Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Staying the course: all things Equestrian

BY JESSICA HEMMINGS

Horses

If most grown women lust after fashion, most little girls dream of owning a pony. This makes the equestrian references, which grace the fashion catwalk with surprising regularity, all the more understandable. While the far from flattering flared hips of britches (born before the advent of stretch fabrics) may understandably leave many feeling a little cold, they are not reason enough to rule out the wealth of fabrics to be found around horses.

In part it is the quality of equestrian textiles that should justify our interest. Durable and warm, these textiles are now a combination of tried and tested natural fibres as well as the newest synthetics. In racing stables you will find the dazzling colours of jockeys’ silks (colour and pattern worn to denote the horse’s owner). Dressage riders, in contrast, compete in couture-like formal attire of inky blue or jet-black top hats and long coats with tails. Both stock tack rooms full of blankets; perhaps the most distinctive being the gold and maroon stripes of woollen quarter cloths worn in to keep the race horses’ hind quarters warm in cold weather. Along with blankets, bandages also cover the gamut of textile fibres, ranging from flannel and cotton to disposable synthetic elastics impregnated with the medical industry’s latest forays into germ resistant fibres.

If you are willing to overlook its controversial image with the general public, fox hunting also commands a lengthy and coded relationship to cloth. Hunting pinks (confusingly bright red in reality, but the type of gaff usually made only once) denote the huntsman – or woman, while various combinations of colour around the collar of one’s coat signal hunt membership, and which one. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent Anglomania exhibition in New York devoted a whole room to the influence of hunting on British fashion – from leather riding boots to the billowing skirts of sidesaddle attire. Even the less formal uniform of closely cut tweed jackets and anything-but-white jodhpurs or britches – another look that sneaks its way onto corners of the catwalk with surprising consistency – owes it roots to fox hunting’s cubbing season.

But perhaps one of the most distinctive textiles to grace the equestrian world is the Pony Club tie: required attire, even on those childhood days when almost everything else apart from the pony somehow did not get packed in the horsebox. Striped in diagonal bands of purple, mint and gold, it seems to be the one equestrian item (some might say thankfully) that has yet to have its turn on the fashion catwalk.

Selvedge Magazine (issue 15: 25)