I admit it. I dress inappropriately for the barn on a regular basis. I’ve messed up my favorite pumps standing in mud, dirtied my Doc Marten’s running out to catch Albert, and soiled my penny loafers by hand grazing my pony in long, tall grass. My favorite cashmere sweater is no longer one hundred percent goat, either. I’d say it’s down to about half goat half horse.
Now truly, I’ve always got a good reason for running around the barn in a…skirt. I’m either late as all get out, have forgotten my boots, or suffering from I-didn’t-plan-to-syndrome. I didn’t plan to find a cut on Albert’s foot. I didn’t plan to do anything but put a check in the box, then somebody whinnied at me. I didn’t plan to hold Mia, but, hey, no one else was around.
Coco Chanel said, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” What does it mean to be fashionable when “the way we live” is with horses? Can we dress beautifully and functionally around the barn? (Am I going to get slammed for even suggesting that fashion should be a concern at the barn, in lessons, or schooling?) Well, slam away. (Not really, I’m sensitive.)
To answer some of these questions, I asked Paul Frederick, a fashion design student at the Savannah College of Art & Design, and SCAD Equestrian team member who has a timeless, classic take on style, to talk about his fashion principles for equestrians.
Gi: Paul, please explain what you consider proper lesson attire for an English rider.
Paul: Riders should come to a lesson looking professional and ready to learn. I like to see riders wear polished tall boots in lessons, but a pair of polished half chaps and paddock boots will work just the same. The rider should be wearing a fitted shirt with a collar, tucked into a pair of clean riding pants. I do not like to see riders come to lessons with jeans on; if your instructor took the time to prepare your lesson, you can take the time to put on riding pants.
Gi: You place great emphasis on turnout. I’ve seen you showing in a jacket in one hundred degrees and ninety percent humidity, while every other rider sported a polo or short sleeves. What is your number one turnout pet peeve?
1.) Dirty Boots. No matter if you are riding for pleasure, in a lesson, or at a show, the extra five minutes it takes [to clean your boots] will really distinguish you as someone who is serious about your riding.
2.) Show Buns. Hair nets are cheaper than show buns, and they will make you look 200% more professional. All of your hair should be up inside of your helmet, not hanging down over your collar. Ask a friend to show you how to put your hair up correctly and look at what a difference it will make in your appearance.
Gi: What do you look for in your riding clothes? Who is out there designing really great looking and affordable riding wear these days?
Paul: My first place to find clothes, whether riding or not, is second hand shops. You can usually find high end products discarded for no noticeable reason. As for riding pants, I am a big fan of Tailored Sportsman; the European seam down the side makes anyone look really sharp, and their cotton schooling breeches are affordable and also look great in the show ring. These breeches are acceptable both for schooling and showing. One pair will work as long as you take good care of them.
A white shirt is a necessity; no crazy colors please. The white shirt is simple, classic, and will never go out of style. As for a riding jacket, RJ Classic and Grand Prix make nice coats that are affordable. As for boots, Ariat makes nice boots that fit a variety of riders. The thing to remember, when purchasing riding wear, is that these clothes will last you a long time as long as you take proper care of each piece.
Gi: Tell me how you really feel about riders wearing camis around the barn.
Paul: A proper riding shirt should be fitted as to allow you to move but not be so baggy as to obstruct a view of your position. A collar is a must so that the shirt stays in place, and so you are not constantly trying to fix your straps while jumping a jump. The loose fit of the camis breaks all of these rules, and that is why I hate to see camis around the barn.
Gi: How can a gentleman really distinguish his look when riding dressage?
Paul: Just like any equestrian sport, dressage is based on tradition. Look at pictures of top Olympic dressage riders. They all have on the same outfit, because they want you to pay attention to their horse, not the latest fashions they are sporting. For the gentleman who wants to distinguish his look, the first thing to do is find a proper fitting jacket. Wearing a jacket that is too big makes one look frumpy; wearing a jacket that is too small makes the rider look stiff and posed. Go to your local tack shop and let them help you fit a jacket. If you can’t find one that is the perfect size, and a custom jacket is out of the budget, take your jacket to a tailor and have them tailor it to your size. A crisp and clean shirt and pair of riding pants will really take your presentation to the next level. The cherry on top is a pair of correctly fitting riding boots. No matter your discipline you should always have a pair of boots that fits you throughout your ankle all the way up to your calf, and not hit you too low on the side of your leg. Riding clothes don’t have to be expensive, if you find the correct fit, and take care of your pieces, they will last you a long time.
Gi: My motto is just say no to crack: Is it me or have jods and breeches also gone to the low-rise cuts? When do you think this will change back?
Paul: I am not a huge fan of low rise riding pants. Riding pants with a higher cut elongate the legs, making for a better picture on the horse. Something to remember with low cut pant is that it reveals much more than you may want, therefore taking attention away from your riding. I believe that just like everything, these low rise pants will go out of style, when exactly, I couldn’t tell you.
Gi: Paul, you are very classic and traditional in your turnout preferences. Here’s what I want to know from you: Where is the line on pink? How can the stylish and discriminating rider best use pink? I know you have a thing against pink saddle pads. But don’t you think little girls in pink helmets are just adorable?
Paul: I have no problem with a rider showing his or her personality. When using bright or loud colors around the barn, I like to see the colors in discreet places. Piping and embroidery is the best place for personalization and personal style on your tack and equipment.
Gi: OK. Dig deep, Paul. I want some real hints, here, about how non-conforming, individualist English riders can express and distinguish themselves, yet still look impeccably turned out.
Paul: My advice for individualist riders would be to wear shirts that suit your personal style. Just remember that your shirt should fit well, not be too loose. Another place to show your style, and my personal favorite, is in the belts you wear. I collect old belts and belt buckles; you would be surprised how quickly a belt buckle can spruce up an outfit – something stylish but not so flashy you blind you trainer. You should be noticed for your good riding not what you have on. Just remember, we are in this for the horses, so if you are trying to be too flashy then, maybe, you need to remember why you are in this sport.