Barbecue Couture: SAW’s & Sam’s

SAWs capI’m not much of a baseball cap guy. I think they’re terribly overdone, often worn in inappropriate situations. You don’t look good with a tie and a baseball cap in the same way you don’t look good in a suit and Converse sneakers, regardless of how edgy you think it is.

With all of that said, caps can have their place, and they are a modern example of clothing from sport making its way into common usage. This is a time honored process, and many great classics of modern clothing have such an origin (eg, the polo coat, the chukka boot, and even spectator shoes).

That is my apologia for my new cap, more of a trucker cap than a baseball cap, from SAW’s BBQ in Birmingham, my favorite barbecue in Alabama. I was strangely tempted by it when I first ate there. Hearing that my friend Josh would be at SAW’s, I ordered a cap from him. It arrived in the mail last week still smelling of smoked pork. This is not a throwback wool cap from Ebbets, but the sort of cap with plastic mesh on the back–“One Size Fits Most.”

Many barbecue establishments offer their own t-shirts, caps, and even aprons. Some are clever, others are pretty standard, silk screened on a Hanes t-shirt. (My wife has a shirt from Dreamland BBQ in honor of her favorite barbecue sauce.)

But once in awhile you see something that takes the BBQ shirt to another level. Readers of Pinstripe Pulpit know about my past trips to the Billy Reid warehouse sales in Florence, Alabama. Reid frequently offers specially designed t-shirts for bands that are featured at his yearly Shindig music festival in Florence.

At the last sale I came aSams BR t-shirtcross a Billy Reid t-shirt for Sam’s Bar-B-Q in Humboldt, Tennessee. I couldn’t let such a creature slip by, so I grabbed one. This is a serious step up from the typical barbecue joint t-shirt.

I’ve never eaten at Sam’s, but having read about it I hope to change that in the future. Located in western Tennessee, Sam’s is part of a barbecue tradition that finds its most famous, but not necessarily best, expression in Memphis. My wife hails from that area, and it’s where I first ate serious barbecue.

In 2012, Sam’s burned down after a grease explosion in their pit. The Southern Foodways Alliance and The Fatback Collective arrived to help rebuild. You can read about Sam’s rebuilding at Southern Living and the Memphis Flyer. John T. Edge had earlier featured Sam’s in his Garden & Gun tour of west Tennessee barbecue. And don’t miss the 2003 Southern Foodways Alliance interview with Sam Donald of Sam’s who passed away in 2011.

Reid’s t-shirt helped bring attention to the iconic barbecue joint during its rebuilding and recovery period. Sam’s also sold the shirts at the shop; having an award winning fashion designer produce your shirts is a claim few barbecue restaurants can make.

I won’t endorse barbecue couture for more formal occasions, but when you’re relaxing, catching up on yard work, or maybe eating barbecue, it could be just the thing.

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