The history of equestrian attire is bizarre (I am going to stick to the English set with this rant, as I find it more ridiculous). It’s even more strange if you consider that the styles of riding clothing has changed quite a bit over the centuries, but has changed little at all in the last 200 years. What’s up with that?
Of course the history of riding horses is mostly about men. Women have always ridden, but it’s been a lot of ups and downs of what is proper (god forbid we spread our legs and sit astride a horse). The original basis for most riding attire for a couple thousand years was military. Whatever is the most practical and most useful for battle is what was worn. Then came the age of the shadbelly (and top hat). This style was evidently popularized by a man named Beau Brummel in the early 1800s. His style of dress became extremely popular and was dubbed English Dandy. Looking at images of him and others from the era show our modern dressage show attire. A top hat (though thankfully those are going the way of the dinosaurs in exchange for helmets), light breeches, tall boots, a shadbelly, and a large fluffy stock tie are all in evidence. The styling of this one man eventually made its way into military uniforms, lords manors and riding clothing (though the white pants were around before that, as were longer coats). That’s about 200 years that this style has stuck around. That’s insane. Just imagine baseball, football, cricket or any other old sport’s players walking around wearing the same stuff they wore even 100 years ago. That idea is laughable. Of course you change with the times. Fabrics change. Styles change. Safety technology improves.
There was also that beautiful and/or unfortunate time (depending on your view) when side saddle (and corsets) were the name of the game for women and there were no other options. That’s a different article all together.
The equestrian world has stuck to tradition, even while the sport is becoming more and more irrelevant in the modern world. Does a rider dressed ready for a dinner outing in the 1800s look like an athlete ready to perform? Heck no. They look like a fluffy, stuffy passenger aboard an animal that is no longer important to our society like it once was.
Thankfully, times are changing (sort of). More colors are being called acceptable as is varying levels of bling and accent piping. More athletic fabrics are being used. Boots are getting an upgrade to be more comfortable. The top hat is disappearing due to the requirement of a safety helmet in many levels of competition.
The shadbelly, light or white breeches and stock tie are all still with us (and don’t appear to be going anywhere) though the invention of pre-tied stock ties has been a major upgrade. Though I think the look is beautiful, it also doesn’t read modern…and it never will. Specifically I want to talk about the most ridiculous of all – white breeches.
I’ll say that again…white breeches. Why do we wear these? It’s really not 100% clear. Everything I have read says “it’s tradition,” however it’s not exactly clear where that tradition comes from, though it’s pretty certain it comes from old military uniforms (since the discipline itself comes from the military). There is quite a bit of the “white pants syndrome” found in military uniforms of the 1700’s and 1800s (though white in battle seems just as odd as white with horses). I guess it screams “We’re so awesome we are going to beat you quickly and not stain our pants with your blood.” Funny enough cavalry uniforms have changed over the years to not include white pants…but silly non-military riders still stick to the tradition. Traditionally white pants were only for men, but we all wear white now (yay!…?).
When you’re dealing with any animal, wearing white is a bad idea. But when you’re dealing with a 1,000+ pound flight animal that enjoys using you as a handkerchief, it’s a horrible idea. When you ride, you’re likely to fall off. White breeches stained. Riding a dirty animal that rolls in dirt, urine and manure that no amount of bathing and grooming will ever remove all of…breeches stained. Riding through a dusty or worse, a muddy arena…breeches stained. Falling in a manure pile after being pushed by one of your fellow competitors (or your horse)…breeches stained. Riding in black tack and boots that rubs dye and poilsh off on you…breeches stained.
And there’s the fact that no one looks good in white pants. Not men and certainly not the majority of women. When you’re a female white breeches are just not flattering unless you are 5’11” and weigh 120lbs. I think even Giselle at 126lbs might look fat in these. Then there’s the underwear thing. It’s pretty hard to find a pair of underwear that you cannot see through white breeches…and a thong sounds like the worst idea in the world (unless you hate yourself that much to want to ride in one). That pretty much brings it to Spanks and similar undergarments to make sure you don’t look like a whale, hippo, elephant or cow (but that’s only going to help so much). Oh and if it’s REALLY hot out and you are wearing your wool coat and white breeches or tights (and if you tend to be a person that sweats a lot) your breeches will become see-through. Yup, that underwear you’re wearing right now is even more on display that it was before. You’re welcome.
At least western show clothes are more practical (oh wait, that’s a whole other realm of ridiculous for totally different reasons that I won’t get into today).