Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Traditional dress: time to update? Pt. 1

So, all the fashionistas want to dress like us, but nobody would really call the look "athletic" or "sporty".

The following are from various popular horsey mags, and got me a-thinkin' about the standard dress code in equestrian sports, particularly dressage. Because, let's face it: to Joe Schmoe, a guy running around on a "prancing" horse in a top hat and shadbelly coat cannot possibly qualify as an athlete. To the average viewer, if you can't look the part, how could you possibly be playing the part? I kind of feel the same way about things like ice skating: how can I take them seriously when they remind me more of a Disney On Ice show than an Olympic sport? Then I remember all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into it and it becomes a sport again. They just kill it with the frills.

Jim Wofford put it perfectly in his column in the January 2012 issue of Practical Horseman:

"...horse people are always yakking about how they want a bigger TV audience.... But then when the TV suits - who do not know anything about horse sports but really know how to increase TV audiences - tell us to change our antiquated 'competitive attire,' all I hear from the horse pols is a lot of bovine excrement about the 'sacred traditions of the sport.'
What traditions are we talking about, darling? The ones where 16th century riding master Federico Grisone was prancing around Italy practicing his rollkur, wearing a great ostrich feather in his fedora, lace cuffs on his shirts and pointy-toed booties?....
....Look, as long as you insist on careening around an arena dressed like the Phantom of the Opera, you are kidding yourself about "reaching out to the general public and increasing our audience." Joe Sixpack takes one look at you and hits the remote... he has NASCAR in his favorites, and you don't look like an athlete to him - you look like a dork."
And another reader addressed the issue of getting more men in the sport of dressage. I do believe there are quite a few men into it, just more for other purposes like eventing and jumpers and hunters and even things like reining and other western disciplines. This issue of dress, as he states, really applies to all horse riding disciplines in general. C'mon, the saddleseat dress code? Hunter shadbellies? Dressage top hats? The sparkles of western pleasure? About as sporty as it gets are the red showjumping coats and the sporty look of cross-country riders... the latter often having the biggest leaps and bounds in sportiness as any other, but still pretty slow in comparison to all the new sport-specific sneakers/clothes/etc. that come out from Nike and Under Armour and all those companies.

This is from Jack Turner, a reader from Missouri, in Dressage Today:
"From my point of view, the problem with attracting males to participate in dressage is one of image. This applies to dressage and all the equine events that demand traditional dress. Why should there be a silly dress standard when we want to have more people included in the sport? My point is not let old dress traditions impose restrictions on the growing of the sport. Allow the newer generations (and older ones too) some latitude in their dress as long as they know and understand the relationship between horse and rider and the standards of performance that are expected, along with basic safety."
I repeatedly get lots of comments from my guy friends about men in the sport of dressage: "Aren't most of them gay?" "It's a sissy sport." "They're circus people on circus ponies!" First of all, so what if they're gay? I've met many a horse riding male who was definitely not gay (and many a horse woman who definitely was haha!) Then I realize, that's a big deal to a guy who wants to maintain his macho image. Which is a lot of men. Whatever. Boys will be boys.

But seriously? The shadbellies? The top hats? The white gloves even? Even the lower-level dress is antiquated. The highfalutin horses don't help any, as much as I love 'em ;)

Dressage Today recently had a contest for riding fashions. One of them, I believe, was something along the lines of most sporty/updated/something like that. And frankly, all of those designs look downright rediculous. Monograms on your helmet? Different colored ribbons? Shadbelly-looking raincoats? Give me a break. Very little change, if any, was made. I'll just look like a multi-colored fool now (with chants of "they're circus people on circus ponies" dancing in my head... yeesh.)

But then I realized: could I do any better? No. I don't even know where to start. I kind of like Jim Wofford's bodysuit idea, but I realize... that's not really for everyone. I may be skinny, but I am by no means in fit, athletic shape. I'm just getting my core defined again, and you have to really look to see it! And not even all pro riders are built like NFL players (and heck, some of those defense players have impressive guts). Atheltic? Yes. Sculpted? No.

So scratch the bodysuit idea. We need something modernized, and a bit more athletic and formal (I use that word cautiously) than breeches and a polo. The Ariat Volant boots are an excellent start to me. Too far out of my price range, which is why they won't be in my hands for quite some time. But in the grand scheme of all things horse gear, they look pretty darn sporty. The GPA or Antares or Samshield helmets (and that style in general) look very updated in comparison to the tradition velvet hunt cap.

