Horse Show Fashion Dos and Don’ts
Fashion is a statement of individuality, both in and out of the show pen. From high-profile runways to show pens, style is an expression of who you are as a person and exhibitor. Horse show fashion trends are constantly evolving with a changing industry.
This makes putting together a perfect outfit like an intricate dance. It can be challenging to keep up with all the dos and don’ts of trends.
How much bling is too much or too little? What are the best colors to choose? What are the necessary details you should pay attention to?
These questions are essential when planning show outfits for the season. We asked judges Gigi Bailey, Kelly Chapman, Wendy Brown from Show Me Again, and Elizabeth “Spike” Brewer from Boo Yah Custom Clothing to share their insight on fashion dos and don’ts in the equine industry.
This is the first step to a stunning show outfit. How your outfit fits you is an essential aspect of a well put together ensemble. Forget about the crystals and designer label and focus on the professionalism of the outfit.
Judges would rather see you wearing a $100 suit that fits like a glove rather than a $6,000 jacket that does not fit properly. Judge Gigi Bailey of De Pere, Wisconsin advises exhibitors on the importance of fit in the showmanship particularly. “Regarding showmanship outfits, they do not need to be fancy, but they do need to fit well. The pants need to be long enough.”
DO go for a professional look
You have heard it before, and you will hear it again. Judges do not look at the number of crystals or the price tag of your jacket; they search for a confident and professional-looking individual. Once you step to that cone, you have one chance to make a first impression.
Judge Kelly Chapman of Battle Creek, Michigan advises,”It’s a little like a job interview. Go into the pattern or class looking confident and professional and make the strong first impression. The first impression you make in a job interview sets the tone for the expectation of the rest of the interaction.”
DO stick to a budget
Horse showing is expensive; the horse, the shows, the tack, the advertising, the travel…and also the clothes. It is crucial that you have a budget in mind when starting the search for a new show clothing item. It may sound challenging to stick to a budget, but there are some tricks you can follow to make the most out of your money.
Wendy Brown of Show Me Again says, “If your funds are limited, stick to basic black chaps as most off the rack pieces can be built around a black base and then you can have more fun shopping for a variety of pieces. While a neutral color, sometimes navy, brown and grey can be hard to match. If you are afraid you won’t stand out or that your look will be too dark, consider a bright color in your top. Buying a vest that can pair with a variety of fitted shirts is a fun and inexpensive way to change up your show outfit. Removable fringe is also a popular option.”
Investing in a quality pair of black chaps gives you numerous show pad and shirt options. Similarly, fitted button-ups and vests also provide a professional look while not breaking the bank.
DO pay attention to details
You have probably heard the famous expression, “The devil is in the details.” Well, in the equine industry that could not be more accurate. Much like an intricate pattern, horse show fashion is all about the small details that most would not consider. The polished boots, the fitted chaps, the list goes on and on.
Judge Gigi Bailey recommends, “Make the most of your appearance by wearing an outfit that fits well, is clean, and pressed.”
One hundred little things make up the big picture when showing horses.
DO wear a piece that compliments you and your horse
You need to find a clothing item that not only fits well, but goes well with your horse. Having an outfit that highlights your horse can give you extra confidence.
Judge Kelly Chapman suggests, “If the fit is good, and the exhibitor feels confident, that confidence is going to transfer into the presence that the exhibitor exudes when showing. A well-fitted outfit can add to the silhouette of the exhibitor and show off their best form….no matter their body style.”
Chapman stresses the importance of confidence in the show pen as that is what show clothing brings to the exhibitor. Wendy Brown of Show Me Again adds, “Don’t forget to consider the coloring of your horse. Your outfit should enhance your performance, and you should feel confident when wearing it.”
Having an item of show clothing that compliments both you and your horse can give an extra “edge” that the other exhibitors will not have.
