The Poof: Your Ultimate Show Ring Faux Pas?
By L.A. Pomeroy, Equinista
When Mid-Atlantic Equitation Festival show organizer Ellen Shevella made this Facebook post after Lillie Keenan’s $10,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame class win at the Salamander Resort & Spa/WCHR CSI3* in Wellington, FL, it generated a big response from riders, parents, trainers and judges:
“Thank you, Lillie Keenan, for wearing appropriate, high-waisted breeches with a shadbelly so we don’t see your belt and, even better, we don’t see two inches of white shirt poofing out above your belt. Please kids, follow her example. This has been a public service announcement.”
In less than 24 hours, Shevella, a USEF “’R” hunter and equitation judge since the 1980’s, and her praise of Keenan’s classic winning style generated more than 250 Likes, Shares and Comments.
A little ‘poof,’ it seems, can be a big distraction and a potentially score-deciding faux pas. In that tacit agreement among English riders to demonstrate horsemanship within a neutral dark coat/light breeches format, the poof is the ‘photo bomb’ to that ideal picture.
“Those two inches of shirt look like an unmade bed,” says Shevella, who estimates that the majority of her Facebook followers are hunter/jumper people competing at shows where shadbellies are worn.
Never have the lines between riding and city pants been more blurred. When skinny jeans were trending, equestrians looked at their close-fitting schooling pants and said been there, done that. Then waistlines dropped and bam! Breeches went from riding to runway.
Have designers forgotten that riding pants were meant for riding? At the cost of style over subtlety, have breeches been over-corrected? Are more innovative and attractive higher-waist designs needed to smooth out the wrinkles in show ring poofery?
“No one is telling these kids that’s a bad look. Jill would have sent us home from the hunting field if we dressed like that,” posted Pam Dent, referencing Jill Summers, longtime Master of the Farmington Hunt outside of Charlottesville (NC). “She was a stickler for proper attire and I remember her sending people to the back of the field if they and their horses were not neatly turned out. She loved the sport’s traditions and was a mainstay of the club.”
Some bemoan a lack of interest by riders in achieving a polished look. Others say it’s not that simple. Carrie Dahmer, of Brass Lantern Farm in Kentucky, drew agreement after posting, “Tack shops don’t carry regular rise, tailored breeches anymore. Only low rise.”
Nor does low vs high rise mark a generational preference.
Junior rider Sarah Balenger calls the look her pet peeve: “I started to notice more ‘poofs’ in the past year or two as low-rise breeches became more popular. The ‘poof’ creates a sloppy appearance. High- to mid-rise breeches are good for many reasons: They keep a shirt tucked in better. You don’t see your shirt above your belt with any jacket (a shadbelly especially).
They make you appear slimmer and overall are much more flattering.”
The Virginia equestrienne wishes more well-known riders would wear and recommend higher waist breeches to bring the style back. “Companies could start offering high/mid-rise breeches in all or more of the colors they have for low-rise. High/mid-rise breeches don’t have as wide a range of color choices.”
Her perfect show breech would be designed like The Professional Breech by Tailored Sportsmen, “But in a mid-rise, like the TS Trophy Hunter, and have more color options, like the TS Trophy Hunter Low-Rise. The high/mid-rise doesn’t need to come up to your chest like the old style (although I own four pairs) but enough to come to the navel so shirts stay tucked in.” She prefers side-zip breeches for a smoother look. “Front-zips bulge out. Companies should consider making more mid- to high-rise breeches with side zippers. The higher rises I do find are mostly front zips.”
USEF “R” judge for hunters, hunter seat equitation, and jumpers, Gretchen Ornia Pacher, finds shopping for high rise breeches more “time consuming” (her best success is with Ariat) and their low rise counterparts lead to show ring faux pas: “While judging I have seen so many show shirts come out of their low-rise breeches, even with normal show coats. It’s simply not a well-fitted, attention-to-detail look if your shirt can’t stay tucked in.
“One thing about judging is that we are told, at our mandatory continuing education clinics, that horse shows are not fashion shows. While negative points are not directly assigned, someone who looks sloppy generally rides sloppy. Maybe not 100% of the time, but it seems to go hand in hand. Attention to details in appearance suggests attention to details in riding.”
“Everything,” lamented veterinary assistant, Samantha Gritz, of Warrenton, VA, “is made for skinny people. Even my high-waist breeches aren’t as high as my old ones used to be.”
