Choosing a show coat can be a lengthy process, with a variety of styles, colors and fabrics available. There are four basic steps to choosing a show coat for riding.
Style of Coat: Disciplines Rule All
The first step that you’ll want to consider is your riding discipline, most disciplines have a specific style or cut of jacket that is worn during shows.
Dressage Coats: Dressage style jackets are typically a longer cut jacket, with the bottom hem falling to nearly mid-thigh when standing. Having generally a single vent at the back, these jackets are designed to flatter when sitting the bold movements of the dressage horse. These coats are also highlighted with flashy, metallic buttons.
Hunt Jackets: For show hunters, jackets are cut shorter, typically to mid seat for ease of movement while jumping. Two back vents allows the jacket to float over the back of the saddle. These coats will have conservative, self-colored buttons. Show coats for jumpers are very similar to a hunt coat, but they tend to favor a less conservative style, which may have metallic buttons and additional accents or details.
A note on eventers: Eventers will often have separate coats for each discipline they ride in, though some are now moving to the “crossover” style coat, which has the metallic colored buttons of the dressage coat, but the length tends to be shorter than a traditional dressage jacket.
Fabric Types: Traditional vs. Technical
Once you’ve chosen the style of jacket that matches your discipline you’ll want to consider the type of material that you want in your jacket, a traditional material or a newer, technical material.
Wool suiting material is the traditional fabric used in show coats. While this fabric looks beautiful it is also hot in the summer even in a tropical weight and it must be dry cleaned, making a trip to the dry cleaners an additional step in show preparation. New techniques in the preparation and weaving of this material has also allowed for it to have some stretch, which is often found in high end jackets. Another traditional fabric is polyester, while this fabric tends to be machine washable and cheaper than wool, the look and feel does not tend to be as comfortable and it still lacks real breathability.
Technical fabrics are welcome trend in the show coat manufacturing. There are different types of technical materials available, and one of the most popular is the softshell material. This material stretches, is water repellent, breathable and machine washable, making it an ideal fabric for show coats. Technical fabrics are also moisture-wicking, making them more comfortable in warmer temperatures.
Colors: Conservative or Cutting Edge
The next to last step is choosing a color for your coat, you can stick with tradition, or go fashion forward depending on your taste.
Black and navy are the traditional colors for the show ring and never go out of style. If you want a coat that is likely to still be in fashion in five or more years, choose one in these colors.
However, colors are making an entrance into the show ring in a big way. The show jumping ring is where you’re most likely to see a rainbow of colors, particularly on junior riders. (You’ll want to stay away from red, as this is generally reserved for riders who have represented their country internationally.) The dressage ring is also seeing a new influx of colors with the new rule change by the USEF to allow show coats of a conservative color. Colors of choice for dressage include grey, nave, brown and other dark, earth tones. Whatever color you choose, you’ll want to find a color that looks good on both you and your horse.
Fit: A Flattering Figure
Once you’ve decided on the perfect coat for you, you’ll want to make sure that it fits. A coat that fits well helps you to ride at your best by allowing you full freedom of movement while looking great and flattering your silhouette in the saddle.
In appearance, a show coat should fit very similarly to a tailored suit jacket. It should be close fitting without being constrictive in any way. When you try on your show coat for the first time, you will ideally want to either wear your show shirt, or something that fits similarly to your show shirt. One you put on your coat you’ll want to make sure that the length of the coat at the hem and sleeves is correct. Many coats come in different lengths, typically a short or petite jacket will fit a woman who is 5’4″ or shorter, while a long or tall jacket will fit a woman of 5’8″ or taller. The other areas that many women have issues with is along the chest and shoulders. The shoulder seam should sit right at where your arm meets your shoulder. The coat should fit just around the chest and should not gap or bulge. A coat that is too tight constricts your movement, particularly when you release over fences (if you jump try moving your upper body into this position while standing to make sure you’re comfortable). A coat that is too loose not only looks sloppy, it can also bunch while you ride causing discomfort and even rubs.
If you are a difficult fit (perhaps you have broad shoulders, but an otherwise slim upper body), you may want to consider having your jacket altered. If this is the case you’ll want to find the best fit possible and then take it to your local tailor for a fit consultation.