DON’T go overboard
Exhibitors love crystals, that will never change. However, do not go overboard with crystals or bright patterns. There is a fine line between flashy and stylish. It is essential to keep every outfit classy and age-appropriate. This is especially true in English classes.
Spike Brewer of Boo Yah Custom Clothing says, “A hunt shirt collar should never have jewels, rhinestones or embellishments of any kind on them. There is a wide range of acceptable collar designs offered in a variety of color schemes, and monograms will never go out of style. But we strongly advise against any embellishments on your hunt collar. Never let them see your collar before they see anything else.”
Sometimes less is more.
DON’T have messy hair or makeup
Horse show fashion is wonderful, but your entire “look” can be ruined by messy hair and makeup. It is essential that you present yourself prepared and polished from the second you step into that arena.
Brewer states, “Contain your hair the best you can and utilize hair nets and hair spray to avoid wisps. Avoid a bun in the back of your head below your hunt cap with the large nets as they are distracting to the profile picture. Always try to contain hair under your helmet/cap if possible neatly.”
Bailey also reiterates, “Your hair always needs to be done neatly and invest in hairspray. The show pen is your chance to shine.”
This advice also pertains to every other class. You cannot have a complete look with a missing piece to the puzzle. Make sure to have your hair and makeup done well ahead of time to avoid the “I woke up like this” look.
DON’T enter the pen looking disorganized
Spike advises, “Always be neat, clean and tidy when you enter the pen.”
Gigi also stated, “Horses need to be at a great weight and shiny. Along with the exhibitor, they also need to look like a winner.”
You and your horse are a team and need to look poised and organized. As Bailey stresses over and over, “A winner is one hundred little things.”
DON’T wear obnoxious colors
Make sure your clothing colors are age-appropriate and compliment you as an exhibitor. Wearing a neon colored jacket or mismatched tones or blue does not necessarily present a classy tone. This does not only apply to western clothes, but English apparel as well.
Brewer says, “Invest in a pair of quality breeches in approved colors for your association. Check your rulebook for approved colors and try to stick to 4-way stretch fabric and avoid cotton breeches. For AQHA/APHA/ApHC/NSBA events, olive or khaki are the most popular colors.”
Make sure the colors you wear compliment your skin tone and follow the standards of the association. As far as western clothing, the safest bet is staying with a black base, especially if you want to go with a bright, vibrant accent color. Make sure whatever accent color you chose matches your horse and the other tones of your outfit. Neutral color tones are also a safe bet while also allowing you to stand out in the pen.
DON’T skimp on the basics
You have to keep in mind the foundation of horse show fashion. This will be helpful in everything from putting together an entirely new outfit to only purchasing a pair of black showmanship pants. You need a good quality, well-shaped hat before anything else. Nothing ruins a stunning outfit more than a dirty, floppy western hat. The same ideology applies to English classes as well.
Brewer says, “Invest in a quality double vented hunt coat in approved color for your breed. Pay close attention to a hunt coat that is too short (likely above hips) or too long where you sit on it when you post. Make sure it has a well-tailored look for your body and overall fits well.”
Do not skimp out on quality when purchasing the foundation pieces to your outfit. The length and overall fit are essential and cannot be reiterated enough.
Bailey suggests, “Investing in good hats and boots is a great idea. Nothing will detract from your looks like badly shaped hats or dirty, ill-fitting boots. Take great care of your hats and boots, and they will last forever.”
If you value the basics and take care of your clothing, they will be sure to last.
Photos © Kirstie Marie Photography
About the Author: Cat Guenther is a devout equestrian and a senior at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. She has been riding horses for almost nine years and has loved every minute of it. Cat started and runs her successful show clothing business, Behind the Bit Show Clothing. Her favorite classes are horsemanship, showmanship, and trail. She plans to attend Michigan State University in the future to study veterinary medicine and possibly also business. Cat is excited to show the all-around classes in 2019 with Zippos Kat Man Do aka Teddy.