Friday, October 19, 2012

Western Movies & Women's Wear


Western Movie: Shane starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin
Movie: Shane

by Stephen Bly

The main drawback to some western movies is what I call "Shane's Disease." This is a cinematic illness that's non-fatal, but that weakens a tad an otherwise decent movie.


For instance, in a couple different scenes of Tom Selleck's Last Stand at Saber River, Lorraine Kidston (played well by Tracey Needham) wears pants. The movie is set in 1865, Arizona Territory. No lady of any standing would have dreamed of wearing pants.


The two chief weaknesses in my opinion to the classic western Shane are the whiney incessant cries by Joey Starrett (Brandon De Wilde), "Shane! Come back Shane!" and the fact that Marian Starrett (played by Jean Arthur) wears pants. Other than that, the film adaptation of Jack Schaefer's novel is classic.

Women's Dress in western drugstore 1917
General Store in 1917

Now, let me make one thing clear. I don't mind women wearing pants. I like the looks of a gal in jeans. When it comes to a novel or film though, I want them to make it historically correct. The only pre-1900 references to women wearing pants I can find is a couple of Arizona stagecoach robbers in the early 1890s. They dressed as men and held up a stage. And Calamity Jane (noted most as a petty thief and one who seldom took a bath) would on a drunken occasion wear men's clothing. That shocked the women of Deadwood. They figured even a soiled dove like CJ would have the decency to wear a dress.


The split skirt became popular among horse women in the late 1890s. And in the era of the 'cowboy girl' from 1905 to 1930, split skirts were preferred by most women who rode horses. The 'roaring twenties' gave women the freedom to break a few clothing habits. Still, even in the '30s, women seldom wore pants.


Check this out for yourself. Look at old family pics. I do recall a photo of my mother and dad in 1939 in the snow on a ski trip where she wore pants, boots and a heavy coat.


WWII changed women's habits the most. So many gals had to work in the defense industry, where pants constituted a safety requirement. After that, pants became more common for gals.

So, for me, "Shane's Disease" is about appropriate attire, but also applies to women's hair styles. Don't get me started on that. You can tell what decade a movie was made by looking at the hair.

Copyright 2008 by Stephen Bly
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What do you pay attention to most when you're watching a movie?
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