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Western Fashion: Head to Toe

Chapter 5
PANTS, BELTS and BUCKLES

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The sleekest look in the show ring is pants, chaps, and belt of the same color, like Hobby Horse’s buckskin, shown here. A beautiful trophy buckle completes the below-the-waist basics. Shown: Ezee Rider Show Pants, Ultrasuede Show Belt, coordinating fringed Ultrasuede Show Chaps
In discussing building a western wardrobe for the show ring, we've seen how color and silhouette contribute the greatest part of your overall winning presentation. Now that we've looked at most of the elements of your wardrobe, it's time to focus on details that start to pull your look together. Perhaps you've never given much thought to your show pants, belts, and buckles, but now is the time.

In the show ring, you'll see pants ranging from faded, worn jeans to beautifully tailored slacks- it seems like anything goes. Next time you're at a show, though, look at what a difference a good choice in show pants can make. Also, keep in mind that you may need a couple pairs: show pants for wearing under your chaps and different, dressier pants for showmanship or halter.

For men, the standard always-correct look is fitted starched classic jeans. Fuller jeans are a great fashion look, but their roomier leg and thigh makes them bunch and wrinkle under chaps. Guys, unless you are fuller cut, traditional cowboy jeans will fit smoother and be more comfortable under your snug chaps. For showmanship and halter, you can use your same heavily starched (but not heavily faded) jeans with a crisp shirt at small shows, but in serious competition consider pleated khakis or dress slacks and a sport coat to dress up your basic shirt.

For show gals, show pants to wear with chaps aren't quite as easy as starched jeans. Classic jeans can work but the embellished pockets, yokes, and heavy seams on most jeans make for a bumpy, bulky fit under chaps, especially Ultrasuede chaps.

Also, women's low fashion jeans that are stylish when you're standing tend to slide down when you're in the saddle, so that your chap tops sit higher than your pants and belt creating the illusion of two waistlines, with the actual jeans sliding off your haunches: not flattering.

For the most slenderizing look, your show pants, chaps, and belt should all meet at your natural waist. These layers will add bulk to your silhouette so you want them to create a horizontal line around the smallest part of your torso, not down on your hips.

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Pants, chaps, and belts the same color, that all meet around the rider's natural waist, minimize the waistline and don't distract from a beautiful show blouse, like Hobby Horse's Solstice. Shown: Ezee Rider Show Pants, Ultrasuede Show Belt, coordinating fringed Ultrasuede Show Chaps, Solstice Blouse.
The best choice for show pants under chaps are fitted, plain (no yokes or pockets) pants with just a hint of stretch the same color as your chaps, because your 'hindquarters' will always look smaller with pants that blend with your chaps. If you have colored chaps, you may need to have pants made in that special shade of persimmon or azure. Try to find a sturdy stretch fabric and consider having the pants sewn with a side zipper to keep them flatter across the tummy. Always buy extra fabric— you may never find it again. Consider having three pairs of pants made: one to ride in (these will suffer some abrasion on the seat and legs) along with a pair for halter events—and a spare pair for the future.

Girl's and women's show pants are available from several manufacturers, but if you can't find the pants you need and don't want to go through the hassle of having pants custom-made, consider English breeches. There's a wide range of colors available in great stretch fabrics that will fit smooth and trim under your chaps: just pull your boots over the bottom edge of the breeches and zip your chaps over the whole shebang for great riding comfort, often at a very comfortable price. Shopping tip: be sure the breeches have belt loops wide enough to accommodate your western belt.

For women and girls in showmanship, it's important to have 'the look' of fitted, slightly flared, smooth-waisted pants that are hemmed long enough to cover most of your boot heels when you jog with your horse. Determine the proper hem length by pinning, taping, or basting the hem then walk and jog around the house with your boots on to see if your pants ride up. You can sew small drapery weights in the heels of your show pants, or try offset hems that are longer over the heel if you can't get the look you want.

Some show girls wear dress slacks for less formal halter events, but be sure the silhouette is flattering to you with the jacket, blazer, or vest you plan to wear. If you do wear trousers, remember to buy them miles too long so you can 'starch and stack' the excess length: create a series of small, rippling pleats from your instep up the first few inches of your boot tops. These pants would offend a tailor, but it's popular in the show pen to look like you suddenly expect to grow about six inches and don't want to be caught with your pants too short.

When it comes to show belts, less is more. Though you may have a wondrously expensive crystal or exotic leather belt that you love to wear at the barn, you may not want that distracting contrast color and shine around your waist in the show pen. Not only will your chaps cover most of your belt (if they are fitted at your waist, not way down on your hips) the edge of a vest or jacket will also hide the belt. A plain belt made from a scrap of your chap material is the most slenderizing look you can wear under chaps: it's almost invisible, very comfortable, and it won't matter if a little of it shows... unlike seeing the top edge of a crystal-encrusted belt here and there around your waist.

Western belt buckles come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes, but the best buckle to wear in the show ring is always the buckle you just won. Haven't done that yet? Don't despair, but don't spend a bundle on a buckle you probably won't wear that long. Borrow a friend’s good luck trophy buckle (which is a large oval or rectangular buckle with figures and lettering) or opt for a smaller three piece set on a tapered belt: a buckle, loop, and tip that will work with any show outfit and can be stylishly worn in the 'real world' as well.

Buckles with welded stationary prongs sometimes lay flatter than those with tongues, and buckles should, of course, always be proportionate to the wearer. If you're one of the Dunlaps (your tummy 'done laps' over your belt a smidge) you can wear a bigger buckle than a fashion diva whose hip bones jut out like a hanger.

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For showmanship, show pants should match or blend with the top, be trim and shapely, and long enough to almost touch the ground as you walk or jog with your horse. Shown: Ezee Rider Show Pants
The width of your belt will affect the size and style of buckle you choose for your show outfit. Buckle widths should match the width of belt they are worn on. Straight western belts are 1 1/2" wide, and tapered belts are usually 1 1/4" at the back, tapering to 3/4" or 1" at the buckle area. Women and kids often like a 1 1/4" belt for less bulk at the waist.

Find a reputable western shop or online tutorial and learn about western buckles and jewelry: it's fascinating, and you’ll soon discover what you prefer. Sterling silver overlay is more expensive than German silver or a manufacturer's brand name alloy, and hand engraving, contrast precious metals, and other custom flourishes can add hundreds of dollars to the price of a buckle.

And don't forget: some show organizations don't require you to wear a belt at all (check before you show) so if you're wearing a blazer, vest, or jacket that completely covers your waistline, consider dispensing with the belt altogether for a trimmer look. If you wear a show top that tucks in, best to complete your look with a lovely belt and buckle around your waist.

Next: Chapter 7 - Chaps


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© 2017 Suzanne Vlietstra
Hobby Horse Clothing Co. Inc.

About the Author: Suzanne Vlietstra is a horse parent, show clothing designer, boarding stable owner, and writer. Her current horsehold includes a Haflinger and a pinto pony. Comments? Reach her at suzi@hobbyhorseinc.com