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c. 1940s-1980s

Nudie’s suits

Nudie Cohn almost single-handedly dictated how the West was worn.

Given that he would almost single-handedly dictate how the West was worn (albeit a very glamorous — some would say kitsch — remix of the West), Nudie Cohn could not have had a less-Western background if he tried.

He was born Nuta Kotlyarenko, in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1902. In 1913, his parents dispatched him and his brother Julius to the U.S., escaping the pogroms rampant in Russia. Nuta took himself across America, supporting himself by boxing and shining shoes.

“Nudie’s for the Ladies”

In 1934 he wed for the first time, and he and his wife Helen opened a store in New York City — “Nudie’s for the Ladies” — selling handmade showgirl underwear. The pair then relocated to the Sunshine State, expanded their clothing range, and opened “Nudie’s for Hollywood” — and made the decision to go all-in on Western wear.

And Nudie did not hold back. If there was room for an extra rhinestone, an extra rhinestone would be found. The clothing equivalent of a neon arrow, Nudie gave suits for free to performers Tex Williams and Porter Wagoner, who wore them on stage — and thus inflamed demand.

By 1963, the business had grown to such a point that Nudie needed a larger premises, and the store became “Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors.”
Individual Nudie suits have become iconic in their own right, none more so than the gold lamé suit that Elvis wore on the cover of the 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong album. The suit cost a cool $2,500 — in the 1950s.

Nudie also clothed Hank Williams, John Lennon, and notably, Gram Parsons. Going beyond the typical tropes of cactus, horseshoe, and lasso, Parsons’ suit was embroidered with marijuana leaves, pills, opium poppies, and unclothed women.

Nudie himself died in 1984. The shop soldiered on for another decade under the eye of his then-wife Bobbie before finally riding off into the sunset in 1994.  Today, if you’re looking for an original Nudie suit, be prepared to part with at least $25k — or save yourself some money and visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, where his suits are exhibited behind glass.

1957: Elvis poses with Nudie Cohn in his $2500 gold lame suit. He only wore the full suit twice on stage – on March 28, 1957 Elvis, wore it at the Saddle and Sirloin Club at the Stockyards Inn in Chicago, and he also wore it on March 29, 1957 at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, Missouri.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
1970s: Emmylou Harris, Nudie Cohn and Dolly Parton
Chris Walter/WireImage
1969: Gram Parsons, posed in a Nudie suit
Jim McCrary/Redferns
1958: Country singer Ira Louvin holds his mandolin and his brother Charlie Louvin holds an acoustic guitar as “The Louvin Brothers” pose for a portrait wearing embroidered Nudie Cohn.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
1969: (L-R) Drummer Michael Clarke pedal steel player “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, bassist Chris Ethridge, guitarist Chris Hillman and singer Gram Parsons of the country rock band “The Flying Burrito Brothers” pose for a portrait session drinking beers and playing cards around a wooden table on a patio wearing their Nudie Suits.
Jim McCrary/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
A 1968: Country singers and collaborators Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton pose for a portrait with their back up band, “The Wagonmasters”, in circa 1968. Mr. Wagoner is wearing a Nudie Suit designed by Nudie Cohn of Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Country singer Porter Wagoner chats with his clothing designer Nudie Cohn at his store, Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors, on March 3, 1973 in Los Angeles, California.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
1957: Elvis performs on stage in his $2500 gold-leaf Nudie suit.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
1957: Elvis Presley in his gold Nudie suit.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
1970: Nudie Cohn
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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