Rodeo Ben Lichtenstein and his son, Rodeo Ben Jr., inside their Philadelphia store. Courtesy of Holly George-Warren and Michelle Freedman, How the West Was Worn

Part Two

Rodeo Ben:
The Expression of Perfection

Bernard “Rodeo Ben” Lichtenstein was the first celebrity Western-wear designer. Born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1893, he immigrated to America with his parents and siblings when he was fourteen. They settled in Philadelphia, where Lichtenstein opened his Rodeo Ben storefront and tailoring shop in 1930.

Assisted by his son, Gerson—nicknamed “Rodeo Ben Jr.”—he was soon designing finely tailored outfits for rodeo performers such as trick-shot artist Mamie Francis, and silver-screen cowboys Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers.

Drumming up business through mail-order catalogs, which touted his creations as “the expression of perfection,” and personal appearances at rodeo arenas, Lichtenstein cultivated a coast-to-coast customer base that included country music acts. His top-notch reputation among rodeo champions led a dungaree manufacturer to commission a design for denim jeans specifically for use in rodeo competitions. Rodeo Ben designed what became Wrangler’s classic Original Cowboy Cut in 1947—a style that is now inextricably linked to the American cowboy and part of the uniform for countless country artists. He remarked, “As long as I make the right stuff in the East, they’ll buy it in the West.”

Based in Boston, Jerry Howarth (left) and Schuyler “Sky” Snow brought the close harmony sound of country duos and a cowboy image to the New England region in the 1940s.

Jerry & Sky

Rodeo Ben made this two-tone wool gabardine outfit, embellished with chain-stitch embroidered flowers, contoured yoke, scalloped shotgun cuffs, whipcord piping, and “V” smile pockets with arrowhead stitching, for Schuyler “Sky” Snow of the duo Jerry & Sky.

Hawkshaw Hawkins at his final performance, on a bill with Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas in Kansas City, Kansas, March 3, 1963, two days before they were killed in a plane crash. Photo by Mildred Keith

Hawkshaw Hawkins

Rodeo Ben designed this bolero jacket, decorated with embroidered, rhinestone-encrusted hawks on the back and shoulders, for singer Hawkshaw Hawkins, best known for his #1 hit, “Lonesome 7-7203.”

Skeets Yaney

Skeets Yaney

Rodeo Ben made this checkered wool gabardine suit—adorned with embroidered leaves and musical notes, smile pockets with arrowhead stitching, contrasting piping, and eyelet lacing—for Skeets Yaney. A recording artist and popular radio performer on the St. Louis airwaves in the 1940s and 1950s, Yaney was known for his large wardrobe of fancy, custom-tailored Western suits.

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