Your reflection in the mirror says it all: Your show clothes have seen better days. They look a bit worn and don’t fit as well as they used to. They’re in serious need of updating before you and your horse next compete.
The surest remedy for the situation?
Head to a tack shop that you trust and put yourself in the hands of a savvy staffer who’ll help you navigate the sea of choices in equestrian apparel. The emergence of technical fabrics—those state-of-the-art materials that wick moisture, repel odors, resist pilling, protect against the sun’s harmful rays and more—has transformed traditional riding wear and broadened the offerings in all categories. So, too, has the influence of European-inspired designs. Closer-to-the-body cuts and fashion-forward styling now give classic breeches, shirts and show jackets a decidedly 21st century flair.
Sizing Up the Situation
“Most people usually need a lot of help selecting well-fitting riding apparel,” says Beth Lee, who for 30 years has owned Atlanta Saddlery, a full-service tack shop for English riders in Alpharetta, Georgia. The marketplace’s rapid embrace of high-tech fabrics is a significant factor, she says: “I’ve probably seen more changes in riding clothes in the last year than in the last 20.”
She estimates that about “95 percent of the clothing we now carry is made of technical fabric. A year ago, it was probably closer to 60 percent.” Plus, Beth notes, riders are taking cues from elite competitors when setting their sights on what they want to wear in the show ring. “Here in the southeast, riders are influenced by what they see during the winter competitive season in Wellington and Ocala, Florida.” She adds that trends that once took at least a year to emerge in her area now surface within a matter of months.
As a result, Beth adapts Atlanta Saddlery’s inventory to keep pace with the needs and desires of its clientele: a mix of dressage and hunter/jumper riders, show jumpers, eventers, foxhunters and pleasure riders, diverse in age and proficiency as well as shape and size. A half-dozen store employees “are great at staying up on what’s current,” Beth says, and a rider can benefit from their expertise even before she begins combing a rack for her size.
What the Pros Know
Unlike the fashion industry, which has established guidelines, “there’s no standardized sizing for equestrian apparel,” Beth says. Garment sizes vary from maker to maker and from generally accepted fashion-industry standards. For example, a woman who normally wears a size 10 blazer may need a size 12 or larger show coat, depending on the cut and manufacturer.
That’s why Beth recommends enlisting the aid of a knowledgeable sales associate and being ready to try on a variety of sizes and styles when shopping for show apparel. Come prepared, she advises, to ensure proper fit. Pack along some patience and, even more important, wear the sort of undergarments—say, a sports bra and Spanx or other foundation—that you normally would while riding. Bring your boots, too, if it’s practical, to check the length and look of any breeches you may consider.
A Word About Fabric
Though the cut of a garment largely determines its fit, the cloth it is made of plays a significant role in how it looks, performs and wears. Whether made of natural fiber (think: cotton and wool) or a state-of-the-art synthetic, fabric that is thin or very soft and silky to the touch may be sheer enough to see through when worn. In addition, certain technical fabrics are prone to static, and that means cling, which can be an unwelcome development when you’re trying to concentrate on your horse and performance during competition.
A subtle pattern or texture woven into fabric can increase its substance. You’ll discover the pros and cons of the variety of materials available as you try on different garments and zero in on the weights and performance characteristics that work best for you.
Begin with Breeches
For fashion-conscious riders and even those who describe themselves as fashion-challenged, when it comes to shopping for breeches, the focus is all about rise. “Nobody wants regular-rise breeches anymore,” Beth says. Breeches that come to the waist—once the standard—are in less demand as riders seek a more modern look, one that mimics the fit of their favorite jeans.
By definition, “rise” is the distance between the center point of the crotch and the waist. But the adjective that usually precedes it—“low,” “mid” or “modified,” for example—can sway a rider’s thinking. The key to choosing a well-fitting, figure-flattering breech, Beth advises, is not to let terminology guide you. Instead, focus on choosing a style that comes at least to your hipbones when you put it on. You’ll know that a breech is right for you when it