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The 2006 Fashion Forecast for Western Show Apparel

Suzanne Vlietstra, Hobby Horse Clothing Company

Judges appreciate exhibitors who present cutting-edge performances packaged with attractive and trendy tack and apparel, so now’s the time to evaluate your show apparel wardrobe for possible upgrades or replacement. Here’s an easy way to evaluate what to wear in the arena this year: think of women’s show clothes like fine diamonds and use the four C’s to determine the desirability of new styles. The four C’s of show apparel are color, cut, comfort, and coordination-and they’re the keys to winning western wardrobes.


Bold blouses in prints ranging from florals to complex graphics will be seen, and materials with extra shine from sequins and metallic threads or holographic inks will also add shimmer to the show ring. Watch for beaded accents on classic vests and jackets as a dressy option to relentless rhinestones, too.

Colors to look for: anything in the blue-green spectrum from celery to forest, lots of turquoise and teal, and also off-shades of red including fuchsia, pinks, and coral shades. Blues from sky through royal and midnite are attractive on almost any color horse. Chocolate and deep blue join black and sand as versatile chap colors that add visual interest out in the arena. Don’t spoil the look of colored chaps with the wrong accessories, though-be sure that pants, belt, and chaps all are the same color for the best impression.


Today’s show apparel cut is trim but flattering, with accents at the neck and wrist in the form of oversize collars and French cuffs on almost everything. These big collars and cuffs add interest and create a perfect place to use appliqu? and crystals in profusion: don’t expect to see de-blinged show clothes any time soon. Imagine women’s show apparel as a shapely surface for embellishment and you can’t go wrong.

Color is back-in a big way. Years of black, black, and more black are giving way to a full spectrum of color in eye-catching patterns and designs. While some riders opt for an overall color theme with tops, chaps, pants, and boots all of a hue, others are keeping their black or sand chaps but being positively provocative in pairing these perennials with unpredictable tops: think turquoise with sand, black with purple, chocolate with metallic gold.

Blouses continue to take the prize for originality and fresh fashion, but keep an eye on short tunics, too. These stretchy tops are hip-bone length and may be worn tails-out in both halter and riding events for a no-fuss fit suitable for any figure. And speaking of suits, expect to see classic tailored jacket/pant combos gaining in popularity for in-hand events. Colored or black, suits can be heavily embellished or the essence of elegant simplicity. Traditional blazers in a variety of lengths remain a wardrobe basic for halter classes, as well.


Let’s talk about comfort: it’s critical. The days of being trussed up in tight shiny leather clothes that highlighted every little bulge and roll are over-it’s all about comfort now. Riders got a taste of freedom with power-knit Super Slinkies and won’t be looking back to rigid fabrics that bind and restrict riding motion. At last, technical textiles with Lycra and other stretch fabrics are getting rave reviews in the show ring for their all-day comfort and fabulous array of colors, styles, and patterns.

Show apparel must be form-fitting to create an elegant silhouette when viewed from center ring, but choose stretch fabrics and careful design to achieve that look. If your customers have wintered well and can’t imagine wearing a thin, fitted blouse over their less-than-taut tummy, simply add a stretch faux suede vest that matches their chaps for a slenderizing and sensible all-event ensemble. And slinky tops? With band or traditional collars, they’re still a great deal in comfort, price, and variety whether layered or decorated with elaborate beading, crystals, or other shimmering accents.


Take time to coordinate all the elements of an outfit to flatter both horse and rider and you’ll create the look of a winning team. The most important element to achieve this coordinated look is the right saddle blanket.

It must be big enough to properly frame the saddle, and should harmonize with colors in the clothing. With today’s boldly patterned trendy tops, consider a solid color blanket that matches the rider’s chaps on one side, and reverses to their primary accent color on the other. Complex clothing looks best with simple, classic saddle blankets.

Other details to decide: rhinestone jewelry can add a beautiful finishing touch to dressy outfits-consider colored crystals for an even more dramatic look. In hats, fine quality is the watchword, with brims proportionate to the riders’ face and perhaps sporting a trendy bound edge. Pair a black hat with black chaps, and suggest a warm tone like buckskin or cool tone like platinum for colored chaps. And for big pleasure-class hair under those hats, how about a clip-on hair extension for a show day shortcut? If a show horse can wear a faux ponytail, shouldn’t his rider?

For show men, the traditional garb of crisply starched oxford-style shirts with chaps and jeans continues, although a few traditional cut western shirts with yokes and snaps will make their way back into the winner’s circle. White shirts are always in fashion, with solid colors the predominant look. Stock a few plaids and an adventurous paisley or print for variety. Any shirt should be coordinated to the horse’s color and saddle blanket for the look of a champion.

For our horses, pale western tack continues it’s decade-long grip on fashion with a few trendsetters using darker saddles and headstalls to change direction. Silver everywhere is a good rule of thumb-and it sure looks great contrasted against darker leather. Show halters are all medium to dark oil, with interesting silver effects on hardware. Like hats, quality tack is the desired look in the arena with custom accents including monogrammed headstall buckles adding an elegant accent.

Exhibitors will get what they pay for in show clothes and accessories, so help them invest in quality that looks great now and has good resale value later. Better chaps and apparel have tight, even stitches, smooth seams, balanced and symmetrical appliqu? trims, quality Swarovski rhinestones set so they don’t snag, and well-proportioned and attractive design elements. Good design and use of proportion makes for beautiful show clothes, but excess is simply too much. Quality takes precedence over quantity of trims and accents, and as always, the trimmest, sleekest look wins.

With time at a premium for busy and affluent horse owners, make your store the one-stop-show-shop by stocking a variety of basic and fancy show apparel in a full range of sizes, and related tack in a good/better/best value range. If you stock it, they will come.

For 2006, the winning western clothing look is colorful, comfortable, cut to flatter each figure, and coordinated perfectly with horse and show blanket to paint a picture of effortless elegance.

©2006 Suzanne Vlietstra. Writing or riding, Suzanne Vlietstra enjoys horses and their people. Vlietstra is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including three Paint horses. Reprinted with permission.