I’m kind of big on snap shirts. A.k.a. “pearl snap shirts,” or “western shirts.” I even heard a saleswoman yesterday call them “button-up” shirts, though I think she was referring to shirts that weren’t t-shirts or polo style. But finding the ultimate snap shirt is an ordeal.
It’s this category of men’s apparel, specifically casual shirts, that I’m enraptured with, and I want to help you find one as much as I want to help myself.
Readers will know from what I’ve written elsewhere how much I like snap shirts and how I’ve bought them over the years, even though I was born and raised in New York City and my family has California roots. There’s nothing to suggest cowboy-ness. In fact, my (Texan) wife said, “Only cowboys and dorks wear pearl snap shirts, and you’re not a cowboy.
I still love ’em and I buy ’em and I wear ’em.
But I can’t find this one particular shirt, so as I write I’m going to go on a journey, and perhaps you’ll come with me if you, too are looking for a snap shirt.
Why snap shirts?
As I mentioned above, I grew up in NYC, where now everyone wears black clothing — (true) — and it’s usually tight fitting because everyone has six-pack abs, even the dogs out for walks. Everyone is beautiful there. (Not like LA, but in an inimitable New York way.)
Snap shirts are a combination of throwback to simpler times and ultra-urban-hipster modern. More hip and cool than the black clothes wearing Manhattanites I grew up with and spent most of my adulthood with. They are colorful, cheery, simple, and give me a sense of peace and relaxation. Like I can be myself wearing them.
So there’s the fashion side and there’s the practical side.
The practical side is that:
- They’re easier to put on and easier to take off.
- They can get wrinkled and still look good. (Unless you’re wearing a really nice solid color Wrangler long-sleeved snap shirt and taking your belle to the rodeo. In that case, you want it starched and pressed.
- You can sweat in them and they don’t stank too bad, because they’re loose fitting.
- You can wear them tucked in (more formal), or loose. The cowboys wore them tucked in, and the tails of these shirts were made longer for that purpose — so that they wouldn’t come untucked so easily while working on the ranch or riding a horse. (True.)
- Unlike other buttoning shirts with plastic buttons, the buttons on snap shirts never come off or get broken. Or, at least, rarely do. So the shirt lasts longer and requires less maintenance. Cheaper to own in the long run.
You get the picture.
My inventory and what I lack
My first snap shirt was a Wrangler long sleeve that was mainly white and had a blue pattern as I recall.
This was in 1996, and when my wife, Karen, made that crack about cowboys and dorks, so it’s quite possible my memory of details has been damaged because of the trauma I experienced.
Over the years, I’ve bought long- and short-sleeved shirts, buying the latter only recently. In fact, I bought my first short-sleeved snap shirt in February 2018, after moving to Texas (Kerrville, in the Hill Country north of San Antonio). I did so, because I knew this was now home, and the warmer months were soon arriving, and a long-sleeved shirt wouldn’t cut it. My other shirts were fine for New York City but now I needed to augment my wardrobe.
I’d occasionally get to wear my snap shirt to one of the jobs I had in New York, because it was a relaxed church atmosphere. One time, a coworker and I showed up with almost identical clothes: jeans and a brown snap shirt. Needless to say, it was good we worked on different floors and had no group meetings together that day!
Also, fabric is very important, especially in a hot place like Texas.
When I lived in New York, I owned and still do a long-sleeved black snap shirt with brown stitching. Really beautiful shirt. Cost me close to $100. But it’s made of silk. Now, silk is pretty good in warm weather, but it can get sweat stains and also — more importantly — would never appear on any man in Kerrville, Texas. Just wouldn’t.
So, that will stay closeted until I travel to NYC next in a cooler month.
Most recent experience
Yesterday I went to Billy’s Western Wear looking for a specific short-sleeved snap shirt. I didn’t find it. Which placed me in the dilemma that prompted this article.
The shirt I was looking for was a red and blue plaid with fairly broad stripes. Not a lot of white.
Didn’t find it.
This isn’t totally unusual. I have had less success at Billy’s than elsewhere, but with the Internet, for better or worse and as we all know, our decision-making process early on incorporates the statement, “Well, if I can’t find it ___ [fill in name of favorite local retailer where your neighbors work], I can always get it on Amazon.” Which is true. One of my friends ordered a front driver-side panel for his Mercedes off Amazon and had a friend who worked at a local body shop put in on.
A car side panel! On Amazon!
Increasingly, the older I get, the more I want to shop local. I see that the places I go to get things in a pinch or as part of my daily routine actually do employ my neighbors. I want to keep this small town strong. There’s a woman who’s a receptionist at a doctor’s office who also works at a restaurant we go to. These are our neighbors in Kerrville, also trying to make a living — though there are a lot of wealthy retirees here from Houston — and I want to support them.
So long as they have quality goods and provide quality service. If I can’t find something, and I know it’s not nearby, Amazon is getting the click.
My — and your — options for snap shirts
Which brings me to the Amazon “option.” I’ve bought two snap shirts off of Amazon, and neither has been great.
But they both have been “good enough.” Yet, if they were in stores here, I can’t say that I would have got them.
On one of them, long-sleeved solid blue, there’s a button up tag that will hold up the sleeve if you roll it up. It’s practical for those who work with their hands, but for me it takes away from being formal, which is what I wanted it for. During the height of COVID, I needed a shirt that I could wear on video calls but I could also re-use and it not wrinkle or look sweaty. This served the purpose.
The other shirt I bought was short-sleeved and white with blue and grey. It was ok, but was a bit too roomy. The online sizing was hard to decipher, and this is the key problem with buying shirts online. If you know the maker and the size match shirts you’ve bought in person, or match others you’ve bought online, no problem. Otherwise, buyer beware.
- Other online retailer
- Store in mall
- Free-standing store
- Yard sale (true)
- eBay (I saw one recently that looked awesome, but it got sold before I could even bid)
The ultimate men’s snap shirt: where to look
To expand a bit on the above options:
- Amazon // Be careful when ordering from a manufacturer you don’t know. Sizing is tricky here. If you know the manufacturer and size you wear in their style, go for it.
- Other online retailers:
- Billy’s Western Wear // Stores in Kerrville, TX, and Boerne, TX. Online here.
My recommendation: If you’ve not ordered a snap shirt before, go with Wrangler your first time.
Because, after all this, that’s probably where I’ll end up.