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habit detail 1951.423
habit 1951.423
habit back 1951.423
habit back fastening 1951.423
fashion plate 1964.131/19
breeches photo 1961.37/3

A masculine influence pervaded women's riding dress during the 18th and 19th centuries, partly because ladies' habits were not generally made by the dressmakers who traditionally made women's clothes, but by specialist tailors or habit makers. Women also selected headwear like tophats and bowlers, although they then softened or "feminised" them by attaching net scarves. Habits from the period often featured military-style frogging or braid as seen in fashion plates of women's riding dress, which usually appeared in tailors' journals, and only occasionally in ladies' magazines. (see the Heideloff plate below) This slant towards masculinity provided endless source material for magazines like Punch, which regularly published cartoons showing aggressive women riders. More realistically, early outdoor photographs from the 1850s onwards provide a clear indication of what actual women chose to wear on horseback. Grooms, also, are often depicted holding the reins of their master's fine horse in eighteenth century portraits as below.

The chestnut-brown cloth riding habit in the main image has a short, fitted bodice and a matching voluminous skirt with side train to cover the knees when sitting side saddle. An innovative fastening under the jacket skirt prevents the jacket from moving upward, and the skirt, cut with extra room on one side, enables the wearer to ride side saddle in comfort.

Full item descriptions:

"riding habit" [1951.423], H J & D Nicoll
"The Gallery of Fashion (19 plates)" [1964.131/19], Heideloff, N

Related Themes:

Sports and Leisure
19th Century Women's Fashion
Victorian Photographs: Sporting