2013 Fashion Forecast
By Suzanne Vlietstra
It's show time... are you ready to win? It will take more than an adequate turnout and average ride to win tough western classes this year; every detail of your performance and presentation must be perfect to create a winning impression in the show ring. You and your horse will need to dress for success as well as perform with precision and polish to look like winners in 2013.
Color and silhouette are the two visual tools you'll have to create a great first impression as you enter the arena. While a majority of show riders wear black basics, you'll see more color tip-toeing into the show ring this year as competitive riders realize a distinctive color scheme can help them look like a coordinated team with their horse. Color and silhouette, used carefully, will make it easier for the judge to choose you and your horse amongst a sea of black.
Earth-tone colors flatter horses with red in their coats like chestnuts, sorrels, and red roans. Rust, sand, soft vanilla and chocolate are all attractive base colors on these horses, while the brighter jewel-tones like red, purple, and royal blue enhance horses with black, white, or brown hair like bay and gray horses. Versatile blue-green shades including olive, turqua, and deep green are a safe bet on any horse and rider combination. Consider using one color as your base for your chaps and primary saddle blanket color, then choose a complimentary tone for your accents, for example rust with cream accents on a sorrel horse. Don't be afraid to use black, but remember to take special care to make your black outfit distinctive in a crowded arena.
Silhouette refers to the outline of horse and rider as seen by the judge from center ring. Your clothes should fit trim without excess fabric, yet not be skin tight. Minor tailoring alterations can make a big difference here, and remember stretch fabrics and carefully fitted chaps will create a flattering silhouette that's comfortable to ride in yet attractive when viewed from the side. Flapping tack and flying hair distract from the crisp silhouette you'll want to create when you're often 50 to 100 feet away from the judge.
For showgirls, shapely show apparel made from stretch fabrics with lots of embellishment is standard now; expect layers of applique in balanced or asymmetrical designs topped with extensive use of sequins, rhinestones, beads, jewels, and even curious accents of fur or other unusual textiles to draw attention to a particular area of the garment such as the shoulders. Show tops may have several types of fabric combined to make a statement piece with unifying bands of heavy crystals, chains, and fringe. The look is dramatic and very, very ornate. These elaborate show tops may be costly as well: price tags for thousands of dollars are not unusual for unique show tops that are truly wearable western art.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, and perhaps as a backlash to very ornate show apparel, simple tailored blouses in solid colors are also finding a place in the show ring sometimes paired with a tailored hip-length vest. Technical stretch fabrics with moisture-wicking and soil-resistant features make great show tops, truly sportswear for the sport of riding that are comfortable and practical. Show pants, too, are being offered in hi-tech materials that bring comfort and easy-care qualities to traditional tailored pants.
Riders in pleasure, reining, and horsemanship will reach for fitted tunic or rail shirt styles that reach to the hip and are worn outside the chaps, or opt for a tuck-in traditional shirt style to highlight a quiet torso and trim waistline. For showmanship, lavishly decorated suits with matching slim pants and boots colored to match the suit pants are this year's look; these suits often have even more dramatic trim that rail shirts because the judge evaluates showmanship handlers from only a few feet away and smaller details will catch their eye.
Shotgun chaps and western hats reflect a rider's personal style and may include some playful options that add fresh interest to traditional apparel worn by the trendiest showgirls. Chaps might sport a second layer of contrast-colored or metallic fringe along the legs, crystal conchos, or a rhinestone motif at the heel. Hats, shaped with a squared brim in front and steeply rising sides in an almost-taco shape, may have contrast exotic leather bands or perhaps a hand-painted or rhinestone flourish accenting the brim.
An important accessory that adds a big piece of the color story to your show outfit is your saddle blanket. Blankets should be big enough to reveal themselves all around your show saddle and should include your chap color and perhaps the accent color of your outfit. While solid colored show blankets are versatile and create a classic look with elaborate tops, patterned saddle blankets in traditional tribal designs will add interest combined with a simpler top.
Show men don't have to worry about bling in the ring: a well-shaped hat, starched shirt and jeans, and fitted chaps remain the gentlemen's show uniform of choice. Again, saddle blankets can add pizzazz to the presentation by coordinating with the shirt color and making a fancy frame for a gorgeous show saddle.
Speaking of saddles, expect to see more black and brown western show saddles in the show pen this year. Some riders are even dyeing their pale saddles dark for a richer look that contrasts beautifully with polished silver trim. Headstalls and saddles both may have exotic leather contrasts, or jewelry-like trims in traditional silver as well as copper and bronze treatments. More riders are opting for custom headstalls designed to flatter a particular horse's head and eyes by being made-to-measure with carefully chosen buckles and shaped cheeks and ear designs.
When you've decided on your best show looks for the year, plan a dress rehearsal and have a friend take snapshots or video of you and your horse to evaluate the impression you'll create in the arena. Fine-tune your presentation, then pack your trailer knowing you've done your homework and you're now ready to win.
© 2013 Suzanne Vlietstra. Writing or riding, Suzanne Vlietstra enjoys horses and their people. Vlietstra is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company (www.hobbyhorseinc.com) a show apparel manufacturer, and also owns a 50-horse boarding stable.