Traditional Tailcoat

Dressage Debate: Has the Tailcoat Had it’s Day?

There are currently huge debates taking over the upper echelons of dressage with FEI proposals to shorten tests (to suit TV audiences) as well as discussing the relevance of the traditional top hat and tailcoat to the modern sport.

With many top riders choosing to wear a crash hat with their tailcoat – has the tailcoat had its day?

Should different clothing designs be allowed with the chance to use a greater choice of colour and for sponsors to have free reign in branding? Or does that detract from the elegance and beauty of the sport? Would it be distracting for judges too?

A tailcoat wth a short tails

A tailcoat wth a short tails

Whilst the FEI regulations for dressage attire have been slightly relaxed there are still a clear set of rules to which the rider must adhere. Firstly, every rider must wear a top or bowler hat and if under 19 years old (or the horse is under 7 years old) protective headgear must be worn. Many riders over the age of 19 are choosing to wear protective hats with their tailcoats. Hats must be black or the same colour as the coat worn. Breeches must be white or off white. Stocks or ties and gloves must be white, off-white or the same colour as the coat. Riding Boots must be black or again the same colour as the coat.

The colour of the tail coat is a slightly more complex matter. Black, dark blue and any other dark colour with a hue saturation value (HSV) ‘V’ level of between 0 and 32% are permitted. This is a little confusing but bear with us…. The HSV scale is a way of defining colours based on a colour wheel – the ‘V’ indicating brightness of the colour. Take a look at colour.yafla.com – a website that enables you to set the values of hue and saturation whilst keeping lightness (V) at between 0 and 32%. To be on the safe side the FEI recommend applying for approval from them if considering steering away from black or dark blue. The traditional black or navy can always be spruced up using contrasting coloured piping and lapels or tasteful and discrete accents.

Style Reins have been lucky enough to speak to some of the UK and Irelands top dressage riders and judges to find out what they think about dressage clothing’s future. One thing is clear, whether they like the idea of being allowed to wear different colours or not, they all want to keep the tailcoat.

Double Olympic medallist Laura Tomlinson (nee Bechtolsheimer) is keen for the traditional aspects of the dressage sport to remain in place.

“It’s a classical sport with a great history and the traditional clothing of a tailcoat respects that (history). It’s elegant and also has a practical aspect as the clothing allows the judges to see our position whilst riding”

Laura Tomlinson competing at Bolesworth

Laura Tomlinson competing at Bolesworth – Photo credit: Mike Gibbens

For many riders the wearing of a tailcoat is aspirational, something they have aimed for their whole lives, and it shows they have reached a certain advanced level of riding ability. Amateur dressage rider Lili Brooksby has worked her whole life to be able to wear a tailcoat in her sport;

“tailcoats are something to aspire to, I feel privileged to be able to wear one”

Many of the riders we spoke to have described themselves as traditionalists and want to keep to the current rules and tailcoat.

Kent based dressage rider Daniel Watson comments:

“I’m a traditionalist. It shouldn’t change. I don’t mind a bit of bling but the concept of a tailcoat in dark colours should stay the same”

This sentiment is also shared by Lara Griffith:

“I’m very much for keeping the sport traditional. I understand that we need to find ways to make the sport more appealing to spectators but I’m not sure introducing purple/green tailcoats etc. will help! And I’m also not sure whether if they change it within dressage whether they then have to start changing it within eventing as well. I wouldn’t want the sport to move away from its roots too much”

Shaun Mandy is determined that the sport should keep the tailcoat:

“I do not think the tailcoat should be made to go even if the future of the top hat is limited.  I also feel that it should remain an option to wear a top hat or not.  Part of dressage competition is the look which is elegance and sophistication and by adding colours or potential free-range styles, I feel that this will be lost.  I am, therefore, strongly against altering the rulings”.

Henry Boswell from Warwickshire loves the elegant look of a tailcoat and does not mind some edging in contrasting colours but does not like the idea of anything over the top. As a rider and trainer, Stef Eardley says:

“I wouldn’t like the sport to turn into fancy dress!”

Rebecca Hughes is well known for her stylish looks on and off the horse. She is another rider keen to keep a traditional look:

“I don’t mind a little bit of subtle bling on the detail, for example on the button. and I would wear grey, brown, black or navy tailcoats but not brighter colours such as purple, pink etc… I think it should remain elegant and retain the look of a uniform for a professional clean look. It should be an accomplishment to train a horse to advanced and wear a tailcoat and if would be a shame to make it look like on a night out!”

Judge Carol Hogg gave as an insight into whether brighter clothing styles might distract from the judging process:

“My view is that a little bling is no bad thing but we should be judging the horse not the most flashy tailcoat – would be sad to have the judges eyes drawn to something which has no bearing on the quality of the dressage being performed”

Elegant Tailcoat with Swarovski Buttons by Lotus Romeo

Elegant Tailcoat with Swarovski Buttons by Lotus Romeo

We also spoke to some of the top dressage clothing retailers in the UK and Ireland.

Julia Hornig has a wealth of experience when it comes to equestrian fashion and has welcomes the changes she has seen over the past few years:

“We are beginning to see so many amazing and stylish show jackets. First introduced in the young horse performance shows in Europe, the top riders introduced funky jackets and boots.  There is always a showmanship element to young horse and stallion presentations and the clothing is part of that. Now we are seeing that spill into mainstream – where rules of the country allow. There are new brands emerging that allow the rider to have more choice of collars and additions to the plain coloured base jacket. I think the tailcoat will stay as a riding style but dressage will meet the jumping discipline and allow team colours as part of their coat”

Collette Ward is also an experienced retailer and rider:

“ The dark colours still need to be the base but perhaps some more interesting but still classical dark colours such as dark aubergine or very dark green could work well, still using contrast details for personal interest. I find as a designer and retailer of Dressage clothes that people are basically very conservative when it come to a jacket but still like to use a detail that reflects their personality. Also I think judges prefer not to be distracted by over the top designs. However I’m all for making our riding clothes more interesting!”

There are some riders who are happy to see the sport move on and add some glamour. Matt Frost is one of these riders:

“I think people should be able to use what colour they like – but would like to see the tailcoat remain a key feature in dressage as it is so elegant”.

Rider Hannah Bisson-Biggs also thinks there is room for some individuality:

“My thoughts on tailcoats and colours etc. are that we should celebrate a bit of personality in dressage. A certain rider’s ‘image’ can be very powerful. I remember a time when we all wore the same Pikeur tailcoat with yellow points. They all looked smart, but there was no individuality, no personality. It was an image for dressage as a whole, but not for each individual athlete. If we are to engage the public, then we need to show our personalities and be as individual as each horse is. I’m not saying wacky or outrageous colours, but a little bit of difference, colour and sparkle is nice to see. Dressage is a very fashion orientated sport, and I think the competition wear should be allowed to add its hint of fashion. Reem Acra is a big supporter of dressage, and I think we should encourage more fashion brands into the sport. I don’t want to lose our traditional roots at all, but there are so many exciting possibilities that we are restricting ourselves from, if we don’t have a bit of fun with it. There will need to be rules and regulations still, but creativity should be encouraged, as it is in the freestyle”

It has been suggested that the rules could be relaxed for certain freestyle competitions where the fashion could be part of the rider’s choice as the music is. Whatever the future it seems clear that the riders love the tailcoat and wish it to remain.

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