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Western Fashion: Head to Toe

Chapter 10

You can show without accessories, but you can't show off without them! While showmen just select a nice scarf and they're ready to show, accessories are the small finishing touches that capture a woman's personality and make her western show outfit look different from any other. Earrings, hair accessories, pins and pendants, ties, number pins, spurs, and other small accents add interest to your presentation. And, while these baubles aren't usually required to show, they're fun to collect, fun to wear, and will add to the feeling of confidence you want to experience by being impeccably turned out when you step into the show ring.

Let's discuss accessories from head-to-toe. Though we've discussed hats in a previous chapter, hat bands are an accessory worth considering. Today's styles in hats and bands are modest in style and lavish in detail: fine hats sport bands with sterling buckles and gemstone accents. If your hat has a nice factory installed band, probably best to leave it. Aftermarket bands should be considered only if they really add something special to your outfit, but bands shouldn't...beat the band! Think subtle: feathers and rhinestones probably look better on the dance floor than in the show arena. Hat pins and stampede strings are also best left off for the walk-jog-lope crowd.

Earrings create a frame for your face, and should tie in with your outfit to add to the overall theme. Wearing leather and rhinestones? Think fancy, glitzy earrings. Sporting a southwestern tapestry vest? Then look for silver earrings with a geometric pattern that echo a design in your vest. Not sure what ear decor is best? Then opt for classic silver conchos, about an inch in diameter or smaller, to go perfectly with any western outfit. Dangling or jiggly earrings are a bad idea—they'll be distracting and make your horse appear bouncy, and they'll also make your ears sore after a long day in the saddle.

Western stores and tack catalogs are the place to start your earring search, but don't overlook antique malls and even thrift shops for interesting vintage pieces. Pierced earrings are the easiest to come by, but don't despair if you're not full of holes: look for earrings you like, then have a jeweler change the backs for you. Beware, too, of heavy earrings that will give you lobe overload. Make sure your earrings are comfortable and don't irritate you skin.

When it comes to show hair, there's many ways to make your 'do show ready. If your hair is long enough to pull into a pony tail, do so: goop the sides so small flyaway hairs don't spoil a sleek look, then create or corral a fluffy cascade of curls in a fat elastic band. Decorate the base of your ponytail with a bow or ribbon that matches your hat or picks up a color from your outfit. Be sure to try your 'do and hat on before the show so you know how to position the whole shebang. If you use a clip-on bow, attach it to the back of your head above the ponytail, so the barrette can't slide off as you ride. Your hat will press the bow down so it covers the ponytail band just right.

If you prefer a sleeker, more traditional look, have an experienced horse show mom or a professional hairdresser teach you how to make beautiful buns. Depending on your hair's texture and length, you may need to use a fake hair 'donut' from the beauty supply store to build the bun, and hair pins, not bobby pins, usually hold things together best. Wrap the creation up in a hair net or two, spray lavishly with cheap lacquer hair spray, and you're ready for a west Texas windstorm or...your local horse show. Barrette/snood combinations made just for showing can work well, but make sure the net is fine mesh and creates a small, tidy bun, not just a contained wad of hair on the back of your neck. Again, the trick is to clip the barrette above a snug ponytail, then back-comb your hair to create volume in the snood.

Short, short hair? Either be happy with your no-fuss look, or make a fake bun from crepe hair (available at beauty supply stores) that you can fasten to the back or your head, or even the sweat band of your hat! Trouble keeping your hat on? Make sure it's the smallest size that doesn't give you a migraine, then try bobby pins behind each ear, catching a lock of hair then continuing up around your hat's sweatband. Hair too short to grab with pins? A carefully applied mist of hair spray on your hat's sweatband in the forehead area helps 'glue' it in place. Still losing your topper? Consider double-sided toupee tape on your forehead, available from wig shops. And always, the most important hair accessory of all? A great baseball cap to hide your serious case of hat head after the show!

Many show outfits have V neck or scoop neck vests and jackets that need a piece of jewelry or a tie at the neck to complete the look. If you like to wear traditional blouses with collars, consider a pretty brooch pin that perhaps matches your earrings, or wear a pre-tied scarf with a closure that's hidden under the collar roll. Try a regular scarf (about 20" square) rolled and knotted in the center, with the knot in front and tails tied, under the collar in back, for a jaunty Ascot look. A small scarf can be worn bandito style, triangle pointing down, with a pretty pin anchoring it in the center. Rosette ties and ties made from Ultrasuede to match your chaps can be useful to have in the tie collection as well, depending on your taste and blouse assortment.

Slinky tops are the most popular look today to wear with vests and jackets, but their thin knit necklines won't support a scarf or tie of any kind. For slinkies, think of pendants, pins, and beautiful chains that lay in place yet fill the neckline and add interest as the judge looks toward your face. Be sure the size and style of the jewelry compliment the rest of your outfit, and also check that your accent piece stays in place as you ride. Pendants with pin backs can be worn with or without a chain, and won't slide around if you use the pin backing to anchor the ornament to your slinky top's front. A great investment in western show jewelry? Silver or rhinestone earrings with a matching pin.

Speaking of jewelry, let's not forget number pins. Whether you show with your identification number on your back or on your saddle blanket, there are numerous clever ornaments on the market that will attach that number and look much nicer than safety pins. Remember, little things add up to a lot, and if you want to make a great presentation, don't overlook even the smallest detail. Worried about holes in leather garments? Either pin your number to your blanket, or use number pins in the same holes in your garment every time. Show tip: put your number on your garment before you put the garment on—it will be straighter and you won't run the risk of being stabbed!

In most associations, wearing gloves is a matter of personal preference. If you wear them to practice, though, then you’ll be more comfortable manipulating your reins in the show pen with gloves. In general, gloves are worn in events where the human, not the horse, is being judged: showmanship and horsemanship primarily. Match your glove color either to your sleeve or your chap color, and go darker rather than lighter if you can’t find a great match. You can sometimes get a good match dying nylon gloves at home, but they are slippery to ride in and you may lose your mind trying to get the right shade.

Also, gloves that are long enough to tuck up under your sleeves are better for riding than what is usually promoted as show gloves, so short they are guaranteed to peel back and show a strip of your little pink wrists. Minimize that problem by using black or appropriately colored electrical tape to snug the glove openings around your arm, under your sleeves. And, always have an extra pair of gloves in your trailer or tack box: like socks, gloves have a solitary nature and tend to get separated from their mates.

While spurs may be a tack item, they're worn by the rider, so let's consider them for a moment. Your spurs should be effective on your horse, comfortable to wear in the stirrup all day, and should look nice—just because they're a neat part of your western heritage. Spur straps, too, should be wide enough so they don’t dig into your instep, and might sport pretty buckles or perhaps fancy straps with conchos and tooling. Spurs are a badge of true horsemen, one of those items that separate the real riders from the wannabes—splurge a little and find spurs that inspire your horse and make you proud to wear them.

Next: Chapter 11 - All That Glitters