Side Saddle - What to wear

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Me & My boy!!!

After numerous requests I'm putting together a brief overview of correct clothing for sidesaddle, so hopefully you can avoid any costly or even worse embarassing mistakes!! It's not comprehensive and I'm the first to hold my hands up and say I might be wrong, but I'm giving it a go!!! I'm sure I'll keep coming back to this and updating it and I welcome any questions, corrections or comments. 

Hats - Obviously for competing under rules (ie showjumping, dressage, XC) you must follow the organisers rules which will normally mean a properly fitted and current standard skull cap or velvet hat WITH A HARNESS!! If you are wearing a tweed habit a black velvet hat or plain black velvet skull cover is correct, with a dark habit (ie black or navy) a matching velvet hat or cover is fine. A grey or brown velvet hat or cover is acceptable but only if worn with a tweed habit and BROWN long boots. For showing, if you want to wear a proper hat (ie a modern current standard hat with a harness) that is fine (indeed most showgrounds will insist that this is what you will wear) and NO judge should mark you down beacuse you are wearing one. Just be sensible and bear in mind that side saddle is about understated elegance so leave your sparkly hat covers or pink plastic endurance helmets at home!

Nowadays it is considered correct for a topper to be worn with a dark habit and a bowler with a tweed. You will see ladies wearing a bowler with a dark habit and whilst a touch more practical for hunting it's not really correct. It did become fashion in the Edwardian period to wear a bowler with a dark habit but a topper is much smarter.

If you want to wear a top hat, you are going to have to spend!!! A black antique silk hat is best. A good one will cost about £200 but will usually come with a proper box which suspends the hat upside down & protects it and with care this hat will last well. Make sure it is a good snug fit for obvious reasons, but if it is a little loose pack strips of newspaper under the leather headband until it is snug. If the silk pile doesn't lay flat stroke it down with a piece of slightly damp velvet until it behaves! If the silk has worn thin in places this can be carefully coloured in with black boot polish but make sure this won't run if it rains! If the hat does get wet let it air dry - DON'T put it on a radiator or use a hairdryer!!! You should wear a veil a top hat which is similar to a hairnet but made specially shaped and with a little button that does up at the back of the hat so that the whole thing sits properly and looks correct. You can buy these from online side saddle shops and they are really cheap so DON'T just strech a normal hairnet over the whole thing or stitch on bits of tutu!!! The only correct topper is a silk one I'm afraid (the shiny ones). Cheap matt felt ones that men wear at weddings are wrong, as are the dressage ones which have a much lower top.

Bowlers are much easier to get hold of and much cheaper and it's still possible to buy the hard top hunting bowlers but these realistically offer you very little in the event of a fall. Buy the best you can afford, but for these a matt felt one is what you want. You always wear a veil with a bowler. Bear in mind these usually give way and split at the sides where the brim meets the body of the hat so when you put your bowler on hold it at the front & back not the sides. Again a grey bowler is fine if worn with tweed and brown boots, the same goes for a brown bowler. Invest in a hatbox it will save your bowler a lot of wear and tear!

The bit in between - You should always wear your hair in a bun at the nape of your neck with a bun net. If you don't have enough hair get a false bun. These do tend to fall off at the most awkward moments however, but a good soloution is to stitch it to the back of your hat then pin it to your existing hair as well. Remember the understated elegance rule with your make up, but also bear in mind it is considered correct to have a full face of make up when in a dark habit and topper so get the lippy out! Jewellery should never be worn sidesaddle and you will get marked down in a showing class if you are wearing earrings. Piercings of any description are a complete no no I'm afraid.

Neckwear - With a dark habit it is only correct to wear a plain white stock. No frilly bits, no spots, just PLAIN white! The tie it yourself variety in either silk or cotton are best (I prefer cotton as they wash and iron better) as they are much smarter and longer. You can get them from most saddlers, they come with instructions, just practise in front of the mirror! Because they are longer they will tuck right down almost into the waist of your jods so are less likely to end up flapping round your ears. If you must wear a ready tied stock put a safety pin through the bottom of it through your shirt to stop it becoming un - tucked. Stock pins are a matter of personal taste but remember - understated elegance so the plainer the better!!!

With a tweed habit you should wear a collar and tie or a coloured stock (ie navy with small white spots, burgundy with small gold spots, tatersall check etc) but the stock should only be worn for hunting, not showing.

Butonhole - If you want to wear a buttonhole it should traditionally be a blue cornflower. I don't know why - if anyone does know, please tell me! Do not wear a rose, carnation in tinfoil etc... the cornflower must be live not artificial, but not many people wear them and you'll look just as smart without. The little glitzy ribbon buttonholes you can get to match your browbands are not correct for sidesaddle - EVER! Neither come to mention it are the browbands (or the matching scrunchies)!!! All tack should be plain - Leave the bling at home if you're sidesaddling.

Shirts - Again a PLAIN white show shirt with a plain stock collar, or if you're wearing ratcatcher a PLAIN shirt with a stiff collar. If you are wearing a stock shirt - wear a stock! Don't just wear the shirt and hope no-one will notice! There are several makes avaliable of white knitted stretchy jersey shirts which are ideal for sidesaddle, wash well, don't have acres to be tucked in and are a very flattering fitted shape (try Musto). 

