Much like how New York and Paris Fashion Week in the fall dictate the trends of the upcoming year, the fashion statements made in Ohio set a precedent for the next year. Photo © Ali Grusha Photography

Fashion Trends: What to Watch for at the 2016 Congress

For many horse show enthusiasts, the All American Quarter Horse Congress is the highlight show of their year. Everything at the Congress is bigger, and often better than any other show during the year. The classes are bigger, the overall quality of horses outstanding, and the shopping is never-ending.

At Congress, standing out for the right reason is the name of the game. The big arenas, especially the Celeste, sets the perfect stage for riders to showcase their personalities through their show outfits. Exhibitors typically plan their wardrobes far in advance and want something unique and exciting to debut at the show.  This gives designers the opportunity to have fun and push the envelope.

Much like how New York and Paris Fashion Week in the fall dictate the trends of the upcoming year, the fashion statements made in Ohio set a precedent for the next year. This season, we are seeing many bold, exciting trends that are sure to carry on into next year.

We spoke to some of the industry’s leaders in fashion to see what we should keep an eye out for at Congress this year.

When in Doubt, Keep it Classic

taylorsearles_horsemanship_kirstiemariepicThis year, many exhibitors and designers have gone back to their roots when creating their Congress looks. Staples like black based jackets or horsemanship shirts paired with black chaps and a black hat can never go out of style, therefore, they are a go to for any Congress exhibitor. With a black base, designers are able to have more fun with the design of the top, while allowing the exhibitor to utilize the chaps and hat for years to come, or on a variety of horses.

While asymmetrical designs had their time, symmetry is now back in the limelight, according to Wendy Brown of Show Me Again. “Symmetry is ruling the pen this year, with designs that slim the waist and flattering silhouettes. Staggered hemlines are back, but only in a symmetrical way. Accents like fringe, which has moved down to the waist and hip, are thriving and adding to the symmetrical look,” states Wendy.

For horsemanship, many riders are opting for the plain black on black look, but with bling. Often times with lots and lots of bling! While plain button downs made an appearance in past years (often more at the weekend level shows), back zip horsemanship tops decked out in rhinestones look like they are here to stay.

According to Jessica Wolf Hart of East Coast Show Apparel, you can never go wrong with a classic black based horsemanship top. Jessica states “wearing a black based horsemanship top with black chaps and a black hat keeps a nice, clean line from head to toe, which is ideal for horsemanship. fashion_huntseat_kirstiemariepic

The good news is since this look is so timeless, there are options out there in a variety of price ranges, and many can be found on consignment. “With a few alterations, you could have a Congress-quality outfit that will last for years and hold its value, and still be able to afford to horse show,” Hart says.

In the hunt seat arena, classic is still “it”.  A solid black or navy hunt coat, paired with a white shirt, is the ideal look for equitation. Elizabeth “Spike” Brewer of Boo Yah Custom Clothing agrees. “It’s a timeless classic that will never go out of style and is appropriate in any arena,” states Brewer. “If someone comes to us and is new to showing the hunt seat and just starting a wardrobe, we always suggest a black or navy coat and a classic white shirt. That should be the first thing anyone purchases to start.”

Be a Show Off

Showmanship outfits have traditionally been a place where exhibitors enjoy expressing their personalities. Since these outfits are seen up close and personal by the judges, not from afar on the rail, every detail counts. Workmanship and fit must be perfect when there are 100 to 150 exhibitors in the showmanship classes. It is also an opportunity to be memorable for the right reasons.

Beckie Peskin On Pattern Design showmanship jacket kBeckie Peskin of On Pattern Designs understands the importance of fashion and detail in the showmanship pen at the Congress more than most. A former Congress Queen, Peskin started showing at the Congress twenty years ago and has missed very few since. She even competed in the Amateur Showmanship when she was four months pregnant with her daughter! She continues to compete in the amateur events, including showmanship, which is unquestionably one of her favorite events.  She is one of the many designers taking showmanship style to the next level this Congress season.

“I’ve been doing things that are a bit more inspired by couture fashion lately,” says Peskin. “I find myself using unique fabrics with more texture than usual, designs that have more structure to them. This year, I am doing less abstract looks than in the past.”

Peskin describes this obsession with standing out perfectly, stating, “People are looking for something that makes their piece just a little different from everything else you see. How you get there on each outfit varies – it could be the design, but it also could be the stones that you choose or the effects that you create with those stones. I do a pretty limited number of pieces each year due to my schedule, so I’ve really tried to challenge myself on each piece to do something that makes it a little unexpected.”

wicked-game-la collezione anna cathrinDon’t be Afraid to be Bold

While classic and clean-cut is in style, that doesn’t mean that exhibitors aren’t allowed to have some fun with their outfits, especially with the western clothing.