Kathy Hawkinberry Dunnock, of Hanover, PA, agrees with Balenger: “My 17 year-old daughter wears high-rise breeches for showing, of her own preference. Mostly they keep her shirt tucked in but also because she knows they look better. We’ve been fortunate to frequently find older, high rise styles in excellent condition on consignment at our tack shop.”
“They don’t stock them in stores as much,” said Oak View Farm trainer, Ashley Burnett Cook, “but regular and mid-rise are available through catalogs Most hunt-oriented tack shops have them. When I find them, I buy every pair in my size! It’s true: low-rise makes your legs look short and chunky, and no one looks good with a shirt tail flapping in the breeze.”
While some suggested shopping Dover Tack and Taylor Sportsman, Mary Svalstedt, of Dillwyn, VA, hasn’t been so lucky: “I couldn’t find higher-waists anywhere the last time I went shopping. I like them because I’m chunky and they fit better.”
On style and the shadbelly, few are better tailored for the discourse than the bloggers at SHADBELLY.com, an equestrian style blog for dressage riders launched January 2014 and offering a candid, highly visual magazine-type approach to this traditionally fashion-conservative discipline.
“SHADBELLY is a culmination of ideas among my closest dressage-obsessed friends,” says founder Laura St. Clair, an Adult Amateur rider from Naples, FL and Litchfield, CT. SHADBELLY bloggers include four amateurs, two professionals, a dressage judge, an event rider, a sport horse breeder, a novelist, a marketing consultant and one European ‘foreign correspondent.’
St. Clair and SHADBELLY know all about the poof: “The softening of the rules on acceptable attire, along with increasing access to quality event coverage, have made us aware of the impact even subtle style choices have on the overall horse-and-rider picture. Live or on-demand video is so high definition you can read the logo on a rider’s gloves. With this increased focus, we’ve all become dressage “fashion” fans… and critics.
“Pairing a shadbelly (or cut-away short coat) with low-rise breeches is a prime example. The low-rise jean trend started in Britain in the early 1990s and went mainstream in the U.S. about the year 2000. Fashion purists cringed. Let’s face it; a very small percentage of the population can pull off a low-rise look. The rest of us, even the skinniest ones, look oddly mis-proportioned. Whether in jeans or breeches, a low-rise cut visually shortens the leg and lengthens the torso. Trendy? Yes. Flattering? You decide.
“Designers behind the phenomenon gently warned customers to buy low-rises a full size larger, but even when muffin-tops are minimized, belt placement at the widest point of the hips is precisely the dimension most of us want to avoid emphasizing. And forget about keeping that show shirt neatly tucked in.”
One Spring 2014 option: Miasuki Italia’s ‘Snowfire.’ The white, one-piece competition bodysuit combines belt-less breeches with a sleek show shirt with built-in bra support. St. Clair said, “The Snowfire illustrates how far the pendulum can swing. We applaud the concept but truthfully, most of us fear looking like a Pillsbury Dough Boy in a form-fitting white unitard.”
Streamline a look with simplicity. Check the placement of the points on your shadbelly and look for breeches with a waistline that won’t compete with it. To slenderize a silhouette, select a higher-waist style and pair it with a white leather belt that will ‘disappear’ against white breeches. “DiMacci makes a versatile belt in white leather that reverses to a rich, buttery cognac. Cognac is one of the hottest colors we’re seeing for schooling accessories. If you really want to reduce belly bulk, ditch the belt and remove the belt loops all together.”
SHADBELLY prefers high-waist Pikeur Candela competition white breeches, in an all-season fabric that offers comfort and opacity (“Ah,” St. Clair said, “that’s a blog for another day.”).
“This trend has started in Europe, so our favorite retailers, Calevo and Amira Equi, routinely stock high-waist Candelas. If you would rather order from a U.S. retailer, we recommend Barbara Biernat of Horse and Rider Boutique
(www.horseandriderboutique) which offers an Equestrian Personal Shopper service ideal at finding the most flattering breech style for you.”
The final word on the poof and personal style comes – and deservedly so — from the source of its social media inspiration: 2014 Wellington CSI3* $10,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame class winner, and Medal and Maclay champion, Lillie Keenan: “I am a detail-oriented person because I learned early on that, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. The last thing any show jumper wants is a distraction from the overall picture, no matter the division.
“I have to give credit to my Mom, who always makes sure I am pulled together and insisted I have higher-waist breeches for my shadbelly. She always says, ‘You enter the ring intending to win so you must look the part (and your boots better sparkle)!”
Thanks, Mom. From show moms, daughters, trainers and judges everywhere.