History records that the bib-front shirt (aka the cowboy bib shirt), contrary to popular belief, didn’t actually originate with the cowboy on the Western frontier or as the shirt issued to horse soldiers of the U.S. Cavalry, but was a garment designed for early 19th century firefighters both in the U.S. and abroad. Designed to withstand the rigors of early firefighting, where equipment was drawn by huge teams of horses and fires were essentially fought by hand, the pullover, dual-layered, bib-fronted shirt was found to not only meet the need for a rugged, long-wearing upper garment, but also look quite smart and stylish to boot.

Later, this style of shirt made its appearance as part of the military garb worn by cavalry regiments during the U.S. Civil War and, with that conflict’s conclusion, made its way west on the backs of former soldiers seeking fame and fortune in the vast yet sparsely inhabited frontier. From there, the bib-fronted shirt became popular with the American cowboy for, like the rest of his Western uniform, he wore and carried little that wasn’t of immediate use to him and only items of such quality and construction that they could withstand the harshness of daily cowboy use since he spent so much of his time on horseback. And thanks to the newfangled sewing machine, a mid-19th century invention of Isaac Singer, clothing that was once totally handmade and hand-sewn could now be mass produced in factories and purchased off the shelf at the local dry goods store. This contributed immensely to the popularity and availability of the more intricately sewn bib-fronted shirt…

Read more at Guns Of The Old West.

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