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Western Show Apparel Fashion Forecast for 2007: Shape, Shade, and Shine

Suzanne Vlietstra, Hobby Horse Clothing Company

The winning look for 2007 in the western show arena combines shape, shade, and shine in show apparel with beautiful horses perfectly turned out in coordinated blankets and tack. Fabrics are elegant, details are dramatic, and color continues to make an important statement in the show ring this year.

For shape, think fitted silhouettes with exceptional detailing like high Diva collars, curvy French cuffs, and body-conscious design that draws a judge's eye up to a rider's face and away from her hips. Look for more tailored jackets this year in lengths from vest-short to long hip length for riding, some of which can be worn tunic-style with tails in or out for varied impressions

Unlined jackets with blouse tendencies are also important; comfortable in stretch fabrics, slenderizing worn over the chap waist, and embellished with everything from crystals to appliqué, pearls, and embroidery, these lightweight jackets work for both halter and riding events.

Blouses continue to gain in popularity for their simplicity and comfort features, and bold detailing on notched or tall collars and cuffs lend them personality that's apparent from clear across the arena. Stretch fabrics and zipper closures make these tops fit smoothly while offering complete freedom of movement in classes as quiet as western pleasure or as athletic as reining.

Beware, though, the dreaded muffin-top effect: a stretch blouse can be rather revealing of waistline excess or bountiful baby boomer bustlines. Having seen photos of themselves in the show ring wearing dangerously stretched blouses, many riders are now adding a classic chap-matching vest to tame their torsos while letting a blouse's collar, cuffs, and sleeves add interest around their face.

For shades of color, western exhibitors' apparel palette is usually based on black or sand chaps with brights and earth tones mixed in attractive tops. Redheaded horses like sorrels and chestnuts are especially flattered by earth tone colors like sand, whiskey, and chocolate while brown-haired horses like bays, black and most grays are lovely in jewel tones: red, blue, green and their derivatives in strong hues. Head-to-toe colorful outfits are making a comeback, especially on youth riders, but must be perfectly coordinated to pull off the look.

This year's jewel-tone brights include turquoise, rich bordeaux, and deep pink, along with bold red and royal blue. Purple continues to be a popular accent color for riders of all ages. In earth-tone shades that especially flatter those redheaded sorrel and chestnut horses, versatile whiskey or chocolate mixes nicely with paler sand and cream shades, topped with coral, sage, and other softly colored hues. Classic black and white will also be seen, hinting at formality but with a playful side.

Shine in the show ring comes from many sources this show season: silver tack, healthy horses, and of course, an abundance of crystals. But shine in apparel comes from more than Swarovski: metallic fabrics and those with tiny overall sequins bring their own unique shimmer to the arena. Textured lace with twinkling accents, elegant velvets, and metallic trims are also important.

Look for layers of texture and reflection to create extra interest on collars and cuffs, with appliqué, stones, and metal combined for intricate and lovely trims. The feel is opulent and theatrical with stones, nailheads, and pearls highlighting brocaded elegant fabrics and strong, colorful prints. Sheer and ribbed textiles also work in the show ring, creating visually slenderizing vertical lines.

For halter and showmanship, blazers and suits in all lengths continue to be a popular look. If you're slender, a sassy hip length blazer creates a contemporary figure in the ring, but for thighs of size, try a wrist-length or longer coat for better proportion. Shorter jackets do double duty for both riding and halter classes- choose a style that flatters you astride or on foot then dress it up or down with colorful blouses and glittering jewelry.

Expect show men to be wearing their well-starched subtle check or solid shirts chosen to color coordinate with a big, colorful saddle blanket. Chaps are a place for guys to show off a little creativity, with tooled medallions and custom conchos popular personalizations. Boots are exotic leather with traditional leather soles for showing; crepe soles and heavy embellishment are best left in the practice pen.

Riders are taking care to choose outfits that blend and flatter their horse's coat color, and they pull the whole look together with a beautifully coordinated saddle blanket. Fancier tops need simple blanket designs whereas solid-color blouses or jackets are nicely accented with a patterned show blanket. Leather trims on blankets can add a retro effect; crystals on leather bring feminine charm to the scene.

Western hats are shaping up: brims are trending smaller and sport a definite move towards the vertical. Most popular felt colors are black, warm sand, cool platinum, and a few specialty colors like chocolate and white. Both straws and felts may sport a bound-edge brim, and silver buckle sets on bands continue to be the finishing touch to fine show hats. Select a quality hat and have it properly shaped to flatter your face, then keep it in a box or carrier away from heat and humidity.

Champions know that investing in quality apparel will give them years of service and put them another step closer to the winner's circle. Even at the local show level, the quality of horses and the level of turnout is exceptional, so dress carefully for show ring success or be content to take the back rail while your peers who planned ahead reach for the blue ribbon.

Plan ahead using shape, shade, and shine to create a colorful, coordinated ensemble, always buy the best within your budget, and take care of your quality show apparel, and you're well on your way to creating a winning western wardrobe in 2007.

©2007 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.