How to Dress Like a Winner in the Western Ring (Without Spending a Fortune)
A few recommendations for fixing the most-common fashion crimes while sticking to a budget. Tip #1: Put down the bedazzler.
Top photo: Chuck Coker/Flickr/Creative Commons License
Let’s get one common myth about the show ring out in the open right away: As an open show judge, I’m honestly not going to decide a placing because I like one competitor’s style of shirt more than another. Most judges, from other open and 4H-levels all the way to the highest circles of the AQHA, will agree–no matter what it may appear to the ringside spectators, the flashiest outfit is NOT what decides the winner.
But let’s say I have two competitors who are pretty evenly matched, both turned in really nice trips and the ribbon could really go to either one of them–that’s when the wardrobe comes into play. I’m going to reward the competitor who looks neat and professional, presenting me with an overall lovely image of himself or herself that complements the performance of the horse.
So what does that actually mean? You don’t need the most expensive show shirt, nor do you need to catch my eye with a ton of glitter–I can see you just fine, thanks. I broke it down into a list of my recommendations as you prowl the end-of-season sales at the tack shop or catalog.
1. Neat and form-fitting clothing trumps baggy and boxy, even if it’s covered in bling. I don’t care if your shirt cost more than horse–if it doesn’t fit you, then it’s not going to look good no matter who made it, and if it doesn’t look good it’s not going to help your overall image. When I coached a college team, I had a student who got her horsemanship shirt at Express (yeah, the “regular person” clothing store, not a tack store). She made an at-home modification to allow it to button up all the way to her chin (no judge needs to see your cleavage in any discipline) and she instantly had a professional and tidy look for about $40. If you do want to shell out the money for a “real” show shirt, look into the solid horsemanship blouses that are becoming popular. Add a neck scarf for a personal touch and you’ll be ready to win in any class.
Budget bottom line: $35 to as much as you want to spend, or basic tailoring fees to get your clothes to fit well.
2. Bring your hairstyle into the current decade. Barrette buns with big bows, floppy net-covered loops of hair, or even ponytails with strands of hair hanging out from the edge of your hat or helmet… this one isn’t even hard, just Google a picture of last year’s World Show winner and you’ll see in an instant how well-done hair can clean up your look in a matter of two minutes or less. It’s easy: make a ponytail at the nape of your neck. Twist the ponytail into a tight bun, securing with pins as you go. Double-wrap a hair net in a matching shade, then twist the leftover net into a string, wrap the base of the bun, and pin. Secure your flyways with a little hairspray and you’re done. No goofy barrettes with horseshoes, no loopy sad-looking “buns” trickling down the back of your neck–there’s no reason NOT to do your hair properly.
Budget bottom line: $5 max, if you’re splurging on the fancy hair nets.
3. Shape your hat. If you’re choosing to wear a hat, the least you can do is get it shaped properly. Any reputable seller of hats will know what you mean if you come in and ask for the Quarter horse crease, and it should take them about 20 minutes to get it done for you. While we’re talking about hats, if you do feel the need to invest three figures into your show outfit, skip the fancy shirts and take your money over to the hat counter–there’s nothing that turns me off more than a competitor with a clearly-custom outfit topped with a wire-brimmed hat that could have come from someone’s cowboy Halloween costume. A good hat does more to pull together an outfit than any other investment. Whether you spent $200 or $40 on your hat, invest in a hat can to protect it. It won’t matter how nicely your hat is creased if you’re just going to throw it into the tack room of your trailer to melt in the heat.
Budget bottom line: $20 max for the shaping, $40-$60 for the hat can.
4. Lose the gloves! It’s amazing to me how many competitors are still coming into the western ring wearing gloves. I’m not sure who is responsible for perpetuating this myth but gloves are not in style in the western ring, they will not be in style, nor have they been in style for… well, decades, to the best of my knowledge. If you’re going out and roping cattle then by all means wear some gloves, but keep them out of the show pen.
Budget bottom line: This step requires no output of cash, actually, and you might even be able to get a couple bucks for your gloves over at the English ring, so it’s definitely a no-brainer.
The final word: Dressing like a winner isn’t hard, nor should it cost you a fortune. Rest assured that the judges don’t care how much you’re spending on your outfit–all they want to see is a professionally-turned-out winner whose attire complements rather than detracts from the overall image.
Good luck and go riding!
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