Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Riding Habits

Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Loretta reports:

A recent post showed a tailor at work on a lady’s riding habit. Up until somewhere around the time of Waterloo, ladies’ habits were customarily made by tailors. This meant they were made, as men’s clothes were, by cutting to pattern rather than by the mantua maker’s (dressmaker’s) method of draping fabric and cutting to the form. You can read more about Regency-era riding habits on Candice Hern’s website.

Their being made by tailors may explain why so many habits, like the one in my photos, have a masculine or military style. In this case, though, the style was of less interest to me than the fact that I had a woman in view in historical dress, riding sidesaddle. She was sitting there, talking to her friend, while they awaited a Colonial Williamsburg dramatization of a historical episode.

This was a rare Nerdy History Girl photo op, and I made the most of it.

If you’ve ever wondered what our fictional ladies might have looked like on horseback, here are some aids to the imagination. Notice how she’s sitting. Notice how the habit covers her legs completely. Not everyone realizes that the habits were long, with trains--great for preserving one’s modesty while riding, but not easy to walk or run in. In other words, it's it’s not the ideal fashion choice for running away from a villain--or even an extremely provoking hero.


News From the Holmestead said...

What a gorgeous habit! I love the red color, and how beautifully the cloth drapes. I think the military style habits look very smart.

But what really caught my attention was the sweet expression of the horse. She (or he) has what horsemen call a "kind eye." She looks like a dependable, sweet-natured creature, which makes her an excellent lady's mount. Ha ha! Here I am talking about equines, and the verification word is equenten! ~Sherrie Holmes

Ingrid said...

In 'The quiet gentleman' Georgette Heyer has Drusilla tripping over the train of her habit as she rushes down the stairs to warn the hero. Of course their mutual love is revealed when he tries to revive her. It's always been one of my favourite Heyers.

Is the girl in blue wearing a riding habit too?

Vanessa Kelly said...

It always terrified me to see how women had to perch on top of a large animal, moving at high speeds. I'm sure it's actually more secure than it looks (I hope!). And, it is easier for the hero to sweep her from the horse's back, than if she were riding astride!

Vanessa Kelly said...

Loretta, the woman in the street seems to be holding a scrap of blue fabric. Do you know what that is?

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Thank you for these photos! I love the idea of the riding habit, especially w/military detail and, oh, the jaunty feather in the hat! the richer the color and the more voluminous the skirt described the better. I'm not a horsewoman by any stretch of the imagination, but I adore the idea of a heroine being one, of overcoming the challenge of riding sidesaddle and still being masterful. And when she's got gorgeous sense of style while doing it? Gosh.

So this is just such a treat to see. And to know that the articles were tailored brings such new understanding to how they looked and functioned. Wicked cool.

LorettaChase said...

Sherrie, you are so right about these horses. I have no experience with horses, yet was struck by how sweet and patient they were, and how happy it made me to be near them. One dappled horse in the stable in particular struck me as having a sense of humor though I can't for the life of me say why. Ingrid, the blue is not a riding habit. While the style is masculine (and it may have been made by the tailor), it's hemmed at normal walking length, though that's hard to tell from the photos. Vanessa & Michelle: Sherrie and others will tell you that the sidesaddle is a lot more secure than people imagine, and quite comfortable. I sat on one--not on a horse, but on a sawhorse. But that was enough to make clear that it isn't an awkward device. I think the lady in blue is holding a work bag in addition to her purse, but I'm not positive. Michelle, I love the military detail, too--I just couldn't get enough of this outfit--and yes, I can easily imagine a heroine wearing an incredibly dashing habit.

Loretta Chase said...

Susan reminds me that the lady in the blue outfit was driving a carriage, so this, too, may be a sort of "sporting" costume.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Sherrie -- you're right about how placid the horses of CW are. They have to be; they're poked and petted by well-meaning yet clueless tourists all day long, have flashes go off in their faces and children run in their paths. We were told that most of them come to CW having been trained by Amish farmers to develop a "good work ethic." *g*

Vanessa, I believe that the women in blue has her work-bag (to carry her needlework) hanging from her wrist, and in her hand is her "work", which appears to be counted wool on canvas. As model 18th c. ladies, the interpreters in CW always carry some sort of handwork with them, and can often be seen around the town sitting on benches industriously stitching away.

Jeannie said...

I've been to two weekend-long classes taught by Mark Hutter, Master Tailor at Colonial Williamsburg, on habitmaking. The skirt actually comes out to about ankle length. You start getting trains around the turn of the century or 1805ish.

The military style is in part because it really is a man's garment altered for a woman. Period references discuss the riding habit as very masculine, to the point that if it weren't for the skirt, they would be unsure if the wearer was male or female! Possibly an exaggeration, but consider also that clothing then was strongly gender-identified, not like today's largely unisex jeans and shirts.

Interestingly, by the 1880s, riding habits were again being made by tailors, not seamstresses. What goes around comes around!

QNPoohBear said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
QNPoohBear said...

I recognize the woman in blue from my visit to CW in spring 2008. She portrayed Mrs. John Randolph. John Randolph was a Loyalist and sent his wife and daughters to England so that may not be who the woman in blue is supposed to be.

Mike said...

Were so spoiled now with cars. Imagine if cars didn't exist. We wouldn't be complaining about how bad traffic is. We would be complaining about how cold or hot we were.

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