and Feeding of Your Show Wardrobe
Now that we’ve looked at all the individual components of a winning western
show wardrobe, from hat to boots, it’s time to think about the care those
fine clothes require to stay lookin’ good for years to come. A little planning
will go a long way towards keeping your chaps, boots, hats, and clothing in ‘show
shape’ and will also protect the investment you’ve made in these
Let’s tackle the care and feeding of your western wardrobe from head to
toe. First, then, is your western hat. Fine hats are a badge of the true horseman-
cheap ones just don’t hold their shape or stay good looking—but spending
several hundred dollars for a topper can be intimidating. Relax, though, knowing
that your hat’s brim can be changed to keep up with fashion, and, with
diligent care, should last for at least five years.
The biggest danger to hats is dirt—kind of a problem when you only wear the
thing out in a dusty arena! Dirt invades the fibers of felt hats, not only soiling
the finish but also weakening the structure of the hat itself. Invest in a good
soft-bristle hat brush (available from professional hatters) and use it before
and after each wearing. Choose white bristles for light hats and black for dark-
and don’t mix them, as most felt hats have colored powders applied to smooth
the finish which can be transferred by the brushes.
A baby’s soft hairbrush, or natural bristle horse face brush—new of course!
- can also clean your hat, but the long handle on a real hat brush makes the
job easier. You can also use air from a compressor to gently lift dirt from your
felt hat. Spots on felt hats can sometimes be removed or minimized by using fine
sandpaper or an emery board to gently abrade away the stained top layer of felt.
Commercial hat cleaning products rarely help a damaged hat: diligent dusting
is the best way to keep your chapeau in tip-top shape.
For straw hats, a soft brush whisks away dirt, and small stains can be removed
with a dab of liquid soap on a soft cloth—but you’ll never scrub away
the natural yellowing that all straws experience over time. Consider one of the
new sweat liners available for additional comfort and to prevent ring-around-your-forehead
stains on straws and pale felt hats, and use tissue paper, paper towels—even
a cigarette or two—between sweat band and forehead if your hat’s a little
Handle your hat properly. Never touch the brim, but place your fingers on the
decorative band to set the hat on your head and settle it into place. To remove,
use your clean thumb to push up at the sweatband in the center of your forehead
to pop the hat loose, then again, handle it from the band. Your hat should live
on your head or in its box or carrier, but if you must set your hat down, don’t
place it on the brim. Put it on a clean surface upside down, on the top crease
of the crown. And never set your hat on a bed—that’s bad cowboy luck!
Invest in a strong hat carrier, or use shipping tape to reinforce your hat’s
original cardboard box. Don’t wrap a plastic bag tightly around the hat,
as heat and moisture can escape from the sweatband and mildew or warp the hat.
Remember that heat is your hat’s enemy, so never store it in a horse trailer,
car, or other area that may heat up—your hat will heat warp and may be impossible
to fix. For overall hat care, find a good hatter and follow their advice on cleaning
and care, and don’t forget that moths love to chew holes in tasty felt
hats. Use mothballs if you store your felt hat for more than a month.
Caring for show clothing—shirts, vests, blouses, jackets, blazers, and pants-
is usually a matter of using common sense and reading the manufacturer’s
care instructions. By the way, it’s a United States law that fiber content
and cleaning instructions must be attached to all garments sold in the US. Keep
in mind that starch will help natural fibers, especially cotton, to repel dirt
and will also keep fabrics from billowing as you ride, but starch only sticks
to natural fibers- you can’t starch polyester with any success.
Find and use a good dry cleaner, and don’t leave show clothes dirty in
your trailer show after show. Dirt abrades woven fibers and will definitely shorten
the life of your clothing. If in doubt about cleaning, try the sniff test, and
consider using dress shields in your clothes if you perspire heavily: you’ll
feel more confident and your clothes will last longer. Gentle hand-washing or
spot cleaning with liquid detergent can save on cleaning bills, but again, always
follow the manufacturer’s instructions or ask your dry cleaner for advice
for on-the-road touch ups. Invest in a good garment bag and use it to protect
your show clothes between wearings.
