Why Were Cowboys Wearing Big Denim Cuffs?

Have you ever wondered why cowboys during the 1930’s and 1940’s were wearing their jeans with big cuffs? You will see those cuffs most of the times on a lot of old cowboys pictures from the Old West.

denim cuffs

Shrink-to-Fit

To start with is the fact that fabrics which were used for those jeans back than were shrink-to-fit. This means that the fabric wasn’t Sanforized. Sanforized denim fabrics (invented by American Sanford L. Cluett in the late 1920’s) are treated at the denim mill to reduce shrinking. Normally Sanforized fabrics will shrink around 1 – 3%.

Unsanforized Denim Fabrics

Unsanforized denim fabrics, also known as loomstate or shrink-to-fit, don’t get any treatment at the denim mill. This means that these fabrics will shrink up around 10% after the first wash. When you buy a pair of jeans made with unsanforized demim fabric you will have to keep in mind to size up your waistsize by two and the length of your jeans at least with 3 inches.

The jeans from the cowboys period were made with unsanforized denim fabrics. Cowboys were wearing their jeans every day; day in, day out. They didn’t wash their jeans so much, so they had to cuff their jeans because of the long length. The cuffs weren’t a fashion statement, or because of the fact that they want to show that their jeans were made of a selvedge fabric. It was just as a practical thing. But as the jeans were cuffed and those cowboys were most of the time on their horses they used those (high) cuffs as a handy place to keep several personal belongings as their cigarettes and tobacco. For the cowboys it was easier to put these into their cuffs instead of their saddle bags.

denim cuffs

denim cuffs

Boys In High School

Later boys in high school would use the cuffs as extra pockets too. They used it for their coins, candy, and even pencils. Nowadays you will see the cuffs again at the true denimheads who want to show that their jeans are made with selvedge fabrics produced on shuttle looms. Those selvedge fabrics are a symbol of authentic, durable, and high-quality made pairs of jeans. Those jeans are part of the denim community, and the wearers are the modern cowboys.

denim cuffs

Written by Wouter Munnichs
I'm the founder of Long John. Next to running this daily magazine, I'm working as a freelance denim specialist for the industry. Titled as 'Denim Influencer 2020' by Rivet 50. Celebrated my 10th anniversary with Long John in 2021.