In the 19th century, women often rode on horseback, obviously, because there were no cars at the time. And noblewomen had to use a side saddle – that’s when you sit lowering both legs on the same side of a horse. There is a special saddle for that, which we will show you at the end of this article. But also, a lady had to wear a special riding outfit in the 1800s for a saddle ride or hunt. This costume had to be comfy – to avoid bruising and hurting the body – but also elegant and good-looking. Particularly, there was a special riding corset and a skirt of a special design.
Today, we are having a look at what a fashionable lady would be wearing for a side-saddle hack or hunt.
The undergarments first – a chemise or combinations in light, yet sturdy cotton.
Stockings next. Silk, cotton, or wool, depending upon the season.
Garters could be worn (plain cotton ribbon tied loose) or a woman could do without them. Some garters can be uncomfortable if you are riding for several hours.
Corset next. Sport, especially riding, corsets differed a bit from day-to-day corsetry.
Boned with whalebone, corded, or with steel, they were light, as flexible as standard ones, but shorter in front and at the hip. Why does it have a shorter front? Because if it’s too long, the busk will leave a nasty bruise when you’re jumping on the horseback.
Several patents and models were available, some including elastic inserts to aid mobility and comfort. Shorter corsets, with panels cut on a bias or with elastic inserts were popular, not only for riding but for tennis, cycling, and other sports.
Comfort and mobility were important, lacing was moderate – unless you were a showgirl advertising a horse for sale at “Rotten Row” or a young lady looking for a husband.
Most of the famous photos of riders with tiny waists are “doctored” anyway, sculpting out the waist.
But for a longer hack or a hunt, comfort was just as important as a fashionable silhouette.
Next – wait for it – trousers!
In earlier decades, Turkish trousers and petticoats were worn. In this photo, we have a more slender-looking pair. The bum still looks ginormous though.
Boots next. Either Hessians, or shorter riding boots were worn. The trousers could be tucked into boots or worn over them.
Next, a camisole or, for a colder season, a blouse. The cotton garment will absorb the sweat and limit the staining of the bodice. The blouse is tucked in the trousers.
Skirt. This is a new model safety skirt, replacing the long, voluminous habit skirts of the previous decades.
This one is cut to the shape of the sitting rider, with minimal amount of fabric bunching on the pommels – less danger of it tangling up in case of a fall.
It even has a little pocket for a handkerchief.
The odd shape makes sense when in the saddle. But for walking it can be buttoned up to a loop at the back.
And finally, the bodice.
This habit is a winter/autumn affair, all in good quality wool, lined with linen. Wool provides protection from the wind, cold, and rain.
For hunting or traveling, the garments had to be sturdy – and elegant, too. Tropical weight habits or summer park riding habits would be made in much lighter fabrics, usually cotton.
This particular bodice is a replica of the extant one from the V&A museum. Military braiding and lots of buttons were very popular.
The close cut of the bodice helps to control “bounce”. The corset supports the back and chest from underneath, but it is the bodice that keeps things in check.
The bodice has 20 buttons. And the collar is secured with a hook.
A silk or beaver top hat. And some veiling, too – protection from the sun and insects.
The hat stays pretty solid, but a strap or a couple of hat pins can be used as well.
And the veil adds a bit of a feminine mystery. If necessary, the silk net can be made into a handy tourniquet.
A crop, and everything’s ready.
The braid on the bodice is hand-plaited cotton.
And that’s how a woman is sitting in a side saddle.