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3 Key Elements of a Successful Show Outfit


Horse show fashion is how an exhibitor expresses their personality without having to say a word. The individual can highlight their uniqueness, creativity, and style through their outfit choice.

A successful outfit must be classy and professional. A businessperson would not wear their pajamas to an important meeting; they put on their best suit. The same ideology can be applied to the show pen.

Exhibitors who focus on the important details of their outfit will enter the show pen with confidence. Judges, fellow exhibitors, even the horses can tell when a rider is confident walking up to the start cone.

What are the critical aspects of a successful show outfit? What should one keep in mind when dressing for success? We talked to designers about their three vital traits of a successful show outfit.

The Overall Fit

Fit is everything. An exhibitor wearing a plain, fitted, button-up shirt will always look more polished than someone in an ill-fitted jacket with thousands of crystals.

Leading designer Paula Diuri of Paula’s Place, comments, “Proper proportion or design to a person’s size is key. You don’t want a design to be overbearing. It needs to compliment the exhibitor.” The overall fit of the jacket or shirt must complement the exhibitor’s body type. A design that accents the exhibitor well will present a clean, crisp look in the arena.

The same perfect fit is essential in English classes as well. For the hunt seat pen, Elizabeth Brewer of Boo Yah Custom Clothing suggests, “Having a quality, well-fitting hunt coat in an acceptable color and a shirt with olive/khaki/tan breeches are very important.”

Working with a knowledgeable seamstress will be extremely helpful when looking for the perfect fit. Make sure to wear the proper clothes when having the outfit tailored. Brewer adds, “Try it on before a show with proper undergarments. If parts need to be altered, find a local seamstress, and have her make any necessary adjustments, so it fits correctly and well when you show. Be sure to wear the correct undergarments if you do need to have alterations made.”

The common thread among all designers is the fit of the garment. No matter the discipline, an outfit that looks professional is vital. Diuri concludes, “The most important trait is fit, fit, fit!”

The Devil’s in the Details

English bishop Francis Atterbury, once said, “It’s attention to detail that makes the difference between average and stunning.” An exhibitor can elevate their look by paying attention to the small things that seem unimportant. All the little details make the look come together when it is time to show.

Diuri comments, “Details are second only to a great fit. Unique design elements pique interest, drawing the observer’s attention. Those design elements are my attention to detail. I like a flow and a reason, not just a lot of stuff. Sometimes, less is more.”

Simplicity never goes out of style. Planning out show outfits requires an immense amount of detail-oriented thinking. If the exhibitor decides to take the simple route for their fashion choice, the specifics are also of utmost importance.

The small details require a plan to be in place. Wendy Brown of Show Me Again advises, “When planning their show outfit, exhibitors should consider a flattering color scheme that complements their horse’s color. Creating a theme can be fun, but also consider the potential resale value if that is an important element torenew your look down the road.”

Preparing ahead of time allows the exhibitor to focus on small things. An outfit that is classy and simple is always “in style.” The details of these simple outfits are just as important as an outfit with thousands of crystals.

In the hunt seat pen, a classic black coat, a white shirt, and tan breeches are just a few of the timeless details. Brewer adds, “For either discipline, being simple and classy is always a safe bet, and creating a timeless look will never go out of style.”

Show with Confidence

A confident exhibitor will shine more than a million Swarovski crystals ever could. Show clothes will never define placings in a class, but they will give the rider that extra boost needed to ride to the best of their ability.

A pivotal element to confidence is feeling and looking your best. Clean boots, tamed fly-away hairs, and polished nails are three elements Brown discusses, “Take the time to examine each element of your package. Take the time to apply makeup and lipstick as you would in a professional setting. Tame flyaway hairs and accent with small earrings. Manicure or polish your nails to bring a finished appearance to your overall presentation. Wipe off your boots and ensure your chaps do not have shavings or dirt around the bottom.”

Feeling clean and polished before stepping into the arena gives an exhibitor the confidence to conquer the day. Brown adds, “We know how hard it is to stay clean at a horse show, but a few extra steps give the impression that you care about your appearance and want to bring the total package. You’ve invested in your show clothes, so your grooming should reflect that.”

An outfit that is clean, well-fitting, and crisp will give the exhibitor the “spark” they need to succeed. Brewer concludes, “Pick something you will feel confident in, and that will radiate from the pen.”


About the Author: Cat Guenther is a dedicated equestrian and a freshman at Michigan State University. Cat started and runs her successful show clothing business, Behind the Bit Show Clothing. She loves to show the all-around classes with her beloved horse, Zippos Kat Man Do, aka Teddy. She is currently on a Pre-Veterinary track and also hopes to study business.

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