In discussing building a western wardrobe for the show ring, we've seen how color and silhouette contribute the greatest part of your overall winning presentation. Now that we've discussed hats, shirts/tops/blouses, and vests/blazers/jackets, it's time to focus in on some details that start to pull your look together. Perhaps you've never given much thought to your show pants, belts, and buckles, but now is the time.
In the show ring, you'll see everything from faded, worn jeans to beautifully tailored slacks- it seems like anything goes. Next time you're at a show, though, look at what a difference a good choice in show pants can make—and keep in mind that you may need show pants for wearing under your chaps and different, dressier pants for showmanship or halter.
For men, the standard always-correct look is snugly fitted starched classic jeans. Fuller jeans are a great fashion look, but their roomier leg and thigh usually makes them bunch and wrinkle under chaps. Guys, unless you are fuller cut, traditional cowboy jeans will fit smoother and be more comfortable under your snug chaps. For showmanship and halter, you can use your same heavily starched (but not heavily faded) jeans with a crisp shirt at small shows, but in serious competition consider pleated khakis or dress slacks and a sport coat to dress up your basic shirt.
For show girls, show pants aren't quite as easy as starched jeans. Classic jeans can work, especially if you wear black chaps with black pants, but the pockets, yokes, and heavy seams on jeans make for a bumpy, bulky fit under chaps, especially Ultrasuede models. Also, women's fashion jeans that make you look like a model when you're standing tend to ride up when you're in the saddle, allowing bunches of fabric to ooze out the front of your chaps and give you a poochy tummy. Depending on your shape, fashion jeans can also do strange things in the rise when you sit in a saddle that make them mighty annoying for active riding.
The best choice under chaps are fitted, plain (no yokes or pockets) polyester pants with just a hint of stretch. Your 'hindquarters' will always look smaller with pants that exactly match the color of your chaps. If you do have colored chaps, though, you may have to have the pants made in that special shade of persimmon or azure. Try to find a sturdy stretch fabric and have the pants sewn with a side zipper to keep them flatter across the tummy. Always buy extra fabric— chances are you'll never find it again. Consider having three pairs of pants made: one to ride in (these will suffer some abrasion on the seat and legs) along with a pair for halter events—and a spare pair for when the dry cleaners lose a pair.
Girl's and women's show pants are available from several manufacturers, but if you can't find the pants you need and don't want to go through the hassle of having pants custom-made, consider English breeches. There's a wide range of colors available in great stretch fabrics that will fit smooth and trim under your chaps: just pull your boots over the bottom edge of the breeches and zip your chaps over the whole shebang for great riding comfort, often at a very comfortable price. Shopping tip: be sure the breeches have belt loops wide enough to accommodate your western belt.
For women and girls in showmanship, it's important to have 'the look' of fitted, slightly flared, smooth-waisted pants that are hemmed long enough to cover your boots when you jog with your horse. Determine the proper hem length by pinning or basting the hem, then walk and jog around the house with your boots on to see if your pants ride up your boots legs. Sew small drapery weights in the heels of your show pants, or try offset hems that are longer over the heel if you can't get the look you want.
Some show girls wear pleated pants for less formal halter events, but be sure the fuller silhouette is flattering to you with the jacket, blazer, or vest you plan to wear. Sometimes these trousers make a short handler look like a melting pile of fabric—be sure the look suits you. If you do wear trousers, remember to buy them miles too long so you can 'starch and stack' the excess length: create a series of small, rippling pleats from your instep up the first few inches of your boot top. These pants would offend a tailor, but it's popular in the show pen to look like you suddenly expect to grow about six inches and don't want to be caught with your pants too short.
When it comes to show belts, less is more. Though you may have a wondrously expensive silver or beaded belt that you love to wear at the barn, consider if you really want that billboard around your waist in the show pen. Not only will your chaps cover most of your belt (if they are flatteringly fitted at the waist, not the hips) the edge of a vest or jacket will also hide the belt. A plain belt made from a scrap of your chap material is the most flattering look you can wear under chaps: it's almost invisible, very comfortable, and it won't matter if a little of it shows... unlike seeing the top edge of a silver-encrusted belt. Guys should consider simpler belts in the show ring too, remembering that a pale belt on dark jeans, peeking out from under dark chaps, draws an unflattering horizontal line around the waist that will add the illusion of thickness and weight. Keep your fashion belts for boot scootin' and stay simple in the arena.
Western belt buckles come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes, but the best buckle to wear in the show ring is always the buckle you just won. Haven't done that yet? Don't despair, but don't spend a bundle on a buckle you probably won't wear that long. Borrow a trophy buckle (large oval or rectangular buckle with figures and lettering) or opt for a smaller three piece set on a tapered belt: a buckle, loop, and tip that will work with any show outfit and can be stylishly worn in the 'real world' as well.
Buckles with welded stationary prongs sometimes lay flatter than those with tongues, and buckles should, of course, always be proportionate to the wearer. If you're one of the Dunlaps (your tummy 'done laps' over your belt a smidge) you can wear a bigger buckle than a fashion chickie whose hip bones jut out like a hanger. The width of your belt will affect the size and style of buckle you choose for your show outfit. Buckle widths should match the width of belt they are worn on. Straight western belts are 1 1/2" wide, and tapered belts are usually 1 1/4" at the back, tapering to 3/4" or 1" at the buckle area. Women and kids often like a 1 1/4" belt for less bulk at the waist.
Find a reputable western shop and learn about western jewelry: it's fascinating, and you soon discover what you prefer. Sterling silver overlay is more expensive than German silver or a manufacturer's brand name alloy, and hand engraving, contrast precious metals, and other custom flourishes can add hundreds of dollars to the price of a buckle. And don't forget: some show organizations don't require you to wear a belt at all (check before you show) so if you're wearing a blazer, vest, or jacket that completely covers your waistline, consider dispensing with the belt altogether for a trimmer look.
Hobby Horse Show Apparel is available from State Line Tack or visit www.hobbyhorseinc.com to order or for a retailer near you.