Nudie Suits Sewed Up Country Music’s Glitzy Years
The name brand was “Nudie,”and those who wore them were considered the best-dressed country music stars of all time.
The Nudie suit was the “get noticed” stage costume for country performers for more than four decades. Originally created by Ukrainian-born Nudie Cohn and his company, Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors, the outfits featured over-the-top rhinestone-covered suits with bold designs and colors that shined bright under stage lights.
While tastes have changed, the original Nudie suits are collectors’ items today, fetching several thousands of dollars each. Grand Ole Opry stars like Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Buck Owens, Glen Campbell, and Dolly Parton wore them, as did the wider pop stars like John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gene Autry and even Elton John, Ronald Reagan, and Cher. The performance attire worn by Robert Redford in the movie Electric Horseman was a Nudie, as was the gold lamé suit worn by Elvis Presley on the cover of one of his albums. Country rock’s Gram Parsons was barely 20 years old when he commissioned one of the flashy outfits from Nudie Cohn and famously used it on his first album with the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Perhaps the largest “collection” of Nudie suits in the Upper East Side of Texas awaits visitors to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage. The “collection” of 20 suits is on loan from various owners and the stars’ estates, but that doesn’t matter to the 500 visitors who tour the museum each month, says museum director Tommie Ritter Smith.
“All of the suits are beautiful and well-made,” she says. “Many of the entertainers used the suits as their symbol.”
The museum’s many exhibits include Nudie suits worn by Ernest Tubb, Ray Price, Jimmy Dean, Johnny Rodriguez, and Buck Owens. The largest number — 15 —belonged to Tex Ritter, a cousin to the museum’s director.
The most ornate belonged to Jimmy Dean and Ray Price. Dean’s suit in saddle brown fabric is covered in gold and cream-colored wildflowers. Price’s outfit displays Native American images which reflected his nickname, “The Cherokee Cowboy.”
Others at the Carthage museum still carry the Nudie name, but are less flashy, perhaps more closely matching the style of such country crooners like Tex Ritter himself.