The green grass is growing, the days are getting longer, and we can’t hide our ratty sleeves and frayed collars under our coats any longer. It’s time for new shirts.

Besides brand, price, cut, color and material, there’s that plaguing question when it comes to Western wear: Buttons or pearl snaps?

The Western shirt was born of pure utility. The yoke over the back provided extra fabric in an area that needed reinforced durability. The long sleeves protected cowboys, cowgirls and ranchers from the elements, and the long shirttails kept those tops well-tucked in. The flap pockets kept treasures from getting lost on a long trot, and the cuffs helped keep shirt sleeves from getting tangled up in the complications that a day’s work might bring. Back in the day of mending and making one’s own clothes, a cowboy settled on snaps over buttons because it was much easier to untangle a snapped shirt out of barbed wire than to pack a needle and thread to try and sew on a button that came loose.

It’s true — Western shirts boasted real mother-of-pearl snaps when they first hit the scene. The trouble with that material was that it cracked with heavy use and laundering, so the modern-day shirt’s “pearl” snaps are actually made of a synthetic poly-top snap that was introduced in the 1950s.

So, I decided to run a straw poll amongst some cowboys, cowgirls, horse trainers and general Western shirt aficionados whom I’ve come to know and respect. The results were somewhat surprising.

Because our world is a fairly small, opinionated one, I figured there would be a very clear winner when I began asking what everyone preferred. WRONG. It was a total split. Some of us love snaps, and some of us are button people.

Photo courtesy Panhandle

Across the board, I would say the gals I spoke with leaned toward button shirts, mostly because of how easily snaps can come undone. I would also say with confidence that the men came in stronger pro-snaps. Oddly enough, come to think of it, for the same reason. One of my friends said he preferred buttons because, that way, his snaps wouldn’t break should he ever wind up in fisticuffs.

Several others mentioned that snaps could be too punchy when paired with a sportcoat, and buttons overall look more polished. One rancher said he liked snaps better because they would break loose easier should he tangle in the mesquite, and he was less likely to miss supper that way. The musicians I had asked prefer buttons because snaps can scuff up the back of a mandolin in just a show or two. And honestly, a lot of the cowboys I know liked pearl snaps best because, well, they are just more cowboy.

Some loved the snaps because they are easier to fasten with sore, work-worn fingers, though one girl polled thought that snaps were too tricky to push together (she was seven years old, to be fair). Snaps are retro-cool, and buttons are classy-cool.

Buttons, snaps or on the fence, it just doesn’t get much better to me than a good ol’ Western shirt.

Well, if I’ve learned anything from my little backyard poll, it’s this: If you prefer snaps, make sure they are fastened up tight, and don’t let your shirt come untucked so that you won’t hang it on your saddle horn and pop it all open in public. (Or do!)

And if you are a button person, pick a brightly colored Western shirt so that if you get tangled in the mesquite or barbed wire, we can come find you.



  1. Noticed that most who preferred buttons weren’t cowboy’n. On needs a shirt pocket with a flap that they can get into quick. Sometimes with gloves. Caught a button shirt on a pommel holster during a dismount and had to sew on 6 buttons and fix a tear. I only wear snaps now.

    • TR "Tex Rex" Canaday Reply

      I definitely prefer snaps as I have had shirts catch on gates and fence and if I’d had buttons it would’ve gone badly either losing buttons or tearing the shirt. Plus snaps look better. Also in a snap shirt you can easily do that superman move with your shirt!
      Now what is be interested in hearing/reading jingle bobs or no jingle bobs on y’all’s spurs?

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