Manufacturing Company — located in New York City’s Chrysler Building. Scovill made the highest quality industrial snaps in America. Jack was seen by a junior sales rep in a double breasted suit who told him point blank that it simply wasn’t feasible to put a Scovill snap on something as flimsy as a shirt.The rep was showing him the door when Jack realized that he had to do something dramatic in order to meet a higher-up, someone with more clout, otherwise the trip would be a wash out. So in the loudest voice he could muster he shouted, “If I bought these Scovill snaps and paid for them and ate them like cereal then its nobody’s goddamn business but my own.” A boss quickly emerged from an office to see what the commotion was all about. Jack A seized his chance and pitched the idea. Ten minutes later the two of them were sitting down across a desk working out the design applications. Jack didn’t blame the underling. “It’s not always easy to get those corporate guys to step out of the mainstream.”

He also basically invented the bolo tie.

I’m pretty sure one of my favorite shirts is a Rockmount Ranch. They’re still in business today, though Jack and his son have recently passed.