Bods in jodhs

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A cloth­ing clas­sic, by Daniel Pem­brey

Men­tion “jodh­purs” and cer­tain as­so­ci­a­tions spring to mind, de­pend­ing on whether you spend time around horses, hunt hard, know your his­tory of in­dia, take an in­ter­est in fash­ion or per­haps rel­ish a Jilly Cooper novel. in­deed, it is hard to think of a gar­ment with a his­tory more richly wo­ven with no­tions of form and func­tion. Yet what is this his­tory and why has the gar­ment re­tained such rel­e­vance? the word it­self de­rives from a princely state of in­dia. When on horse­back, the Ma­hara­jas of Jodh­pur favoured trousers that were tight on the lower leg yet wide at the hip, af­ford­ing pro­tec­tion against the horse’s flanks while pro­vid­ing room to turn and lean in the sad­dle when swing­ing a polo mal­let. the prop­er­ties of good ven­ti­la­tion and over­all com­fort, in what can be a scorch­ing cli­mate, made these wide-hipped or “ele­phant’s-ears” jodh­purs equally pop­u­lar away from horses. When one of the Ma­haraja’s sons sported them on a visit to Lon­don in 1897, english so­ci­ety was smit­ten. Jodh­purs, and

Val­ued by sports­men and adored by fash­ion­istas, jodh­purs and breeches are both

prac­ti­cal and flat­ter­ing for men and women, as Daniel Pem­brey re­lates

sim­i­larly styled rid­ing breeches (end­ing just be­low the knee), quickly be­came pop­u­lar on Sav­ile Row.

the style for breeches had pre­vi­ously been more fit­ted at the hip and hence more re­stric­tive, es­pe­cially on horse­back. in­deed, in Re­gency eng­land (ear­lier in the 19th cen­tury) it was the men­folk who were ex­pected to show a lit­tle leg. For Ge­orge “Beau” Brum­mel or

Fitzwilliam “Mr” Darcy, the fash­ion was for tighter fit­ting breeches worn with boots and short-waisted jack­ets or tail­coats, giv­ing ladies clear sight of their thighs and, ahem, other fea­tures. The em­pha­sis on “fine leg” even caused false calves to be in­tro­duced so as to achieve the de­sired cur­va­ture. Looser jodh­purs and breeches ar­riv­ing at the end of the cen­tury rep­re­sented lib­er­a­tion, on sev­eral lev­els.

Michael Smith is a tai­lor with Bernard Weather­ill, a com­pany that has been cus­tom mak­ing these gar­ments for more than a cen­tury (it now forms part of Kil­gour). As Smith re­marks: “There is still a mar­ket for hand­made jodh­purs and rid­ing breeches, al­beit an in­creas­ingly spe­cial­ist one.” Sav­ile Row jodh­purs cost £1,500 and in­volve a three-month fit­ting and de­liv­ery sched­ule. They are en­tirely hand stitched – a sin­gle but­ton­hole can take two hours to sew – and the client list re­mains 90% Bri­tish.

Frank Hall in Mar­ket Har­bor­ough, Le­ices­ter­shire, is the other cur­rent well­known maker of fully hand-sewn jodh­purs and rid­ing breeches. Its breeches cost less than those on Sav­ile Row. How­ever, the owner is ea­ger to point out the extra af­ter­care con­sid­er­a­tions that come with these be­spoke breeches, which are typ­i­cally made from tra­di­tional fab­rics, such as Bed­ford cord (clas­sic wool-cot­ton cloth that can only be washed in­fre­quently in cold wa­ter).

Cer­tainly, these are not gar­ments to throw in the wash­ing ma­chine and risk shrink­age. This is con­firmed by Jack Wing­field Digby, owner of The Hunt­ing Stock Mar­ket, where tra­di­tional breeches and jodh­purs cost ap­prox­i­mately £200 a pair. He reports in­creas­ing use of ma­chine-wash­able fab­rics such as stretch cloth and mole­skin – not least be­cause of the dif­fi­culty in sourc­ing more tra­di­tional cloths these days.

The worth of highly worked, tra­di­tional at­tire is con­firmed in a dif­fer­ent sense by Sarah Byrne, who is an ac­com­plished side-sad­dle rider. She re­cently started Open for Vin­tage, an on­line marketplace that sources vin­tage rid­ing clothes as well as other unique gar­ments and ac­ces­sories.