Corsets - Yes you did read that right! I am a convert! A friend made me a victorian riding corset (specially shaped with elastic panels) and I now wear it every time I side saddle. If you get a bad back get one of these! It stops my back hurting, makes me sit up straight, gives me a fab shape and stops me eating too many buns at lunchtime. It doesn't interfere with my breathing, I can gallop and jump in it and I really wouldn't be without it! Bear in mind though your Ann Summers variety aren't shaped right and will hurt (not to mention embarassing if you end up in A&E) - it's got to be specially made!

Waistcoats - The only correct colour for sidesaddle is a shade of yellow, from ivory through to primrose or a quiet tatersall check (yellow background). Have one made to measure if you can, as most waistcoats are made for the male figure and not flattering. Your waistcoat should be wool, not silk as this will crease and is really hard to keep clean. The bottom button can be either done up or undone for a lady.

Jackets - Like hats go for the best you can afford. If you're going to have one made to measure use a tailor and go and have fittings -don't buy them online!!. The jacket should be fitted, flattering and plain. It ideally needs to be cutaway in front so you don't end up with a lap full of bunched up material - see pic. Wool, not  polyester, and black, navy or a quiet tweed are best. For XC I'd recommend tweed as it doesn't show the mud too much. Another alternative for XC is your usual top & body protector with a plain apron (the waterproof ones are really good and survive dunkings well!).

Gloves - for showjumping and xc obviously safety is paramount so I usually wear my ordinary "sticky hands" gloves. The main thing to remember is not to wear black gloves as traditionally this is considered a faux pas (if your'e wearing black gloves you're in mourning, therefore shouldn't be riding). Plain brown or tan leather gloves look very smart with both dark and tweed habits. Avoid synthetics and I personally avoid white crochet or string gloves as I have huge hands and I end up looking like I'm wearing oven gloves. A pale chamois leather glove is correct for formal wear, but a dark glove elongates the arm and is more flattering. Always wear gloves, it finishes your outfit. If you find then a bit slippy get hold of some URAD leather cream - avaliable online. Use it on your gloves & reins and hey presto - you're spiderman!!!

Aprons - As for jackets really. Make sure it matches your jacket!!! Not generally an issue with black but can become very noticeable with navy and downright circus with tweeds! If in doubt check it outside in daylight for a colour match. The hem should be weighted to stop flapping and if your right foot keeps appearing  Always wear an apron! However skinny your thighs are your right one turns into a big plate of jelly when seen from the offside. Cover it up!!! Even if you're doing xc or jumping. Wear an apron - it looks lovely and adds to the mystery (How does she stay on!?)

Jods - THEY MUST MATCH THE COLOUR OF YOUR HABIT!!! Don't wear canary yellow jods under a black habit (as some of the ladies did at Windsor this year). IT LOOKS AWFUL! Dark beige are best under a tweed or plain navy or black to match habits. I can thoroughly recommend sticky bums too!!!

Boots - Long leather, black or brown. Not chaps!!! Boots with zips are great as you can leave the top inch of the zip on your right boot undone to stop it jabbing in the back of your knee. Another soloution to this is to buy a pair of the "old fashioned" pull on boots and have a saddler remove a cut out at the back of the right boot or have them both shortened by and inch or two.  If you have boots with decorative metal buttons on the outside of the leg it may be best to have the right one removed as it will scratch your saddle. If your boots have garter straps remember to have the right buckle at the front of your knee rather than the side for the same reason. Always clean the soles of your boots before a show. They are really visible on a sidesaddle and chewing gum, fag ends and poo are not a good way to finish off a lovely outfit!!! You should wear a spur on your left boot only. If your horse doesn't take them dummy spurs are a good option.

A note on hunting...

For hunting I would recommend a proper hat as described above for competing under rules just for safetys sake, HOWEVER I know there are those of you out there that won't wear one, so for you... For cubbing you should wear ratcatcher which is a tweed habit with a collar and tie and a black bowler or black velvet hat/skull. For hunting proper you should wear a dark habit with a waistcoat and PLAIN white stock & silk top hat (or velvet hat/skull). Technically for a full days hunting you should wear ratcatcher in the morning and change at midday into your dark habit and a top hat, but for those of you lacking the facility to have a mobile changing room and change of clothes in a convenient place an hour after you've set off, a dark habit or ratcatcher will be fine for the whole day. If in doubt check with the hunt secretary. Generally, if you are hunting in either ratcatcher or a dark habit as long as you are neat and safe (and warm enough!) you should be fine. In todays climate it's generally perfectly acceptable to wear a proper hat rather than a topper or bowler for hunting so don't feel obliged or pressured by appearances!!! Lots of people wear beagling caps for hunting (velvet riding caps but with no harness and very little safety value). Traditionally these should not be worn by any lady other than the masters wife and they must always have their back ribbon tail stitched up. They do not look terribly smart with a habit and for the amount of protection they offer a topper or bowler look much more appropriate. Bear in mind with toppers that you are far more likely to get caught in trees etc. Victorian ladies right through to Edwardian had a cord stitched into their hats that then buttoned on to the inside of their collars so they could retrieve their hats if they got knocked off without having to dismount!  

Myself and the incomparable Henry "doing Victorian"

Hope this helps!

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