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Western Show Apparel - Vests, Jackets, and Blazers

Suzanne Drnec, Hobby Horse Inc.

Vests, jackets, and blazers are an important part of a woman's western show wardrobe in today's competitive show environment. Whether you choose a simple vest for local level trail classes or an incredible blazer for your World show debut, these garments set the tone for your show presentation. Layered over blouses or slinky tops, vests, jackets, and blazers are items that can completely change the personality of your presentation, create a specific impression for the judge, and add maximum versatility to your existing show apparel wardrobe. Even if you are showing just a few times a year at your community arena, consider these items to add interest to your show look.

An important question is "When do I wear a vest, and do I really need a jacket or a blazer?" Let's look at possible scenarios for show girls. If you compete a few times a year at club level shows, a vest that you can wear over a variety of tops for different looks will trim up your figure, add color or texture to your look, or simply make for a change of pace from blouses. Choose a vest style appropriate to the level of showing you plan to undertake: while leather vests with rhinestone trims are currently the rage at bigger shows, you might look overdressed in one at a small, casual schooling show. Also, think about which blouses or slinky tops you'll wear under your vest, and what jewelry you'll use to finish off the neckline.

Vests are the most versatile and probably the least expensive of the garments we're discussing this month—and are your best apparel investment after a quality hat and chaps. A vest is usually more casual than a jacket or blazer, and allows you freedom of movement in your arms—an important consideration in classes like reining and trail, or if you're riding a young horse two-handed. As well, vests can slightly insulate your upper body in chilly indoor arenas, yet allow body heat to dissipate through the arms and open necklines if you're showing in hot or humid weather. Leather or fabric, decorated with rhinestones or in a classic tapestry, vests easily, and affordably, capture a rider's personality and transmit it to observers.

When considering a show vest, remember the long, lean, fitted silhouette you're trying to present in the show ring. Vests should be long enough to cover at least the top edge of your chap or pants waistband at your center back when you are mounted to prevent your shirt working its way out as you ride. Armholes should be fairly snug and fitted, as should the bust line, to prevent gapping. Most fashion vests are made to be worn loose and hanging open and never look smooth buttoned up as you'll do in the ring, so it's worth in'vest'ing in a garment designed to fit while you're on a horse, not walking down the street. Consider the vest's back too—the judge will see your back at least as much as your front view, so avoid 'coffin clothes' that are highly embellished on the front and plain in back and look unbalanced as you lope around the ring.

If you show at the regional or state level, add a jacket or blazer to your collection of show togs after you collect a vest or two. Though a blouse or vest/blouse combination can get you through a lot of shows, jackets and blazers are part of the standard show uniform for showmanship and longe line classes these days and a nice option in riding classes as well. If you can only afford one piece, go for a short jacket that you can wear with show pants for halter classes, and with chaps for riding.

Blazers—jackets longer than your hip bones—are a fashion fatality when riding, as they simply bunch up around your hips and make you look like a pile of laundry. Blazers are, however, the preferred look in showmanship classes at Quarter horse and stock breed shows now. Consider the classes you're likely to show in for the next year, and then choose the clothes you'll need accordingly. Keep an eye on color and style and you'll be adding clothes that mix and match with your existing pieces to build a flexible, versatile wardrobe with elements that mix and match to create many different outfits.

In fitting jackets and blazers, a tapered body and lots of sleeve length are necessary—don't let those wrist bones and Rolexes peek out! Vest-length hems are usually best for short jackets, and blazer hems should be proportionate to the wearer's height: taller people can wear longer blazers without looking like they are being overwhelmed with fabric. Sleeve trims add interest in the arena, and can be placed all over, on shoulders, or cuffs, or perhaps tie in with yokes on the bodice of the garment.

Vest, jacket, and blazer fabrics range from the simple to the sublime, from denim to tapestries, wool to fine leather. They can be trimmed with anything from pretty buttons to faux fur collars, and decorations include appliques, embroidery, rhinestones, nailheads (metal rhinestones,) and contrasting fabrics. Necklines may be V, rounded, or high in design, or form novelty shapes including tulips and stars, with or without collars in mandarin, shirt, and band styles. Popular closures include buttons, toggles, and zippers in single and double-breasted styles. Try several different garments to see what looks best for you, and remember these tips when considering show vests, jackets, or blazers:

• If you're short, look for a vertical pattern to elongate your figure.

• Thinner fabrics add less bulk to your silhouette than quilted or tapestry materials.

• Princess-line seams (curved panels fitting over the bust) fit better than simple darts.

• Full-figured women usually prefer classic styles with simple geometric designs.

• Minimize your waistline with clothes that blend, rather than contrast, with your pants or chap color.

• Try on show apparel with the rest of your show outfit and your hat. Everything makes you look fat when you try it on over a sweatshirt!

• Avoid delicate fabrics like lightweight satin or embroidered chiffon—they abrade badly at the sides and are often an expensive disappointment.

• Don't settle for quality that is not at least as good as national brands of women's wear in department stores- show clothes take a lot of abuse, and also need to dry clean well.

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Article reprinted with permission of author. ©2004 Suzanne Drnec. 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 ornaments including three Paint horses.