The History of Equestrian Show Clothing – Part Two

Alice-Rose Brown

In the first part of our mini-series on the history of equestrian show clothing we looked at the early years of riding when everyday clothing, or nothing at all if you were Greek or Roman, was worn.

By the time of the Renaissance dedicated equestrian clothing had been developed so that the nobility could wear the latest fashions even in the saddle. Across the Atlantic Ocean the clothing worn by cowboys was more practical, but still showed elements of its Spanish origins with the rowled spurs and wide brimmed hat.

Now we’re moving forward in history to look at how equestrian show clothing as we know it today has developed:

Military equestrians

Much of the show clothing seen today originates from the clothing worn by military officers who first invented or popularised equestrian sports. It was the military that developed riding as the art form we now know as “dressage” as soldiers needed to be skilled riders to participate in combat.

Horsemanship later became a fashionable skill and when you combine military clothing with more fashionable attire you’re likely to get something like the top hat and tails worn by modern day dressage riders.

“Western” riding

As we said in our previous article it is the Spanish conquistadors that cowboys have to thank not only for their horses, but for their clothing and style of riding. Their clothing and tack had been adapted both for battle and for spending many hours in the saddle herding cattle and sheep.

In the 1860’s this style of riding and clothing became popular in Europe and so the clothing became more elaborate and ornamental, much like the rhinestone shirts and decorated Stetsons worn by modern day western pleasure riders.

Moving towards modern day

After around 1795 fashions began to simplify, although there were still a wide range of colours and styles available for fashionable equestrians. Both men and women’s styles were more tailored and functional rather than elaborate.

In fact, waistcoats and pockets were often false in order to reduce the number of layers needing to be worn by riders. Fashionable equestrians favoured red, green, or navy for their riding clothes, not unlike the majority of competition jackets available today.

Fabrics were usually wool or wool/silk blends and although fabric technology has moved on since then the finest quality riding jackets found today are still made of wool.

Equestrian show clothing today

Today, hunting attire is still the most traditional and conservative of all of the equestrian show clothing styles available. Dressage and western riding give riders the most opportunity to include some bling in their outfits.

Pitt Shoulder.JPG
"Pitt Shoulder" by Russ Hamer - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


Below: examples of women's western riding outfits.


Although equestrian fashions have clearly evolved over the years riding clothing, particularly the riding jacket, still retains a core look that shows its origins and traditional purpose.

In recent years there has also been more of a move to encourage safety when riding rather than just following tradition. This has been particularly noticeable with riding hats as more riders are choosing helmets over traditional headwear such as a top hat or Stetson.

Two notable examples are World Champion dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin, who has won all of her titles wearing a helmet rather than the traditional top hat, and Nicole Aichele, World Champion Barrel Racer, who campaigns for helmet safety.


Charlotte Dujardin 2012 Olympic Dressage-1.JPG
"Charlotte Dujardin 2012 Olympic Dressage-1" by Charlotte_Dujardin_2012_Olympic_Dressage.JPG: Equestrian derivative work: Nordlicht8 - This file was derived from: Charlotte_Dujardin_2012_Olympic_Dressage.JPG . Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


We’ll be bringing you an article on Nicole, and her Stop the Stigma helmet safety campaign, next week.