We spend hours ensuring that our horses are meticulously groomed and sharply outfitted, from their smoothly braided forelocks to the tips of their polished hooves. But this often comes at the expense of our own appearance. After all, how often do you head out to the ring with a gleaming horse but covered in dirt yourself?
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Feeling confident and comfortable in your riding clothes not only makes it easier to transition from the barn to wherever your day takes you, but it might have more of an effect on your riding than you would think.
“Dressage has so much to do with attitude. If you feel like a million bucks, you ride a little bit better,” says Barbara Biernat of Horse & Rider Boutique in Los Angeles, California.
Biernat is the outfitter of international-caliber riders such as Adrienne Lyle and Debbie McDonald and uses her skills as a personal shopper to add extra polish to their image in the show ring.
Here, she shares her advice for looking your best in breeches and beyond with special consideration for women’s unique shapes. Whether you find yourself top-heavy, bottom-heavy or more straight-lined, a few tips from this pro might change the way you think about riding clothes.
Tips for All Shapes
• Tuck in your shirt. It is always flattering and regardless of your shape, untucked shirts tend to look frumpy.
• A good vest is everyone’s friend. Correctly fitted, it can conceal problem areas, help create a desirable silhouette and look neat and professional.
• Stick to breeches made from a thicker cotton material or even denim. These tend to be the most flattering fabrics because their thickness offers structure and helps hide imperfections.
• Choose pants with a wider waistband and wear a wider belt. This is usually more flattering and more comfortable for all shapes and sizes.
• If you like to ride in full-seat breeches, always choose pants that have a darker seat, such as white pants with a gray seat. This creates a slimming effect. Never wear darker pants with a lighter seat.
• Unlined jackets tend to be cut for a tighter fit. If you want to give yourself a bit more room for comfort, order up a size.
• Wear a thin shirt underneath the more snug fitting technical-fabric show coats to reduce bulk. Similarly, avoid large belts under technical coats to prevent unflattering bulges.
Tips for Top-Heavy Riders
• Reach for shirts with princess seams, which are flattering because they provide shape and definition. Straight looks tend to not flatter those who are heavier up top.
• Invest in a quality sports bra, which is crucial for a comfortable ride and a polished look.
• Wearing the correct sports bra also can affect the fit of shirts and coats. Make sure to wear a sports bra to the tack shop when you try on shirts and coats because it will affect gapping.
• If a coat fits everywhere else except in the chest, you can have the button moved horizontally to loosen or tighten the chest area.
• Look for shirts with gussets—usually triangular pieces of fabric sewn into a seam—to help create definition.
• If you have thinner legs with a larger waist, purchase pants with a comfort-fit waistband that stretches. This allows you to wear pants that are small enough in the legs but large enough in the waist. This is better than the alternative of having to go up a size, resulting in bagginess around the legs.
• Avoid shirts with large prints and bright colors.
Tips for Bottom-Heavy Riders
• Opt for breeches with back pockets that have flattering placement. Correctly placed, these can create a lifting and slimming effect.
• Always buy breeches that have a side seam. The long vertical line of the side seam will make legs look longer and thinner.
• Stick to pants that provide more structure and support, and generally avoid pull-on tights.
• Splurge on more-expensive pants, as cheaper pants will start to sag and won’t look as good. With pants, Biernat says, you tend to get what you pay for.
• Choose contrasting full-seat breeches over knee-patch breeches.
• Don’t be afraid to experiment with brighter colors for larger sizes. Riders over a size 32 should probably stay away from plaid, but the print can be flattering and provide a camouflage effect for smaller sizes.
• Wear boots that are tapered at the ankle to give the illusion of more definition in the leg.
• Give denim breeches a shot. They can be a great option for those with a heavier lower half, as they tend to hold you in place better.
• Avoid side-zip breeches. A zipper in the front breaks up the midsection.
• Steer clear of low-rise pants. Instead, pick breeches with a mid-rise fit. Low-rise pants tend to get saggy, and breeches with a higher waist draw the eye upward.
Tips for Straight-Lined Riders
• Create the illusion of curves with high-waisted breeches.
• Add more shape to your seat with breeches with pockets.
• A correctly fitted vest can help create the illusion of a waist.
• When purchasing a coat, make sure that the sleeves are long enough or that there is enough material in the sleeve that can be let out to accommodate a longer arm.
• If you have trouble finding a coat or shirt that is the right length, order a size up and have it tailored.
• Look for a coat that offers the right silhouette without being baggy.
• Detail on the back of a coat can help to create more feminine lines.
Where to Splurge, Where to Save
To cut unnecessary expenses, Barbara Biernat of Horse and Rider Boutique advises riders to strategically invest in more-expensive, higher-quality pieces of certain clothing while choosing more economic options for others.
•Helmet: Ensuring your safety should be a priority. Don’t compromise the fit of a helmet for price.
•Schooling breeches: Investing in quality breeches for schooling trumps spending money on show breeches. Schooling breeches tend to get the most wear, so make sure you buy styles that last and opt for more economical show breeches.
•Boots: Footwear needs to stand up to a lot of use, and shoes made with good leather are worth the investment.
•Coat: More-expensive coats usually have better tailoring, which gives a sharper appearance.
•Gloves: Explore less-expensive options for gloves, as there are plenty of options on the market that provide good quality for a reasonable price.
•Stock tie: It is difficult to tell the difference between a cheaper stock tie and a more-expensive one when it is worn under your coat.
•Shirt: Unless coats are waived, shirts often stay hidden. Therefore, comfort and functionality are more important than appearance.