‘What mat­ters is that the breeches fit well and that there is a choice of fea­tures and fab­rics’

“These are beau­ti­fully tai­lored pieces made of the finest cloth, which are in­creas­ingly hard to find,” com­ments Byrne. “A full vin­tage sidesad­dle habit is truly a rare thing, so the prospect of hav­ing them avail­able at Open for Vin­tage is very ex­cit­ing.” In­deed, Byrne’s own side-sad­dle breeches were handed down to her when she was a child; she has worn them ever since and re­cently com­mis­sioned a replica pair from breeches-maker Harry Wal­lace.

A for­mer sec­tion com­man­der of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Ar­tillery, Harry Wal­lace saw a gap in the mar­ket be­tween fully be­spoke and off-the-peg jodh­purs; his pairs sell for £250 to £300. He taught him­self the trade by un­pick­ing tra­di­tion­ally made breeches, trac­ing the pat­terns onto brown pa­per and then cut­ting and sewing sep­a­rately ob­tained cloth into new pairs. Busi­ness grew rapidly through word of mouth. Now, Wal­lace en­gages an­other tai­lor while con­tin­u­ing to draw on his own wide range of ex­pe­ri­ence as a rider (he has hunted the King’s Troop horses, been on the win­ning polo team in the Army’s all-reg­i­men­tal cham­pi­onships at Sand­hurst and won the Mil­i­tary Gold Cup and Royal Ar­tillery Gold Cup at Sandown, among other achieve­ments).

“Not ev­ery­thing needs to be hand-sewn,” Wal­lace ob­serves. “But­ton­holes, for ex­am­ple, can be ma­chine-fin­ished. What mat­ters is that the breeches fit well and that there is a choice of fea­tures and fab­rics.” Colour also needs to be con­sid­ered. Red hunt­ing jack­ets re­quire white breeches, whereas black or “rat-catcher” (tweed) jack­ets call for buff-coloured ones. “Peo­ple re­coil from pay­ing £300 a pair but when you con­sider that they are cus­tom made and in­volve at least one fit­ting, it’s a bar­gain.”

Women’s jodh­purs and breeches have evolved in equally event­ful fash­ion. The bal­loon-hip style from In­dia was em­braced by such ac­com­plished 20th-cen­tury fig­ures as Coco Chanel and Amelia Earhart, the first fe­male avi­a­tor to fly solo across the At­lantic. The 1960s saw the in­tro­duc­tion of Ly­cra and other stretch fab­rics, al­low­ing for a far more fit­ted gar­ment. At the same time, de­sign­ers such as Ralph Lau­ren in Amer­ica be­gan to pop­u­larise the fit­ted-jodh­pur look in the world of fash­ion – re­veal­ing the ex­tent to which English eques­trian her­itage holds a

world­wide fas­ci­na­tion. Rarely has a Ralph Lau­ren col­lec­tion omit­ted a ref­er­ence since.

The tight-fit­ting look reached its zenith with the 1985 pub­li­ca­tion of Jilly Cooper’s Rid­ers, the iconic cover de­pict­ing a well-man­i­cured male hand rest­ing in­ti­mately on a woman’s jodh­pur-clad seat. The book’s in­te­rior didn’t ne­glect to ref­er­ence tight jodh­purs, ei­ther; a white shark­skin pair mem­o­rably split­ting mid-per­for­mance at a showjump­ing event. Says Cooper: “There is noth­ing sex­ier than a fine pair of legs in breeches and boots.”

The fabric tech­nol­ogy that pro­vided for the more fit­ted look con­tin­ues to evolve. Joanne Ward is a brand man­ager at Match­mak­ers In­ter­na­tional, which owns the Harry Hall and Caldene eques­trian brands. “The ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ments now in­volve lay­er­ing: ei­ther bond­ing lay­ers of fabric to­gether or im­preg­nat­ing them with coat­ings. This im­proves the gar­ment’s wa­ter­proof­ing, stain re­sis­tance and over­all dura­bil­ity while mak­ing them lighter weight, faster-dry­ing and gen­er­ally more com­fort­able,” she ex­plains.

