For a while in the 1970s, the Nudie suit was the ultimate choice of fashionwear for the discerning, fat-walleted musician. Gram Parsons famously wore one on the cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers' Gilded Palace Of Sin. Elvis sported a gold lame version on 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong. And ZZ Top wore them on the cover of 1975's Fandango album and on the World Wide Tour of Texas.
Nudie suits were expensive. Available from Nudie Cohen's boutique in Hollywood, musicians would regularly spends thousands of dollars commissioning extravagant, made-to-measure designs. Rhinestones and embroidery were de rigueur – Parsons' suit was adorned by pill capsules, marijuana leaves, poppy flowers and nudes – while some musicians accumulated entire wardrobes filled with Nudie's tailoring. Country star Porter Wagoner once claimed to own more than 50, with the cheapest costing a mere $11,000.
Given their expense, it's hardly surprising that original Nudie suits in good condition are worth a lot of money. And if you're the owner of such an item and need some quick cash, there's probably no place better for a swift appraisal than the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. Co-owned by Rick Harrison, the shop is the subject of the long-running reality TV show Pawn Stars.
During the ninth episode of the 18th series of Pawn Stars, named Gotsa Get Pawned, which aired in early 2021, a mystery customer presents Rick with a Nudie suit, and claims it belonged to ZZ Top. She wants to sell, and she'll happily take $25,000 for the garment.
"I know a guy who will know all about this," says Rick. "If you just hang out for a little bit I'll go give him a call. He just lives down the street."
And then, rather conveniently, Billy Gibbons show up. He examines the suit and confirms it's the real thing, before telling the story.
"We became clients with Nudie in 1972," says Billy. "Those suits appear on the cover of ZZ Top's Fandango record, so we've had a long history with these shiny rhinestone suits. It's pretty fun what you have laid before me. Brings back a lot of memories."
"The last time I laid eyes on this was 1974," adds Billy (we think he's misremembered the date). "I inadvertently had misplaced it, left it on an airplane. By the time I realised it was m.i.a I called the airline and the cleaning crew had gone in, so I completely thought this had vaporised."
The encounter ends on a happy note for all concerned. Billy offers to split the cost of the suit with Rick, and the pair offer the customer $40,000 to take it off her hands so they can donate it to Antone's in Austin, Texas, the club that helped bring Stevie Ray Vaughan to national attention in the 1980s and is something of a mecca for blues fans.
Later than year the suit went on display at Antone's, clothing a fully-bearded, sharp-dressed mannikin, next to a museum label that tells its story, confirming that Gibbons wore the suit on tour in 1976-77 and going on to thank "fate and Billy's generosity."