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Revisiting Style in Literary and Cultural Studies

Interdisciplinary Articulations

Edited By Jasmin Herrmann, Moritz Ingwersen, Björn Sonnenberg-Schrank and Olga Ludmila Tarapata

The collected volume brings together leading scholars from a broad range of disciplines in the humanities to interrogate the productivity of style as an element of cultural expression and a parameter of cultural analysis. Despite its ubiquity in examinations of artistic singularity or postulations of epochal patterns, style remains a notoriously elusive concept. Suspicious of monolithic definitions, the contributions assembled in this volume address style from a multiplicity of methodological and conceptual angles, drawing from fields that include literary studies, film and media studies, post-structuralist philosophy, philosophy of science, and American cultural studies.

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14 Wearing Western Shirts: A Fiction of American Style


“I like your style, Dude.”

“Well, I dig your style, too, man. You got the whole cowboy-thing going.”

- Coen Brothers, The Big Lebowski

We engage with popular culture as the culture that “sticks to the skin,” that becomes so much part of us that it becomes increasingly difficult to examine it from distance.

- Henry Jenkins, Tara McPherson, and Jane Shattuc, Hop On Pop

Abstract: In this chapter Konstantin Butz presents the Western shirt as a key to American style by tracing its mythological inscriptions in pop-cultural constructions of the cowboy. Building on the work of Jean Baudrillard, Roland Barthes, Marshall McLuhan, and Dick Hebdige, his auto-ethnographic account of thrifting, trying on, and wearing Western shirts is juxtaposed with analyses of Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future III and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain to illustrate how mundane objects always carry “a double meaning” that testifies to the “subversive implications of style.” The reading of the two films suggests that the Western shirt exemplifies and embodies a textual, i.e. textile, aesthetics that not only pervades cinematic representations of the American West but also weaves its mythological and ideological threads into the fabric of American popular culture—from iconic constructions of an always already fictionalized American past to the Western shirt’s reincarnation as a secondhand fashion item in thrift stores all over the country.

Keywords: Western, cowboy, western shirt, fashion, thrifting, Baudrillard, Brokeback Mountain, Back to the...

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