New mem­brane tech­nolo­gies in tex­tiles, such as Schoeller’s new Nanosphere fabric coat­ings, are modelled on plant leaves, mak­ing them breath­able yet self-clean­ing, with the abil­ity to re­pel wa­ter, dirt and oil. Ad­di­tional in­spi­ra­tions have come from the cy­cling mar­ket, such as the “stretch-re­flec­tive” fea­ture that makes this cloth­ing more vis­i­ble late in the day or dur­ing win­ter. Caldene and Harry Hall jodh­purs sell for £40 to £80 a pair.

Inevitably there came a point when the fash­ion and func­tional as­pects of these gar­ments would in­ter­twine. A lead­ing ex­po­nent of this is Rosie van Cut­sem; her TROY Lon­don range of con­tem­po­rary cloth­ing was in­spired by her coun­try up­bring­ing, yet the jodh­purs she de­signed are equally at home at a Lon­don cock­tail party as on horse­back. “The idea was to cre­ate some­thing that would be warm and com­fort­able yet also flat­ter­ing and stylish,” she ex­plains. “They are made of Ital­ian wool, with just a lit­tle stretch.”

The look is el­e­gant in­stead of “spray on”, and, with fea­tures such as Ital­ian-leather knee patches and horn but­tons, the cost is also rea­son­able at less than £300 a pair. True to the name, the gar­ments are de­signed and made in the cap­i­tal. TROY Lon­don’s range is cur­rently avail­able at a num­ber of se­lect stock­ists.

The move to a more clas­sic cut may have been in­flu­enced by Down­ton Abbey and sim­i­lar cos­tume dra­mas but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Ac­cord­ing to Michael Smith, the maker of £1,500 breeches on Sav­ile Row, the top three con­sid­er­a­tions when out buy­ing jodh­purs or breeches are “dura­bil­ity, fit and com­fort”. Harry Wal­lace, whose breeches are part cus­tom-made, con­curs. “Tra­di­tional fea­tures such as a split fall or fish­tail back re­main pop­u­lar for a rea­son.”

A split fall is a panel of fabric at the front of the breeches that un­but­tons. As Wal­lace ex­plains: “It al­lows a chap to an­swer the call of na­ture with ease. While, in the­ory, fly open­ings would en­able the same, they tend to ruck up in an un­sightly man­ner when on horse­back.”

A fish­tail back is a piece of fabric ex­tend­ing up from the back of the breeches above the coc­cyx, of­ten pulled by braces, pre­vent­ing the rear area be­com­ing ex­posed as the jacket rides up. “Peo­ple ask for these tra­di­tional op­tions for good rea­sons, and not just be­cause they look like they might be­long in an episode of Down­ton Abbey,” re­marks Wal­lace.

Chang­ing trends, in­clud­ing those for fit­ted ver­sus roomier jodh­purs and breeches, may keep tai­lors and gar­ment mak­ers busy for some time yet. Long af­ter these gar­ments were in­tro­duced to English so­ci­ety, their place in the na­tion’s wardrobe and con­scious­ness re­mains se­cure. While jodh­purs and breeches are con­tin­u­ally be­ing in­tro­duced to new wear­ers at home and abroad, the essence of their ap­peal is re­mark­ably sta­ble. Long may it re­main so.

Harry Wal­lace wears a pair of his new breeches; Sarah Byrne mod­els Open For Vin­tage at­tire

Sarah Byrne wears made-to-or­der, vin­tagestyle breeches by Harry Wal­lace

Clock­wise from left: Beau Brum­mel in fit­ted breeches; Ralph Lau­ren au­tumn 2012 fash­ion show; avi­a­tor Amelia Earhart in jodh­purs

stock­ists

Bernard Weather­ill www.bernard­weath­er­ill.com

Frank Hall www.frankhall­tai­lors.co.uk

The Hunt­ing Stock Mar­ket www.hunt­ing­stock­mar­ket.co.uk

Open for Vin­tage www.open­forv­in­tage.com

Harry Wal­lace harry.wal­lace@mail.com

Ralph Lau­ren www.ralphlau­ren.co.uk

Caldene www.caldene.co.uk

Harry Hall www.har­ry­hall.co.uk

TROY Lon­don www.troy­lon­don.com

Above: troy Lon­don’s lux jodh­pur in taupe, priced at £220. Right: jodh­purs from Harry Hall (beige) and caldene (mauve)

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