You would think there would be much more important business to attend to in the lives of country music fans than to worry about what clothing accessories Marty Stuart chooses to adorn his wardrobe with, but you may not find a another topic of more intrigue or discussion amongst some country listeners than why Marty decides to indulge in neck finery as part of his public fashion.
No, I’ve not discussed the matter with Marty himself. In fact I would be fairly embarrassed to bring up the subject matter to him even if the opportunity presented itself. Why? Because despite all of the questions and consternation about Marty Stuart’s fluffy adornments, the answer to his scarf fetish should be quite obvious to all students of traditional country music, and Marty Stuart listeners especially.
Oh but that hasn’t stopped the questions, the concerns, and sometimes even the accusations concerning Marty’s scarves, and what they might be hiding, literally or figuratively. Did he injure his neck? Is he concealing some big scar? Perhaps he tried to hang himself and is trying to disguise the embarrassing evidence (one of the most ridiculous accusations I’ve seen). Or perhaps he’s a dandy, you know, one of those types of dandies, despite having married Johnny Cash’s daughter once, and currently being married to Country Music Hall of Famer Connie Smith.
One of the biggest misnomers about Marty’s neck wear is that his scarves are an essential accoutrement for him to be able to leave the house, when it reality you can find many recent promotional photos of Marty with a naked neck. And lo and behold, there’s no grotesque scars, embarrassing birthmarks, or big hairy moles. Some have said Marty Stuart wears scarves to conceal a a neckline that has aged faster than the rest of him, but this certainly doesn’t appear to be the case in his scarf-free pictures. If Marty was a man concerned with concealing his age, why doesn’t he dye his hair?
Furthermore, if you look at promotional photos of Marty from earlier in his career, before the sands of age started carving their cruel lines into his collar, he also wore shirts that many times concealed his neckline. It just sort of seems to be his thing.
From the very beginning of country music, flashy fashion has been at the very heart of the presentation. From The Maddox Brothers & Rose in the late 30’s who were known as “The Most Colorful Hillbilly Band” from their flashy Western costumes, to legendary designers who became icons all their own through their country finery like Nudie Cohn and Manuel Couture, all the way up to today, the fashion of country music has been a way for performers to show off their personality on stage. Someone who is at the forefront of preserving all of this textile history in country music is Marty Stuart, who owns a huge collection of country music memorabilia, including Nudie suits and other such costumes from acts like The Maddox Brothers & Rose, Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash, and many others.
As country music and Nashville was throwing these vintage styles away throughout the 80’s and 90’s, similar to how they were discarding the legacy of the music itself, Marty Stuart was dashing around town, saving these stylistic expressions from dumpsters and thrift shops, eventually making him one of the most forefront students of country music show clothing that’s still living.
Now, how does the scarf come in? It’s simple. The scarf was a very early standard of country & western fashion.
Marty Stuart started playing country music professionally at the ripe age of 14 in Lester Flatt’s bluegrass band. As can be seen in the picture below, he was wearing fluttery neck wear even then, like most everyone was in Flatt’s band.
One of the very earliest appearances of Marty Stuart was on The Porter Wagoner Show playing with Lester Flatt. Porter Wagoner regularly wore scarves, cocked to the side similar to how Marty sometimes does. Many country and western music artists from that era wore scarves, and the examples are endless.
But where did the scarf tradition in country music come from?
It was established as part of Western garb by Hollywood, including The Singing Cowboy Gene Autry, who helped establish country music as a commercial enterprise as much as anyone.
Another Hollywood cowboy was Roy Rogers, and lo and behold, it’s hard to find a picture of Roy without his scarf.
Okay, but where does this tradition come from? It’s simple, the actual cowboys who roamed the West through dusty plains and parched deserts, sometimes on long cattle drives where the cows would stir up incredible dust, all wore handkerchiefs and scarves to protect their necks from sunburn where the cowboy hat wouldn’t shade, and to pull over their mouths and noses to keep the dust out of their lungs. Here’s Billy the Kid wearing a scarf.
So that’s that. Marty Stuart wears scarves because it is a link to country music’s and America’s vibrant Western history that Marty has worked so hard in his life to both preserve and carry on. No conspiracy theories, no gruesome scars, nothing to hide or show, just Marty being Marty, finding ways to express his appreciation for the traditions of country music in his own colorful way.