In a tights spot
With the season of weddings, horse shows and members’ enclosures upon us, Eve Jones finds herself struggling with dress-code sensibilities
So it would seem we are in the throes of showing season. A sport that I have no interest in at all because I am an incredibly lazy human who can no more look after her own appearance to general levels of good taste than an animal’s. I also find myself in an aggressively wedding-heavy summer, which seems to involve similar levels of grooming and competition to a HOYS qualifier.
I recently went to a wedding where it was noted that I wasn’t wearing nude tights with my knee length skirt. Well, yes, I’m sorry, I wasn’t wearing nude tights because nude tights ARE AWFUL. A man I used to work for once said that the invention of tights was the death of romance. If it’s gusseted sausage casing vs stockings, then I agree but I hardly think a naked calf denounces me as a harlot. And while I don’t spend a huge amount of time thinking about ladies’ gussets, those tights really do get on my wick. Not only are they the same colour as skin and therefore entirely pointless, I resent the archaic notion that you have to wear them to be proper or fully turned out. It’s a nonsense. They are ugly, shiny and uncomfortable. We used to cut the feet off and pull them over my uncle’s Afghan hound’s head to stop his hairy ears going in his dinner, which proves their extreme restrictiveness. I refuse to wear them.
I just don’t go in for classic grooming; I’m more your fancy-dress competitor than best turned out. A few years ago I refused to be a bridesmaid for a friend if I had to wear the same dress as the other girls because grownup women dressed identically is weird. Sorry, but you don’t show a shire horse in a show pony’s saddle, do you? Fortunately for me, she dumped her intended before she had to dump me.
My tolerance for maintaining horses’ tails and plaiting up is perhaps even worse than that for maintaining my own mane. The mop on my head is cut once a year but I would happily scalp a horse to avoid grooming it. I’d be diabolical at showing. I mean, I’ve seen people dye their horse’s legs pre showing class. Dye them with actual human hair dye to please the judge, which is mental. I’ve never even dyed my own hair. Except my moustache when I was a teenager (though it turns out a furry blonde caterpillar looks just as bad as a brown one so I whipped that off after anyway). I simply don’t have the patience for all the preening. That sort of discipline needs to be drilled into you as a child. Look at all those freaky little showing kids. They’re like Stepford children or pigtailed robots on Vaseline slathered show ponies from the get go. What hope did a wild-haired, porky pony-clubber on a Heinz 57 Thelwell number have?
I am more entertained at county and agricultural shows where there’s greater grassroots variety. I’ve some very fond memories of my granddad taking me to a show in South Wales and marvelling at the ribbons and the feathers on the shire horses pulling drays. For some reason, I’m not in the least riled by showing farm animals. In fact, I especially love the rare breed section. There’s nothing so brilliantly British as a blow-dried fleece and competitively pristine udder and inevitable bad behaviour in the ranks is a spectator’s bonus. Serious jamjudging comments are always worth a read, too, and I love giant vegetable competitions – there were onions the size of footballs at the Dufton agricultural show last year.
I’ve been invited to lunch at The Festival of Hunting in Peterborough this summer. An interesting thing about hunting is that many people who obsess about their dress and their horses often don’t think about the quality of their hounds. I visited the Beaufort and VWH kennels last summer to photograph their best breeding stallions. Foreman and Statesman were serious sorts and it didn’t take a box of Nice ’n Easy hair dye to see it.
The Foxhunter’s Bedside Book, complied by Lady Apsley in 1949, quotes Lord Chaplin as saying, “It is easier to find a good prime minister than a good huntsman”, but I am anticipating the noted list of foxhounds, harrriers, beagles, bloodhounds, working terriers, fell hounds and gazehounds will be testament to the dedication this country’s many hunting people devote to preserving traditions through sport and bloodlines. This aside, I suspect there’s going to be some excellent people-watching, too, as these shows tend to vary from a sort of Ma and Pa Larkin vibe to Rutshire Chronicles.
Where there are horses and hounds there’s usually good gossip, after all.
I’m imagining lunch to be a wash of panama hats and smart summer frocks amid antiquated bowlers and so on but I’ll be bound to get the dress code wrong. I’m used to it, though, it being a common affliction of one who blags her way into members’ tents and other peoples’ parties last minute. My mum used to let me choose my clothes when I was small, to teach me about life choices or shut me up, I suppose. She said I always looked dreadful but was very happy. I’ve improved, I hope, but the sentiment remains. I’m staying mindful of her lesson of independence because surely at a wedding literally no-one sane should care what I wear as I’d really hope the bride is more interesting than my pasty naked calves. My turnout conditions are that the proper extremities will always have an appropriate swathe of coverage in the show ring but you will never EVER get me in a pair of those awful nude colour tights.
What hope did a wild-haired, porky pony-clubber on a Heinz 57 Thelwell number have?