Side Saddle Lady Museum
History of Riding Habits
An Overview






Dates of costumes, left to right: 1715 and 1790 (See also below.)

Ladies' clothing specifically for riding was not introduced until the second half of the sixteenth century, when protective overskirts or 'safeguards' were worn, together with cloaks, hats, boots, and masks to guard the complexion. Before that, women wore their everyday dresses on horseback. In the 1640s Queen Henrietta Maria was painted wearing a hunting dress and by the early eighteenth century the riding costume was established.

The first habits followed the fashion of men's attire, quite often adopting styles of military uniforms, and as equitation was considered an art and a courtly pastime, elaborate trimmings and materials were used, such as the brocades of the Restoration period and beyond. Designs were heavily influenced by the French court, but as the eighteenth century progressed, the English hunting country gentleman was a major inspiration, and habits became plainer cut and more functional.









Dates of costume, left to right: 1818 and 1830s.

Around 1785, the riding coat (later redingote) appeared with its close-fitting bodice, double or triple cape-collar in the style of a coachman's coat, and a buttoned skirt. At the end of the century styles changed again and by the early nineteenth century a less voluminous habit became fashionable, with a high waistline and often a pleated jacket back, using materials such as fine wools or nankeen in the summer (there is also some evidence for velvet). The style lasted through the Regency period but began changing dramatically after the 1820s, when skirts became fuller again, and sleeves puffed. By the 1830s, the large, dropped-shoulder 'gigot' sleeves were popular. These were fairly short-lived, but the bulbous skirts remained throughout the mid-nineteenth century, accompanied by jackets with large peplums.







Dates of costume, left to right: 1858 and 1873.

The tall and slender elegance of equestriennes such as Empress Elizabeth of Austria, who was sewn into her riding costume every morning she hunted, saw fashions changing again to the slimline darker-coloured habits of the 1880s with their high-buttoned

Date of costume: 1880s.

bodices and jacket tails and trousers rather than petticoats, and thence to the 1890s with longer jackets and 'leg of mutton' sleeves.

The early twentieth century saw habits with flared, long-line jackets and patented safety skirts. The first safety skirt had been introduced in about 1875, but the design by Alice Hayes at the turn of the nineteenth century, with the length of skirt unbuttoning, gradually evolved into the practical open-sided apron of 1930s aside riding, accompanied by a cutaway jacket, a design, albeit modified, still used today as the epitome of elegance of modern side-saddle equestrianism of the twenty-first century.

Return to Side Saddle Lady Museum