Vintage Riding Apparel
The fabrics worn for riding from the mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries were made from silks, muslins, and velvets. The fabric used for making women's riding habits could be very expensive and because of the amount of cloth needed, it would often cost substantially more than an evening gown. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, riding habits were frequently adorned with gold, silver, or later woolen braiding. And in such bright colors as red with bright gold colored braid details.
For men in the nineteenth century, riding clothing became more subdued in style and hue. The early nineteenth-century gentleman wore a single-breasted tail-coat and cravat. His legs required more specialized garments such as breeches made from buckskin were typically worn. For more dress attire he wore riding trousers or pantaloons with a strap to keep them from riding up. If he wore shoes rather than boots, he could use knee-gaiters to protect his legs.
Because of their practicality, lack of decorative detail, and allowance for mobility, women wore riding habits not only on horseback but also as visiting, travelling, and walking costumes during the day. For women, the upper half of riding habits often differed little from the clothing worn by their male counterparts, with the addition of darts and shaping for the bust. The bottom half of the horsewoman's costume expressed her femininity. Because ladies were expected to ride sidesaddle from the fifteenth to the early twentieth centuries, they wore skirts specially designed for the purpose. While skirts tended to be relatively simple in cut and construction and quite voluminous in the early modern period, the Victorian habit-skirt was a masterwork of tailoring. Because the skirt could catch on the saddle in the event of a fall, injuring or killing the rider, many "safety skirts" were designed and patented by British firms like Harvey Nicholl and Busvine. These asymmetrical shorter skirts took many forms, including the apron-skirt, a false front that covered the legs when mounted and could be buttoned at the back when the rider dismounted.
Emerald green habits with short spencer jackets were popular in the early decades of the nineteenth century and during the 1830s followed the fashions for leg o'- mutton sleeves. During the Victorian period, as men's dress became more somber, so did women's riding habits. This is because riding habits were made by tailors rather than dressmakers and cut and fashioned with the same techniques from the same selection of fabrics. By the end of the century, black was the most appropriate color for women's riding dress.
The Victorian period introduced breeches and riding trousers for women. This garment prevented chafing and was concealed under the skirt and were made from dark wool to match the habit and remained invisible if the skirt should fly up.
Female emancipation, and increased participation in a wide variety of sports, especially bicycling, changed women's relationship with the riding costume. On their travels, women used horses for practical transportation and exploration and these animals were not always broken to ride sidesaddle. For safety and comfort, women had to ride astride and new habits with breeches or trousers and jackets with long skirts were devised.
Jodhpurs were based on a style of Indian trousers that ballooned over the thighs and were cut tightly below the knees. These became popular for both men and women on horseback. "Ride astride" habits began to become acceptable in the first decades of the twentieth century, though many women continued to ride sidesaddle until mid-century. Tweeds were standard for informal riding wear such as "hacking jackets." In the second half of the twentieth century riding had evolved in the directions of both recreation and competitive sport and specialized clothing with higher safety standards had become the norm, and less expensive materials like rubber replaced leather boots while polar fleece, Gore-Tex, and down jackets were used for warmth and waterproofing.
While horses were often the most practical means of transportation in the eighteenth century, the arrival of rail travel increased the popularity of riding as a leisure activity. Functional clothing worn for work with horses included the carrick or greatcoat of the coachman with triple capes to keep off rain and snow. Those who worked in agricultural contexts around the world developed specialized attire, such as the leather or suede chaps worn by the American cowboy, the sheepskins worn by herders in the French marshes of the Camargue, or the poncho worn by gauchos in South America.
Riding attire has always symbolized grace and leisured elegance. We hope you find our riding jacket and riding skirt a fun modern take on the the vast evolution of the riding habit.