Toronto Metropolitan University

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Elegant Amazons: Victorian Riding Habits and the Fashionable Horsewoman

journal contribution
posted on 2024-03-06, 22:13 authored by Alison Matthews DavidAlison Matthews David

The Victorian sidesaddle riding habit was a paradoxical garment. It was a fashionable anti-fashion statement, masculine and feminine, practical yet alluring. While on horseback, the fair equestrian shunned the lace, frills, and furbelows worn by her pedestrian sisters. Even when the bell-like silhouette produced by the crinoline skirt was at its greatest width, the essence of the horsewoman’s garb was a lean, understated, and almost masculine simplicity. She represented the epitome of cultivated elegance and cut a fine figure in her tailored habit and silk top hat. Clad in her severe attire, the horsewoman became a center of visual attention in Victorian England. Though she graced fewer pages than the traditional fashion plate, she put her stamp on paintings, photographs, and caricatures. Preceded by showy, colorful riding costumes and superseded by breeches, caught between the demands of Victorian femininity and rising feminism, the riding habit and the women who wore it were typical of and unique to their era. The modern horsewoman represents a turning point in the history of female dress. She adopted the first sports costume specifically designed for women and opened the way for the invention of other athletic garments like the bicycling suit. The riding habit’s combination of style and practicality launched the fashion for more gender-neutral, utilitarian garments and heralded the advent of the twentieth-century working woman’s uniform: the tailored suit.




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