Chapter 3

Blouses, Tops and Shirts

Your torso topper sets the pace for the impression you convey, be it sophisticated, casual, or trendy. Shown: Athena Show Blouse

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 blouse for a woman's dazzling presentation in pleasure futurities, or a simple fitted top 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 woven dress-style shirts should be mostly 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 shirts 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. The always-correct look for any cowboy, event, or level of competition is the classic white shirt worn with a brightly patterned scarf tied in a square knot at the neck.

For women, there are two basic choices for today's winning look: dressy blouses or traditionally tailored shirts. Blouses (form-fitted stretch tops with long sleeves and fitted collars) are the most popular purchase and appropriate for most all disciplines. Traditional looks are still a great choice 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 ranch horse classes where freedom of movement of the rider's arms is paramount and a traditional presentation is appreciated.

Show shirts should be roomy enough in the shoulders for athletic comfort, trim enough through the waist to stay trimly tucked in, and comfortable enough to wear all day at a show. Shown: Solstice Show Blouse

Traditional woven blouses with menswear styling work well for classes like reining and ranch horse events. Consider a touch of tailoring if your top is too boxy. Shown: Anabelle Show Shirt

Women's blouses may be mostly cotton, starched up to mimic the crisper silhouette of the men, or a drapey fabric like silk or rayon or a stretch knit that has fluid movement in motion. Because a trim side silhouette is paramount in the ring, women's non-stretch blouses may need tailoring at the waist, with perhaps fitted darts added under the bust.

Use bold color in show tops to coordinate with saddle blankets for a simple but visually interesting look in the show ring. Shown: Ladybird Show Blouse

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. You'll find these firmer stretch blouses 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 flattering stretch comfort. They'll fit and feel like an athlete's leotard, but keep you from causing an unwanted scene by showing too much of your curves as you ride. 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, no uni-boob, and all-day comfort. It may take time to find the perfect support team (and may involve more than one garment) but when you're loping on a rough horse you and your back will 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 layering tops to richly textured velvets, laces, and brocaded textures. Consider designs that carry well from a distance: embroidered trims, bold sleeve details, appliquéd (sewn-on) overlays, and of course, crystals, jewels, and even decorative chains and medallions twinkling on everything. More is more for today's show girls, but don't overlook comfort and appropriateness in choosing show tops.

Firm knits make a great show garment because they control your midriff but let you perform in stretch comfort. Shown: Spangle Show Blouse

It's show time... and time to look at what to wear this year. Use Hobby Horse's FREE Personal Fashion Worksheet to vet your wardrobe and get Ready-to-Win!

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 mostly cotton fabrics for SST- Show Starch Technology.
  2. Look for Lycra or spandex in fabrics when you want stretch with memory; gently hand- wash and air-dry for maximum life.
  3. Avoid tight tops on loose 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 embroidered logos and trim shapes.
  2. Show gals look for guy-style cottons for casual classes or dressy textiles in fitted fancy blouses.
  3. Strong stretch textiles take the prize for shapely elegance: firmly knitted stretch fabrics that trim the torso and sport elaborate embellishments including studs, embroidery, crystals, and jewels.