Many of today’s popular women’s show clothing styles feature elaborate
trims including rhinestones and leather. Buyer beware: some of these clothes
cannot be safely cleaned, even by hand washing. Quality leather cleaners are
few and far between, so be certain yours is reputable. Before you spend a bundle,
make sure you understand the care requirements of your fabulous new outfit. Wearing
clothing that can’t be cleaned around horses is foolhardy, unless you can
afford disposable show apparel!
Protect your show clothing by wearing a smock or lab coat over those beautiful-but-vulnerable
pale outfits until you step into the ring, and always have a clean towel handy
to dab at accidents. Try to finish all your grooming before you don your show
togs, and remember that having a second outfit is good insurance just in case
your horse blows his nose all over your terrific new cream-colored blouse. Keep
a sewing kit in your trailer or tack box, and an assortment of safety pins too.
Chaps, like hats, do well if they are simply kept dust-free. Again, a soft bristle
brush is great to flick off a day’s worth of arena dust, and the gentle
dusting attachment on a vacuum also works wel—just be careful not to suck up
your fringe! Always brush with the nap of the leather or Ultrasuede to avoid
imbedding dirt instead of removing it.
Store your chaps folded from thigh to instep, then in half across the knee, on
a thick, strong hanger. Chap and garment bags work great, as do retired pillowcases
with a few stitches removed from the end seam. Store leather chaps inside out
to minimize fading, and Ultrasuede right side out to keep wrinkles in the laminated
top belts from becoming permanent. Remove silver conchos and buckles before cleaning,
if possible, to keep tarnish from spreading onto the chaps.
Exposed to intense sunlight, all fibers will fade. Dark clothing, chaps—even
horses!—will experience sun fading over a period of time. This is rarely noticeable
in clothing, but chaps, especially between the knee and upper thigh, tend to
show fading after a season or two. Suede leather chaps can safely be machine-washed
from time to time, and putting some appropriately-colored liquid dye in the wash
water can help restore faded areas. Again, care for your chaps as recommended
by the maker. Genuine Ultrasuede is more colorfast than leather, and machine
Don’t worry about cleaning your chaps until they are obviously soiled on
the outside of the legs—some saddle oil will always transfer where the chaps
contact the saddle, and dark leather chaps are likely to transfer their color
back onto the saddle as well, but these areas will not show as you ride. Chaps
with tooled leather tops cannot be cleaned well, even by leather care experts,
so take extra care to remove arena dirt each time you put them away.
Western boots require minimal care. Depending on the type of leather they are
made from, a good polishing with cream polish and lots of elbow grease is probably
all they’ll require to stay lookin’ good. In a hurry? Don’t
bother to polish the tops of your boots: they’ll be completely covered
by your pants and chaps, and simply don’t need the attention. You’ll
greatly increase the life of your boots if you store them on shoetrees, and use
a pair of inexpensive Christmas stockings as jaunty protective boot bags.
Keep your saddle blankets looking new by using quality liner pads, and vacuuming
dander and horsehair away from the areas that overlap the liner and contact the
horse. Wear leathers keep latigo stains away from light colored blankets, and
a ventilated blanket bag for storage and transport is well worth the cost for
managing quality blankets. Always try to let blankets dry in a natural shape,
and don’t forget the moth balls if you store wool blankets for an extended
Care of your show accessories is minimal. Purchase a clear plastic shoebox or
organizer to corral your gloves, hair accessories, jewelry, and other small items.
To clean your silver, first be sure it really is silver! Sterling tarnishes to
a grayish tone, and non-silver alloys become dull over time and cannot be polished
with silver polish. Whether you use liquid, paste, or aerosol silver polish for
your genuine silver, try to keep the polish off of everything but the silver.
Use clean soft cloths or try the saddler’s secret—chunks of foam rubber—to remove tarnish and highlight traditional engraving. Don’t forget to
clean the back of belt buckles and conchos to keep tarnish off underlying clothing.
Storing clean silver in zip lock bags with the air removed and a tarnish-preventative
strip enclosed (available from jewelers) will reduce future tarnishing.
Take time to establish a pre- and post-show routine to inspect, repair, and clean
your show wardrobe, and you’ll know you’re ready to show and look
your best next time around. You’ll also extend the life of your fine clothing
and accessories and help maintain their resale value for when the time comes
to upgrade or re-style your wardrobe. As always, invest in the best within your
budget, and take care of your fine things for a winning look.
Chapter 13 - Dressing Children