Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More on Riding Habits & a Side Saddle, too

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Susan reports:

By the time that Loretta's lady in the red habit was riding along Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg in 1770, the fashion for military-inspired habits for women was firmly established, and continued well into the 20th century.

But in the 1660s, it was a cutting-edge style, and a controversial one, too. Inspired by Louis XIV's taste for almost non-stop warfare, the fashion came from Paris (of course), and was quickly adopted by young English ladies as well. (That's the oh-so-trendy Duchesse de Bourgogne, left, in 1704, painted by Pierre Gobert in her habit de chasse.) Tailored to fit as snugly as possible, the habits were not only flattering to youthful, well-corset'd figures, but also viewed as seductive and teasingly androgynous. Not all gentlemen were enchanted. Wrote diarist Samuel Pepys after seeing the queen and her ladies:

"...in their riding garbs, with coats and doublets with deep skirts just for all the world like men, and buttoned their doublets up the breast, with perriwigs and with hats; so that, only for a long petticoat dragging under their men's coats, nobody could take them for women...an odd sight, and a sight that did not please me."

But what exactly was happening beneath that gracefully draped skirt (or a dragging one, if you're grumpy Mr. Pepys)? The TNHG were determined to find out.

In the CW stables, we spotted this replica 18th c. style side saddle (below), and with her ever-present thirst for knowledge, Loretta bravely hopped aboard. She swears the saddle was both comfortable and steady, with one knee hooked around the horn and the other foot secured in the stirrup. If it felt like this to a NHG, we imagine that to an experienced equestrienne of the past, the saddle must have made for a comfortable ride indeed.


DanielleThorne said...

Great photos these past couple weeks from Williamsburg. Thank you so much for the information, girls. It's the best email I get every day.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Nobody could take them for women? Amusing coming from a dude in a time period when men's fashion would be considered a little feminine by today's standards, despite our appreciation for a fine male calf in stockings. And I can imagine plenty of guys finding chicks in military-ish rig quite attractive. As always, Susan, your finding commentary of the day to place items in context makes your finds even more fun. Grazie, NHG!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thanks, Danielle! That's a lovely compliment. :)

Michelle, I'm with you. How could anyone possibly mistake these women for men, esp. when the jackets are cut so tightly? But the perception is gender is always pretty strange -- what people see vs. what they THINK they're seeing.

People got all worked up by Garbo and Hepburn in trousers, too. More recently, I can still remember (though I was no more than an infant, I tell you, an infant!) how outraged older folks were by the Beatles, claiming you couldn't tell them apart from girls. You look at those early 60s pix now, in their natty matching suits and boots, and think HUH? They totally look like guys.

Still, always interesting to consider....and yes, Mr. Pepys notwithstanding, there were LOTS of those 17th c. men who found ladies dressed as gentlemen to be about the hottest thing they'd ever seen. :)

Anonymous said...

A sidesaddle that fits both horse and rider (most were custom-made in that period) is extremely comfortable and *very* secure. The only activity these pre-leaping-head sidesaddles were not suitable for was jumping, and some ladies even managed to do that -- for the most part, however, they used gates and gaps in the hunt field until the leaping head was developed and became common in the first half of the 19th century. :) (please forgive anonymity -- the login is being cranky and I haven't time to fight with it right now)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Anonymous, please, please brave the log-in and tell us: what's a "leaping head"?

Margaret Porter said...

It's been a fair few years since I rode sidesaddle, but I can attest that they are not at all uncomfortable. Never did attempt jumping on one, however.
Enjoying the Williamsburg research travelogue very much indeed!

Loretta Chase said...

Susan, what we really need here for the "leaping head" is another photo, but all I have are printed illustrations that are hard to make sense of. Here's what the Illustrated Book of the Horse has to say about developing a sidesaddle for hunting: "Formerly women rode entirely by balance, deriving slight support from two pommels, one on each side, between which the right thigh was packed. Somewhere about 1830 the hunting-horn pommel was added. This addition eventually led to the reduction of the right-hand pommel by the best makers to a mere indication. This improvement gave women as strong, indeed a stronger seat than most men obtain sitting astride." Sidney goes on to explain how one sits, and the importance of having a properly fitted saddle. Maybe one of our readers can link us to a picture.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you, Margaret! I'll return the compliment by saying how much I've enjoyed your trip to 17th c. England & the Netherlands on your blog -- my heroine had a house in St. James's Square as well. :)

Loretta, I hope one of our "riding readers" can in fact provide a good link! If not, I'm seeing another visit to those CW stables for further info. Inquiring NHGs want to know!

Anonymous said...

For some good information on sidesaddles, habits, and equitation try these sites:



I'm a longtime sidesaddle rider; a good sidesaddle is gives a nice secure ride. A poor fitting sidesaddle is misery indeed. I've got a nice late baroque habit reproduction, celadon and cream with lots of good trim. Wish I knew how to post a picture of it here.


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you so much for these iinks! Clearly you are a knowledgeable resource indeed. I'd love to post the picture of your riding habit here -- the easiest way would probably be to feature it in a separate blog. Alas, I don't have an email address for you, so I'm hoping you'll see this. Please email me at:

SHScott21@gmail.com or Author@susanhollowayscott.com

....and we'll talk further. :)

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket