Western Fashion: Head to Toe - Chapter 1: Introduction and Color Coordination
This chapter begins a book designed to help you create a winning wardrobe for western show events. We'll evaluate the main elements head-to-toe that make up your western show wardrobe, and discuss hints and visual tricks to help create the look you need in today's tough show competition. With these ideas in mind, you can assess both your horse and yourself to decide what elements in your present wardrobe to keep and what to update. No one knows better than yourself what you like, so remember that my suggestions are just that - nothing is written in stone, except in the show rulebook!
In this introduction, we'll first discuss some why, how, and how much issues of building a western show wardrobe. Next, we'll consider basics of color and style. In future chapters, we'll focus on hats, vests, blazers and jackets, blouses and shirts, pants/belts/buckles, chaps, boots, saddle blankets, and accessories.
It's important to understand the rules, both written and unwritten, of the horse show game. You're being judged on only one thing in the show arena -IMPRESSION- and it's vitally important that you overlook no detail in your performance or turnout. You must not only have your horse schooled and groomed to perfection, but you must look like a winner - coordinating your attire and your horse's tack to flatter your strong points and minimize your weaknesses, with your presentation being both legal and appropriate for both the class and level of competition. Remember:
1. Your equipment must satisfy the rules of the association or club you show with- become familiar with your rulebook and don't lose a prize because you "didn't know".
2. You're being judged on how you look, so there's no sense in not looking your best. Wisely planning a good show wardrobe will not only help you make a good IMPRESSION, but will also give you an extra bit of confidence each time you enter the arena, and save you time and aggravation in the long run.
Not a million dollar question, fortunately. Putting together a good western show wardrobe shouldn't cost a mint if you plan carefully and always buy the best quality that you can afford. Spend your money where it shows- in the show ring- and consider economizing somewhere less visible: perhaps a less opulent hotel at the horse show, or a truck that merely pulls your horse trailer rather than creating a sensation as it barrels down the road: you're being judged in the show pen, not the parking lot.
For a new rider with no wardrobe, plan on investing close to $1,000 initially for chaps, hat, show blanket, and assorted clothes for a quality western wardrobe suitable for showing competitively at local and regional level shows. Remember that quality basics will last for years and also have excellent resale value. Good show clothing is not an expense; it's an investment in your success.
Consider this: if you show once a month for four years, the difference between a terrific $1,000 wardrobe and an average-at-best $500 bunch of clothes is about $10 per show. Isn't it worth the extra ten bucks to look like a winner?
Color plays a very important role in the impression that you make in the show ring. You must flatter your horse at the same time you try to look unique- a trick when there's 20 sorrel horses with riders in black chaps loping around together! Before you choose colors, keep in mind that your horse will affect the overall picture much more than your little face: don't ever choose something you don't like, but dress for your horse as well as yourself, because very little of your coloring shows in the pen, compared to the acre of horse you're riding!
Do some investigation: consider a trip to the library for a book on fashion and color, and do your own research for both you and your horse. ("He's tall, dark, and chestnut.") Or check out the InterActiv feature - it's a fun way to preview color combinations for you and your horse. When it comes to color, trust your instincts, start simple, and study the impression color creates in the show ring before you start spending.
In general, horses are either "redheads" (sorrel, chestnut, red roan, rose gray, dun- horses with red hair) which look especially nice with softer earth-tone shades of sand, rust, brown, peach, and most any green tone, or "brunettes" (bay, black, white, most grays- horses with brown, black, or white hair) which can wear bright jewel-tone colors like red, blue, purple and also the greens well. "Neutral" color group horses include palominos, buckskins, and grullas who can use either the earth-tone or jewel-tone accents, depending on the rider's preferences, horse's coat color, and the horse's markings.
Some horses including Appaloosas, Pintos, and Paints are a little harder to classify. If your horse has more than 50% body white, consider the brunette/jewel-tone colors to contrast with your horse's white coat and avoid a dreary "sand chaps on almost white horse" combination. If your colorful horse has less than 50% body white, use his primary coat color as the determining factor: for example a minimal white sorrel overo Paint would probably look best in the redhead/earth-tone colors.
If you ride several horses, or aren't sure what color horse you may be showing, consider the versatile blue/green color range. From the palest mint to the deepest forest green, these colors look great on almost any horse color, and also carry well from a distance in the show ring. Picture a beautiful teal green shirt with a matching saddle blanket on a sorrel horse and a bay - it's a winning picture either way.
Show fashions don't change with each season of each year like street apparel. Good basics like hats and chaps can be updated from time to time and should last you for many years, given reasonable care and a semi-steady body weight. Show clothing fashions have a life-cycle of several years from the time something new hits the world shows and then trickles down to local or regional level shows, so consider that you're investing in clothing that should be useful in your wardrobe for three or four years, then budget and invest accordingly.
Keep in mind that dark colors minimize while light colors emphasize. Smaller patterned or vertical stripe fabrics will minimize and lengthen, while large, bold stripes or horizontal designs will shorten or broaden your figure. Remember, too, that the judge will be looking at you from at least 50 feet away, so tiny details will be lost but color and silhouette will carry from rail to rail. Make sure your outfit "reads on stage."
If you're bottom-heavy, you might consider a dark chap color to minimize "thighs of size" with a vertical patterned dark vest to minimize your middle, topped off with a lighter hat to visually draw the observer's eye upward and create the illusion of height in your upper body. If you're tall, a darker hat will visually compress you a little, especially with a darkish outfit below it. Busty? Try to keep layers- lapels, ties, collars- to a minimum on your chest and go for a color blend at the waist. Small, or trying to create a bigger or more adult impression? Go for a sharp color contrast between chaps and tops, and emphasize accessories- bolder ties or a little more jewelry, perhaps.
Any figure will look trimmer if you try to make everything- chaps, belt, vest/jacket/shirt- come together at your natural waist instead of your hips. No color or style will erase your figure flaws, but careful choices can emphasize your good points and minimize your weaknesses. Trends come and go, but good taste is always in style - just study breed journals and other magazines to see what the look is in your area. Better yet, attend a few shows like those you'll be competing in with a camera to snap a few reminders of what you did or didn't like.
How do you create a winning look? Simply put, by planning. Great performances don't happen accidentally: they're scripted, rehearsed, and polished long before being presented to the judge. From head-to-toe and poll-to-hoof, you can improve your placings and performance by planning ahead.
Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornament horses.