As an avid competitive equestrian, I live for horse shows and tack shops. Nothing smells quite like polished wood floors, newly crafted saddles, and starchy new breeches. As a 20-something college student, I also have a serious boyfriend. This is lucky for me, that I have found someone to love me despite the dirt on my face, lunch lady hair, and horse-snotty clothes, but it turns out that it is not so lucky for him. Why, you ask? Naturally, because I drag him to horse shows and tack shops and everything in between!
In March of 2014, my boyfriend came to one of my horse shows for the very first time, where I was competing in the Jumpers and the Adult Medals. He watched quietly as I tacked up my horse, and even kept her occupied with peppermints while I went to get dressed for my class. When I returned, I was wearing a black helmet with hairnet, a black soft-shell show coat, a white wrap collar shirt, tan breeches, and black field boots. He had a strange look on his face and I knew what question was coming. "Why do you have to dress like that," he asked. "That's not usually what you wear to ride." He was right, of course. It's not like I school my horse in a show shirt and show coat. Most of the time, I leave the field boots at home in favor of paddock boots and half chaps for schooling. So as he asked, I found myself without much of an answer. "Because I'm supposed to," I heard myself say. That was when it hit me. I didn't really know where each element and tradition of our attire came from. I just knew it is what you are supposed to wear at horse shows.
It turns out that today's riding habit, just like our horses, come from hundreds of years of tradition. To learn where this style came from, and figure out where it's going, we are going to delve into the history of equestrian fashion exclusively here on Style My Ride!
We'll go way back but in this first installment, we are going to time travel back to the decade of 1900 to 1910. During this time period, women in European influenced countries continued to wear the long, elegant lines of the 1890's and before. Corsets were still popular as were high, structured collars. Although these were the norms for regular attire, this carried over into riding attire as well. The most formally attired riders of the time were the cavalry and foxhunters, and it was still the general belief that sidesaddle was the most ladylike way to ride. It was considered quite shocking for a woman to straddle a horse with her legs on either side, so this ladylike, but rather unsafe, manner of riding was introduced. As such, women often rode sidesaddle in very modest clothing that included floor-length skirts and special riding corsets, paired with top hats and high necklines. These sidesaddle outfits were truly beautiful, and are still worn today in sidesaddle competition. In fact, I saw two ladies dressed just this way at a horse show last weekend. If you ever feel sheepish about your grace on horseback, try watching the sidesaddle jumping during the Washington International Horse Show! Those women can ride!
Woman riding sidesaddle, circa 1900.
The photo above shows a beautifully attired woman on a lovely horse, riding sidesaddle. She wears typical sidesaddle attire, including a tightly tailored jacket and riding corset underneath paired with a long draping skirt. She tops it off with a top hat, carefully pinned hair, a white high collared shirt, and a very neatly groomed horse. In the United States women started to get a little more "daring" in their riding attire. They began to wear riding habits similar to those of men in the cavalry or on the hunt, including jodhpurs and dress coats. However, the women's dress coats were tailored to compliment the femininity of
sidesaddle riding. The corset and more defined waistline accentuated the womanly figure, and was considered quite avant garde for that time period when paired with jodhpurs and field boots. I personally cannot imagine riding in a corset. I whine enough when I have to put my low-rise breeches to rest in favor of the mid- or high-risers for use with a shadbelly!
Woman sports a "daring riding habit", circa 1901 USA
The above photo shows a woman posing elegantly for a photo. After exhaustive research, I feel that this is a good depiction of what women wore in the United States in the early 1900's. This woman wears a tailored dress coat with likely brass buttons and riding corset underneath (no one has that tiny of a waist, am I right ladies?), with the loose, billowy jodhpurs of that time. She has on knee high socks and small heels. She tops of the look, quite sassily might I add, with a pair of dark gloves, a foxhunting crop, a stock tie, and a variation of a top hat.
Comparing the above outfit to the practical attire of today, I think we can all agree she would "stand out" if she turned up at one of our shows. If I saw someone dressed like this at a show or even out on the hunt, I would have a few giggles. However, if we look closely, we can see that the style of today evolved from the aformentioned attire. The sport of Dressage continued to use the top hat exclusively for many decades, and as I said before, sidesaddle riders have not strayed much from their origins. Dressage riders, foxhunters, and hunter derby riders still wear stock ties similar to the one shown in the above image, and we all use dark gloves. Foxhunting stays rooted in tradition and uses carved handled crops for huntmasters and whippers-in. Of course our coats are shorter, less tailored, lightweight, tehcnical, washable and don't have nearly as many buttons (which one would you tie your number around on this jacket?!), and our breeches are much, much tighter. But we'll see trends in breech colors and fit, colors and fabrics, protective head gear and more all in due time, as we weave our way down memory lane. We'd love to hear from you and see any photos you've collected if you would like to join in on our discussion of equestrian attire.