My husband and brother-in-law have traded wearing one particular Ely Cattleman pearl-snap for more than 20 years. This year, the 140-year-old brand will start selling directly to its customers for the first time.
The PR team from Ely Cattleman—the storied brand founded in 1878 by Frank Ely and David Walker—reached out to me with an idea. The company, whose retail business originated selling dry goods out of covered wagons, would be launching a direct-to-consumer website, and could we write something about them?
Sure, we'll try, I said. Well, normal deadlines and fashion shoots and an office-wide move and jury duty and hiring our new fashion editor kept me from pursuing much of an attempt. That is until a sign presented itself to me one morning folding laundry. An old faded short-sleeved striped pearl-snap, the one my husband has worn on weekends or to the ranch or for backyard barbecues for at least 10 years, lay open atop the pile of clothes. He had worn it the previous weekend at his family's South Texas ranch. Right there under the collar, a tag embroidered with “ELY CATTLEMAN SINCE 1878.”
How did this “Big Man” cotton-blend pearl-snap wind its way into my husband’s starched and city-made wardrobe in the first place? I knew the general story, but decided to go straight to my sources for some historic perspective.
“It was my brother’s friend’s grandfather’s,” my husband said. “He stayed out at their ranch in high school and ‘borrowed’ it. Then he left it at home when he went to college and then I started wearing it in high school.”
My brother-in-law delivered a similar story. “I found the shirt at a ranch house in Liberty Hill, Texas, where my friend’s grandmother lived. Belonged to the grandfather. We had a high-school get-together one weekend and I requisitioned it. No telling what happened to the one I arrived in. Regardless, I took it back to Austin and it became a favorite.”
It’s also an old shirt so it’s very soft and comfortable. Reminds me of what my grandfather wore on the ranch.
I went to the ultimate source, my mother-in-law, who confirmed the facts. Yet in all the years my husband wore this treasured garment—through high school and college and beyond—I never asked why he loved this perennial favorite so much. Here’s what he said when I posed the question to him recently:
“I’ve always been a sucker for pearl snaps. It’s also an old shirt so it’s very soft and comfortable. Reminds me of what my grandfather wore on the ranch. Every time I wear it, it takes me back to ranch life, sitting in the yard overlooking the Nueces River. It connects me to the past.”
It sounds like that’s exactly what Ely Cattleman wants to do as it unfolds its modern business blueprint: make it possible for everyone to connect to their past and their Western heritage.
The launch of the new Ely Cattleman website will mark the first time the established Westernwear brand’s entire collection will be available in one place, including its iconic collection of traditional men’s shirts and classic denim jeans made right here in the United States.
PBR athlete and Top 20 world finalist bull rider Taylor Toves seems to be on board, since he has joined other professional bull riders and barrel racers in Ely Cattleman’s latest campaign. Ely Cattleman is also an official sponsor of the PBR Velocity Tour, which takes place in 25 cities across the United States.
To help celebrate the continuation of such an authentic Western brand, I think I’ll buy my husband a new Ely Cattleman pearl-snap. Not to replace his trusted go-to, but with the hopes that someday, we’ll have a grandchild whose friend “borrows” it from us and makes it their favorite old shirt.
Photography: Courtesy Emily C. Laskowski