Country's Sharp-Dressed Men--And The Designers Who Style Them

This appeared in Country Fever Magazine - January/February 1995

The clothes definitely make the man. So decided Marty Stuart as a youngster when he would go hear a band. In fact, for him, it was almost as if the clothes made the music. "I'd hear some great records on the radio, then I'd go see them [the artists] in concert. Sometimes they'd be in plain suits, just standing there singing. I'd think, This is boring. Get them out of here. When I would see Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours, I would stop to study what they really looked like, as well as listen to them. I always looked at Elvis Presley, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash, Flatt & Scruggs. I caught on real fast that the guys who had an image just made their music sound better.

When he began playing professionally at the tender age of 13, Marty began saving money for his "duds." "I was working with Lester [Flatt] and we were going to California to play some shows. I got somebody to take me by Nudie's," he says of the premier Western-wear shop in North Hollywood that only recently closed its doors. "I had $250 in my pocket which, of course, would buy one part of one sleeve. It just broke my heart and [then-designer for Nudie's] Manuel said, 'You come back in here one day and we'll get you a suit,' and he gave me a shirt. We hit it off from that time on. It's a beautiful shirt and, while we were inventorying my collection recently, I ran across it. It was very cool to see," says Stuart, who considers the pieces artifacts and now has a collection that includes suits which belonged to Hank Williams Sr., George Jones, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, David Allan Coe, Mel Tillis, The Maddox Brothers and clothes from Rose Maddox. He even owns clothes that belonged to Nudie himself.

Stuart's collection arose from necessity, however. "A couple of people who used to work with Manuel were going to become independent designers. They came to Nashville with a bunch of beautiful clothes in their car. They came by our house when I was married to Cindy Cash and we took some photographs with them to get some promotional shots going for their clothes. I was going to do a showcase to try and get a record deal and asked to borrow the coat, but the guy wouldn't loan it to me. I think he was trying to get a record deal, too. I thought to myself, Well, starting in the morning, I'll do something about this where I'll never have to ask anybody for their clothes again. I got out the musician's directory and started calling people who used to wear them. The first guy I came across who wasn't interested in keeping them was Porter Wagoner's guitar player, Bruce Osborne. He sold me those suits at a real fair price," says Stuart, who recalls he had to borrow $500 from his mom to buy those first two suits.

When Stuart got his own deal in 1986, he approached designer Manuel with the image he had in his mind. "In 1985, I went into Manuel's and said, 'Manuel, I want a short-black waistcoat.' He said, 'Nobody wears those anymore.' I said, 'Exactly. I want a waistcoat, a bolero jacket.' Those first Porter Wagoner suits were waistcoats and I liked the look. We did a black-on-black waistcoat, which is in the Country Music Hall of Fame now. I started seeing ragged jeans and real cool Nudie boots with T-shirts and a belt. If you wore the pants to those old suits, you got beat up," Stuart laughs. "So I thought it was treating it with a little irreverence. Right after that, Dwight went to Manuel. It's nothing that hadn't been done a long time before; it was just rebottling an old formula."

By Robyn Flans

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