Dandyism was a surprisingly effective social leveller; it was a look, a way of life which could be bought either with one’s own money or with someone else’s. Crooks, bank robbers and cowboys wanted their share of the glamour too and none more so than the infamous Butch Cassidy, leader of the Wild Bunch.
Born Robert Leroy Parker, he was the son of Mormon Handcart Company immigrants from England. The combination of poverty and religious beliefs would have led him to have had limited experience of fashionable clothes as a young man, as can be seen from the 1894 mug shot which was taken of him at the Wyoming Penitentiary. This image is probably what one would expect of a young man of his background and in his situation, however, the interesting thing is that he appears to have been much more preoccupied with his public image than one might expect...
Butch Cassidy in Wyoming Penitentiary, 1894
This became clear when, in 1900, following the robbery of the 1st National Bank in Winnemucca, Nevada where they stole over $32,000. Having been in hiding for less than three months the gang went to Fort Worth, Texas, where they were itching to spend some of this money on women, alcohol and...Clothes! It was here that the Wild Bunch would sit for what would be their most famous portrait: The Fort Worth photograph.
Butch Cassidy in Fort Worth, Texas after robbing the 1st National Bank in Winnemucca, Nevada, 1900
Here we see a Butch Cassidy who, while on the run from the Law appears very much to want to be seen. Indeed all of the members of the gang are very fashionably dressed in three-piece suits with ties, watches, fob-chains, Bowler hats and all of the accessories which one might expect a gentleman of the time to have, but beyond this they are also impeccably groomed with neat moustaches, manicured hands and oiled hair clearly demonstrating that while they were on the run, they certainly were not sleeping rough.
Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy in the 1969 film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
This image of an elegant man in the Bowler hat replaced the previous mug shot used on wanted posters and possibly helped romanticise his character in the eyes of the public; no longer did he appear to be rough or ignorant, his new image gave Butch Cassidy style, something which would help to cement his status as a legend. Another interesting fact about Butch Cassidy’s shopping sprees is that he also bought himself a bicycle, which was a very new and fashionable thing to have! A charming detail which was used to great effect in the 1969 film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” with Paul Newman playing a Butch who is far smoother and more glamorous than the one we see in the mug shot from Wyoming.
Next week I will finish this little series about Dandyism looking at how it further evolved into the present day...
Have a great weekend,