According to Anna Omodeo of La Collezione di Anna, many of her signature outfits this year, including this gorgeous jacket she custom designed for Cathrin Gutmann, will feature primary colors such as red, blue, yellow, and white. Anna’s exciting looks are often achieved through intricate designs combined with bold textures.

As with the trends in recent years, designers will use a variety of textures to create three-dimensional effects. This is achieved through the use of chains, fringe, and large stones. The use of both shiny and matte stones will help create depth and interest on jackets and vests alike.

Wendy Brown of generic_emma_fashion_fringe_pad_kirstiemariepicShow Me Again has noticed that many jackets are adding more detail to the lapels, collars, and sleeves to help create a unique and exciting look. Additionally, metallics such gold, rose gold, silver, and bronze are still very hot.

Saddle blankets are also a key component of every Congress look. Long gone are the days of a solid color saddle blanket. Custom blankets with unique designs are in high demand this year and really help put the finishing touches on a custom-made look.

“Many exhibitors are having blankets made to match their outfit, pulling in as many colors as possible,” states Jessica Wolf Hart. “While black bases are still the most common, many exhibitors are opting to for colored edges on their pads for an extra pop of color, along with the colors on the pad itself.”

Hunt seat riders are getgeneric_fashion_ellexxah_kirstiemariepicting in on the fun too. While classic is still key in equitation, riders have a little more room to play in the hunter under saddle arena. According to Brewer, textured prints are big this year. Plaid, tone on tone and striped designs are hot right now, for both jackets and hunt shirts.

The piped collars of recent years are slowly falling by the wayside, mostly because they do not allow riders to mix and match with as many hunt shirts. Many exhibitors that want to branch out some from the classic black or navy, but not go too wild, are opting for a blue hunt coat. While not being quite as dark as navy, the blue color adds a fun pop of color, while still remaining modest.

Make it Personal

No one likes to have a cookie cutter outfit, and this year more than ever, adding your own personal flair to an outfit is becoming popular.

Many choose to do this through having one consistent color scheme for every outfit. Not only does this save money by allowing you to use the same essentials, like hat and chaps, from class to class, but having a signature color also creates a brand for yourself.

generic_fashion_horsemanship_shirt_pat_kirstiemariepicQuality is Key

All agree that whatever you choose to wear at the Congress, the quality needs to be the best you can afford. Properly fitting show clothes that are in good repair never go out of style. Comfortable fabrics that allow you to feel good and perform to the best of your ability are just as important as the glitz and the glam.

Elizabeth “Spike” Brewer also realizes the importance of quality. “We are fortunate to work with an industry leading tailor whose family business is literally custom clothing. We have access to a high quality and variety of fabrics. Many folks comment on how distinct our shirts are… not only because they stand out in the pen, but because of the attention to detail of how they are created.”

Because of this, shirts made by Boo Yah and brands similar to them will look better, longer. When you’re showing at the largest show of the year, having a shirt that will hold up is essential.

generic_vest_fringe_kirstiemariepicRealize the Value of Versatility

As always, exhibitors at this year’s Congress are looking to get the most bang (or rather, bling) for their buck. One way they are doing this is by considering the versatility of a piece into a design. Because of this, vests are still a hot trend.

For trainers, or non-pros that show a variety of horses, having one fun, bold vest with multiple options for shirts to wear underneath, has become popular. This goes for pads, too. By having one unique pad with a variety of colors, exhibitors can switch up pieces of their outfit to create a new look, while still using the same pad.

Bolero vests are also a growing trend this year. Anna Omodeo states “Bolero sets are also very popular right now, especially among all around riders due to their versatility; you can wear them in the western riding, pleasure and in the trail and afterward you can just take the vest off and you have a nice shirt underneath for the horsemanship.”

AQHYAWorldShow_blazingmytroublesaway_DeannaGreen_makeup_squareDon’t Forget the Details

Last but not least, professionally applied horse show makeup has become one of the hottest trends this year. While having a flawless face of makeup certainly does not determine the winner, having makeup professionally applied will accent the features on a rider’s face and keep them from looking washed out on the rail. An added bonus is that the extra bit of personal attention before going in the pen helps many riders feel more confident and puts them in the right frame of mind to compete to the best of their ability.

At the end of the day, Congress fashion is all about the individual.  This year is taking it to the next level. With the help of supreme craftsmanship, bold colors, and classic undertones, the styles rolling out at Congress this year are sure to shine.


Photos © Kirstie Marie Photography and  Ali Grusha Photography, La Collezione di Anna, On Pattern Design.