Behind the seams: Canoe club x ORSLOW

By Ben Armitage

Few items of clothing from the past retain relevance in the modern era. The enduring ones have a few distinctive qualities: they are typically functional by design, versatile by nature, and capable of seamlessly adapting to evolving trends and lifestyles. The latest collaboration between Canoe Club and orSlow is a perfect embodiment of these elements, showcasing orSlow's particular expertise in reproducing garments from the past to create enduring pieces that will last long into the future. 

 Anyone with a vague interest in men’s clothing will recognize that many contemporary garments have historical roots in military uniform and workwear. Styles like the field jacket, chore coat, and work shirt hold a timeless, classic simplicity that makes them the perfect foundation for a contemporary wardrobe. But behind these modern staples lies a history steeped in functionality and tradition.

 A prime example of one such item is the Western shirt. Originating in the first half of the 19th century, the Western shirt holds a rich history that is intertwined with the expansion of the American West.   

As settlers and pioneers moved westward, they encountered a harsh and demanding environment. The clothing they wore needed to withstand the rigors of frontier life, including cattle-ranching, horseback-riding, and various outdoor tasks at the mercy of the elements. Like the settlers themselves, their wardrobe choices needed to endure and adapt to the myriad demands of their new terrain.    

To genuinely earn the designation of a Western shirt, specific defining features must remain intact. Although these characteristics may appear purely aesthetic at first, they were born out of necessity. Each element serves a practical purpose, resonating with the challenges faced by those who wore these clothes.  

 One of the most distinctive features of the style is the pointed yoke across the shoulders. A key element on both the front and back, it is thought to have been added as an extra layer of durability to protect the shoulders from the sun and other elements during horseback riding on the unsheltered plains.   

To an undiscerning eye, the pearl snap-fastening buttons may seem present solely for decorative purposes - but their inclusion was about function, not fashion. Unlike conventional sewn-on buttons, which can pull off easily, pearl snaps are designed to open with a pop instead of detaching (or, even worse, tearing the fabric) if your shirt got caught or pulled on the placket or cuffs during riding or working.    

A Western shirt will feature twin chest pockets, always equipped with a flap, and these are also secured with snaps. By doing so, this ensures that whatever is kept in your pocket stays safe during riding. 

frizmworks mil pants and balmacaan half jacket on body

Another key element is the barrel cuff, partnered with three snaps. It is longer and tighter than a conventional cuff, reducing the risk of getting caught, whilst protecting the arms and wrists but leaving the hands free for the many tasks they need to undertake.   In a similar way to the cuffs, the body and general fit of a Western shirt tend to be longer and tighter than a conventional shirt overall. This design feature ensures that the shirt remains tucked in during riding, reducing the risk of excess fabric being caught.    

For the modern wearer, concerns about horse-riding or cattle-ranching are of course less pressing, but wearing a piece that is redolent of the great history of its origin, embracing tradition, is key.    

Through the 20th century and especially during the 1950s, Western style began to enter mainstream culture in America, with country music giving way to rock and roll, led by the likes of Elvis Presley.    

As with military clothing, Western wear then found its way into the counterculture movements of the 1960s, becoming emblematic of rebellion and nonconformity, as well as a symbol of a free-spirited lifestyle. Embraced by musicians, artists, and activists, the Western shirt transcended its functional roots, evolving into a cultural phenomenon that continues to influence contemporary fashion. 

 Today, designers pay homage to this rich history by incorporating Western-inspired elements into their creations, ensuring that the legacy of the Western shirt endures far beyond its frontier origins.    

Canoe Club’s latest collaboration features orSlow’s own interpretation of the iconic shirt. Renowned for their military and workwear reproductions, the brand's take pays tribute to the style in a characteristically clean-cut manner, highlighting the main focal points: a classic Western-style yoke, double sawtooth flap pockets, a point collar, and embellished with pearly snaps on every available fastening point—two on each pocket, three on the cuffs, and a full run down the placket. The overall effect is traditional yet highly wearable.   

In order to take their collaboration to the next level, Canoe Club worked closely with the orSlow team, guided by the brand's founder and designer, Ichiro Nakatsu. Store Director and Lead Buyer for Canoe Club, Timothy Grindle, shared his perspective: 'Getting to work with Ichiro and the orSlow team was very inspiring. We pitched our ideas, and they brought them to life through their own lens. We went back and forth on the ideas for this shirt for a while.’ Grindle emphasized the meticulous assessment of each shirt, with fabrics from Ichiro's personal collection hand-selected for the patchwork and repairs, ‘ultimately building a concept that, while time-consuming, makes each piece entirely unique.’ 

Due to the considered use of Ichiro’s fabrics and their one of a kind qualities, there is a sense that the shirt has already experienced numerous lifetimes; it feels as though it could have been unearthed from a trunk in an abandoned house, or stumbled upon hanging in a Japanese vintage store. The shirt successfully exudes a carefree demeanor that not only echoes the spirit of the West but also embodies the rebellion and attitude the Western shirt has come to symbolize. In Grindle’s view, ‘Every aspect of this collaboration feels personal and bigger than just a shirt.’   

But the journey isn’t over, of course - far from it. The 6oz Japanese denim retains ample indigo that allows the wearer to develop a personalized patina over time, and the added repairs will continue to age and change with every wear. Frequent wearing is also readily encouraged; OrSlow’s products aren't designed to be handled delicately but rather to be worn repeatedly, so one day, you might find yourself adding your own repairs, enhancing the unique narrative of this special garment.