Bods in jodhs
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.
Clockwise from left: Beau Brummel in fitted breeches; Ralph Lauren autumn 2012 fashion show; aviator Amelia Earhart in jodhpurs
Sarah Byrne wears made-to-order, vintagestyle breeches by Harry Wallace
Harry Wallace wears a pair of his new breeches; Sarah Byrne models Open For Vintage attire
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Ralph Lauren...
Above: troy London’s lux jodhpur in taupe, priced at £220. Right: jodhpurs from Harry Hall (beige) and caldene (mauve)