Call them what you like—blouses, tops, or shirts—your upper body garments are the fashion foundation of your western show outfit. While your chaps or pants cover the lower half of your body, your torso topper sets the pace for the impression you convey, be it sophisticated, casual, or trendy. In this chapter we'll look at choices for tops to wear both as layers under vests or jackets and as stand alone show pieces by considering choices in function, fit, fabric, and fripperies.
The function of a show top is to keep you from pulling a Godiva or Chippendale in the show ring, of course! You need to cover the top half of your body with something that's attractive from a distance, adds deliberate color to the horse/rider presentation, and allows you to comfortably perform. Whether it's a basic cotton shirt for a showman, a rhinestone-encrusted Super Slinky for a woman's dazzling presentation in pleasure futurities, or a simple black slinky to wear under a favorite vest at weekend events, it's important to start with a garment that fits properly.
Whether woven or stretch, show shirts should be big enough in the shoulders for athletic comfort, trim enough through the waist to stay trimly tucked in, with sleeves that pass the wrist bone while riding. Traditional shirts should be 100% cotton to support SST—that's Show Starch Technology, achieved by asking your cleaners for military starch for shirts that resist billowing even on the fastest rides.
Men and boys choose menswear-inspired shirts for their show wardrobes, searching near and far for fabrics that 'the other guys' might not already have. Shop western stores and catalogs, as well as department stores, for candidates including bold solids, plaids with a bright base color like orange, red, purple, or green, and small checks that appear almost solid from a distance. Color block shirts are regaining some of their popularity, and the always-correct look for any cowboy, event, or level of competition is the classic white shirt worn with a brightly patterned tie. Snaps are way out, but button-down collars will make tie-taming a breeze.
For women, there are two basic choices for today's show look: dressy blouses or slinky tops. Slinky tops (form fitted stretch blouses with long sleeves and high fitted collars) are today's most popular purchase and legal for most all disciplines. Traditional blouses are still a great look for many riders who compete in local or regional events and choose to avoid the expense of a vest or jacket, or those who show in events like reining or cutting where freedom of movement of the rider's arms is paramount. (Though they were a show stalwart for many years, pleated-front tuxedo shirts are best packed away to await a revival.) Women's blouses may be cotton, starched up to mimic the professional silhouette of the men, or a drapey fabric like silk or rayon that has fluid movement in motion. Because a trim side silhouette is paramount in the ring, many women's blouses will need tailoring at the waist, with perhaps fitted darts added under the bust.
With slinkies, it's important to understand that many of these tops are intended to be layered under other garments and are too thin to make an appropriate show garment by themselves. If you don't have the body of a 16 year-old gymnast, what may look great as you stand in front of your mirror can go south in a hurry by the time you climb on your horse: gravity will pull everything down as your chaps, pants and belt push everything up, creating a war zone at your waist line. Test-drive slinkies sitting on a saddle before you venture into the ring with nothing but a thin layer of fabric between you and your dignity.
For layering, slinky tops made from a nylon/Lycra blend are softer and less supportive than those made from thicker-ribbed acetate/Lycra, though you'll pay a few dollars more for the firmer models. If you want sleek good looks and carefree comfort in a top that 'holds your own' look for knitted fabrics that have stretch and firmness. Do remember that this type of show top will retain more body heat than a thin slinky but will still be cooler than a light top with a vest, for example. You'll find these firmer Super Slinkies make a great show garment because they control your midriff but let you perform the most amazing stunts (like heaving your show saddle up on your horse!) in Lycra-clad comfort. They'll fit and feel like an athlete's leotard, but keep you from causing an accident as heads turn to see how you created that sausage effect... Care tip: all stretch tops should be gently hand-washed and air-dried to preserve the shape and stretchiness of the fabric.
Psssst! While we're talking about getting in show shape, let's not forget our foundations. That means bras and other secret undergarments, ladies—whatever it takes to keep you from busting out of your show togs. Sports bras tend to flatten rather than support your figure, so think about grabbing your show clothes and heading to see the wonderful ladies in the lingerie department of the largest clothing store you can find. Explain what you want: great support, fabulous but firm curves, and all-day comfort. It will take time to find the perfect support team (and may involve more than one garment and possible augmentation) but when you're loping on a rough horse you'll be glad you corralled your bazooms!
We've discussed the basics of blouses: now let's spend a moment on the fashionable details that give clothes character. Men should steer clear of all but the most traditional cut in shirts for the show ring: band collars, contrast cuffs, and other fancy touches are best reserved for a big night out on the town. Women, however, have more choices than ever in trims that set the tone for their outfits. Fabrics range from the stretchy, sporty look of slinkies to richly textured velvets, laces, and brocaded textures. Consider designs that carry well from a distance: embroidered trims, bold sleeve details, appliquéd (sewn-on) suede and leather, and of course, rhinestones and studs twinkling on everything. More is more for today's show girls, but don't overlook comfort and appropriateness in choosing show tops.
Blouse, Top, and Shirt Hints:
1. Show shirts cover the top half of your body and should combine with your other clothing and horse color to create a pleasant color scheme.
2. Layered or worn alone, show shirts should create a trim, smooth silhouette that allows for freedom of movement.
3. Show shirts should capture your personality and help you convey an impression of confidence.
1. Show shirts must fit when you're in action. This means extra sleeve length, trim and tucked-in torsos, and proportionate collars.
2. Tame your top by tucking the tails inside your undies, pinning the shirt front to your pants under your belt buckle, or for the ladies, attaching a panty bottom.
3. Women should carefully choose foundation garments to support, firm, and flatter their figure.
1. Choose 100% cotton for SST- Show Starch Technology.
2. Look for Lycra when you want stretch with memory; gently hand- wash and air-dry for maximum life.
3. Avoid slinky tops on non-slinky bodies: layer vests or jackets over thin tops, or find power stretch fabrics for flattering all-in-one looks.
1. Show men seek button-down classics with small embroidered logos and trim shapes.
2. Show gals look for guy-style cottons for casual classes or dressy textiles in fitted fancy blouses.
3. Super Slinkies take the prize for shapely elegance: firmly knitted stretch fabrics that trim the torso and sport elaborate embellishments including studs, embroidery, and stones.
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 a Paint, a Quarter horse, and an antique Arabian.
All materials are copyright 2002 (c) Suzanne Drnec and cannot be reprinted or used in any way without express written permission.