Elegant Amazons: Victorian riding habits and the fashionable horsewoman


Matthews David, A. (2002) Elegant Amazons: Victorian riding habits and the fashionable horsewoman. Victorian Literature and Culture, 30, (1), 179-210. (doi: 10.1017/S1060150302301098).

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Description/Abstract

There is a delightful feeling when you are well mounted, that those who are casting admiring glances at your horse, will find your dress and “get-up” just as perfect in their way.

— Mrs. Alice Hayes, The Horsewoman, 1893

At no time are the beauties of the female form divine displayed with such witching grace, the faultless flowing lines so attractively posed, the tout ensemble so thoroughly patrician. But if there be one blot in the fair picture, the charm at once vanishes.

— E. Kerr, Riding for Ladies, 1895

THE VICTORIAN SIDESADDLE RIDING HABIT was a paradoxical garment. It was a fashionable anti-fashion statement, masculine and feminine, practical yet alluring. While on horseback, the fair equestrian shunned the lace, frills, and furbelows worn by her pedestrian sisters. Even when the bell-like silhouette produced by the crinoline skirt was at its greatest width, the essence of the horsewoman’s garb was a lean, understated, and almost masculine simplicity. She represented the epitome of cultivated elegance and cut a fine figure in her tailored habit and silk top hat. Clad in her severe attire, the horsewoman became a center of visual attention in Victorian England. Though she graced fewer pages than the traditional fashion plate, she put her stamp on paintings, photographs, and caricatures. Preceded by showy, colorful riding costumes and superseded by breeches, caught between the demands of Victorian femininity and rising feminism, the riding habit and the women who wore it were typical of and unique to their era. The modern horsewoman represents a turning point in the history of female dress. She adopted the first sports costume specifically designed for women and opened the way for the invention of other athletic garments like the bicycling suit. The riding habit’s combination of style and practicality launched the fashion for more gender-neutral, utilitarian garments and heralded the advent of the twentieth-century working woman’s uniform: the tailored suit.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This article was published in a Fashion Special issue of Victorian Literature and Culture.
Related URLs:
Keywords: Victorian, riding habits, fashion
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Art
ePrint ID: 16332
Date Deposited: 22 Jul 2005
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2014 18:06
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/16332

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