Entrepreneur honed look of western wear
Jack A. Weil, a celebrated entrepreneur of the American West who added snaps and snappiness to cowboy shirts and then sold the garments to thousands who never saw the sagebrush, died Wednesday at his home in Denver. He was 107.
As founder and head of Rockmount Ranch Wear, Weil was regarded as a successful businessman and a symbol of longevity.
Considered the Henry Ford of the western shirt and a major force behind a notably American fashion, he was also said to be America’s oldest chief executive.
A visionary and a classic innovator, Weil conceived the idea more than 60 years ago that “Westerners needed their own fashion identity,” according to grandson Steve Weil.
Aiming to give western wear a look as distinctive as the region’s topography and lifestyle, his grandson said, Weil created a slim-fitting shirt with a cut, cuffs, pocketing and fastenings that would make it immediately recognizable.
“Every design element was given a flourish,” his grandson said. Distinctive in their dash and flair, the shirts featured a special yoke and elaborate hand embroidery.
Other designers, of course, helped create the western look, but Weil was there at the beginning and was considered “the father of the snap western shirt.”
One of his company’s designs, saw-toothed pocket flaps and diamond-shaped snap fasteners, is “the longest-running shirt design in America,” said his grandson, who is president of Rockmount.
Weil was born March 28, 1901, in Evansville, Ind. His father came from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France.
Weil moved to Denver to sell garters for a Chicago firm and later became a partner in a company that sold work wear to cowboys. He began making western shirts based on designs he saw in movies.
In 1946, he founded his own company.
It soon became identified with the snap fastener, which was said to have the advantage of popping open if pulled, thus saving a shirt’s fabric from tearing. Weil also popularized the bolo tie.
Known as an inventive marketer and astute businessman, Weil joked that the family “would have starved if we only sold to cowboys,” his grandson said.
“You have to appeal to the cowboy in everyone,” Weil once told the Associated Press.
He popularized his products in many ways, his grandson said, offering buyers around the world wearable symbols of the romance of the West. As a manufacturer, he offered small retailers the same prices as big chains, and felt strongly that when possible his products should be made in the United States.
According to the company, Rockmount shirts have been worn by many entertainers, including the cast of the film “Brokeback Mountain.”
“He lived a vibrant life for 107 years and five months,” his grandson said, “and he never got tired, until the last few weeks.”
Weil’s wife, Beatrice, died in 1990. His son, Jack B. Weil, who had been active in the company, died this year.
In addition to his grandson, Weil’s survivors include a daughter, Jane Romberg of Steamboat Springs, Colo.; four other grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.