Equestrian sports were created to save the military horse, which were lined up by the thousands for culling after being forced to save our conflicting human butts in war after war. Not like any of those horses really thought about that, but still. So, we did that, we saved the military horse and calvary traditions. It's almost a hundred years later, I think we can start to step things up a bit and really look the role of Olympic athletes, don't you? Save the equestrian sport, perhaps?

What would you do to update the equestrian look?


  1. i think almost a more "western" look like 3/4 length sleeve athletic shirt, pretty (and/or) masculine belt, to me tall boots are still a go, and different materials for breeches (only cause i can't ride in anything else XP )
    well i tried XD

  2. Can't do without tall boots... lest having a fantastically chafed leg is considered "athletic" lol.

  3. When I start thinking about reasons for things, there is less I would change. I have some boot cut breeches which have knee patches which go all the way down the inside - and I love them. However, nothing keeps my feet from bouncing in all kinds of weird directions as I allow movement through my leg like tall boots, which keep my feet pointed the correct general direction as I relax and allow my legs to absorb motion.
    Same with the coats - I would want something of that shape, not tight and typical of the "athletic" looks. Shadbellies are nice because of how close they fit around the torso where you're not supposed to move - yet the skim across the hips/seat where you're supposed to absorb the most motion. I've been evaluating my own seat/movement in videos and comparing to good riders lately, and even those riders who are super fit look a bit silly if you think about it, in the way the body moves to move with the horse. Well-fitted coats in the show ring give the illusion of stillness. I don't care if you want to change materials and overall styles, but I adore the illusion of stillness created by so much movement of the rider - it's a strength, balance and finesses ability you don't even see on all the riders at the top of the sport.

  4. Man, I must be getting old or something. I think the red stripe Ariat Volant boots are pretty dang hideous, actually. The black ones I could maybe live with, if they are as comfortable as everyone says. And the GPA-style helmets are not my favorite either. To me they look like they're trying to be modern-tech and failing miserably. Plus those metallic color stripes you can put on them? What's the point? I have no need to coordinate my helmet with my Mattes dual-tone saddle pad with my shirt and my horse's polos. Oh wait, I don't use polos. Or have a Mattes pad, for that matter.

    And don't get me started on the price tags on those items. Fashion is waaaay more expensive than tradition, have you noticed?

    There are practical reasons for wearing what we wear. Tight pants prevent fabric from getting wadded up under your leg and rubbing. Tall boots prevent stirrup rubs. Shirts that aren't too long so they don't get tangled in the saddle. Helmets... well, duh.

    So if you stay within the confines of needing to wear those items, you're kind of limited with what you can do. Some of the styles in the catalogs are cute, and these days I see a lot of people on the street dressed in a very barn-like style (tight jeans tucked into tall boots, vest over shirt) that's easily transferable to riding clothes. Sure, you don't wear that to the show ring, but you don't wear jeans to a black-tie New Year's party either.

    I guess I see shows sort of like black-tie events. You dress up for them. Show styles haven't changed much, but then neither have tuxedos (women's dresses are something else entirely with the V cut to the navel, but I tell you, I'm wearing a sports bra to ride, fashion be damned!) I don't see that as a bad thing really. Fabrics have evolved and cuts are more flattering, which is all good. But I still like the traditional look.

    Boring, aren't I?

  5. My non-horsey husband saw the Volants on a catalog I had lying around. I believe his quote was, "What is that, Star Trek Boots?"

    I'm in the non-fan category. Interesting idea, yes. I think there's room for innovation, but Volants are not something I would wear even if they came in my size.

    I'm not a big fan of show coats, but I'm way less of a fan of bodysuits and/or monogrammed helmets. Gag all around. We have to wear something and the more alike we all look, the easier it is to judge objectively I guess.

  6. Really, the only thing I can think of is updating colors (greys and royal blues look pretty modern and sporty to me, but the color of things has reflected the fashions of the times, so if that's all it takes to update things, then by all means mess around with the colors!) and cuts. Riding jackets do give the illusion of stillness (still not a huge fan of shadbellies though haha, but I'm just finicky I suppose).

    So I suppose it gets down to the whole argument of "if it's not broke, don't fix it." And considering riding has been around for tons longer than most of the popular sports nowadays, I suppose we can stick with what works, which is most of everything.


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