Thursday, February 6, 2014

HSF #2: Innovation. The side saddle safety apron.

In beginning to ride side saddle, a whole new world of tack and appointments has been opened to me. Prior to this, not much thought went in to what a lady wore when riding aside, except that it was a skirt.

The ladies riding habit started with a skirt, when ladies would basically wear just clothes to ride, as opposed to a riding "outfit," or habit. I think we can thank those proper and fashionable Victorians for evolving an outfit worn when riding, to a designated riding outfit. 

A lady out riding in her redingote. Fashionable clothing for riding,
but not only worn for riding. Pretty much cut the same as every other dress.

As the century progressed, the riding habit began to look
more and more like what one might think of when "riding habit"
is mentioned.

Sisi of Austria, who was an avid hunter.

Sisi, again. When off the horse, there's a
lot of fabric to keep track of.

In the later part of the century, the shaped riding skirt came into fashion, allowing space for the right knee and a level hem when mounted. No more were skirts billowing around everywhere, hanging at all different lengths, but this meant that on the ground, the skirt hung absurdly long in the front. Here we start to see the skirt being buttoned up to walk.

An 1875 riding habit from the Met.

So, the knee pocket, and way of buttoning the skirt up when walking become the fashion toward the end of the century. The riding skirts begin to lose fabric, as fashions progress, and the more tailored look of the riding habit is seen. A good pattern for this style is Truly Victorian's riding habit skirt pattern, which illustrates the knee pocket nicely.

Two ladies in riding clothes, circa 1880.

Ah, but there was still a problem. A nasty one.

In the event of a fall, a lady could easily get tangled up in the saddle and be dragged and injured, or worse. So, around the turn of the century, the riding safety apron comes about. It is basically an apron that covers your legs when mounted, and wraps around your exposed lower limbs when on the ground. 

The snap fastener also plays into this. Not only is there less fabric to be tangled, but often the aprons were fastened with snaps. In the event of a fall, where the fabric got stuck on the saddle, the skirt would come apart and the rider would be free. And to save her the added embarrassment of walking the field in her drawers, the rider would wear matching breeches under the skirt. And a side note, this is the same reason why western shirts started having those pearl snaps.

Below are a few pictures from Alice M. Hayes' book, The Horsewoman (1903).

The apron, when mounted, looks like a skirt.

From behind, it's just an apron.

And wrapped up, it both covers the legs and
keeps the skirt from dragging.

The riding apron is still worn today, when a lady rides aside. It is both traditional and safe. The style changed a bit over the first part of the century, losing and gaining fabric, and the hem changed with fashion. The "golden age" of hunting side saddle ended with the second World War, and it's style has changed very little since then. 

For HSF: Innovation, I chose to recreate a safety apron. It's all done, save for the buttons, which I haven't decided on yet. Horn or fabric? Hmm… It does close with snaps, so it is basically finished, as all but one button is just cosmetic. I chose navy wool, as navy or black is the appropriate choice for a formal habit. The wool is a medium weight plain weave, which is what I had, so I chose it. Same for the contrasting lining - I had it. Ideally, a habit would be made of a sturdier wool, like whipcord, cavalry twill or melton, which would stand up to the rigors of hunting. As I live in Las Vegas, and I'm not hunting the English countryside (bucket list!!), I'm thinking this is just fine. Maybe I need a Raj era linen habit for summer here… Hmm…

As for the pattern, I browsed many. I even scaled up some 1912 patterns. I had a modern, Suitability apron pattern on hand that I went with. It got a bit of a bad rap with reviews, with users claiming too many darts and too much fabric, but I found it fit me well, with little alterations. I didn't really follow the directions, which is so me, but I don't have any complaints yet, though there were a heck of a lot of darts! Well, and I chose snaps instead of velcro.

The Challenge: Innovation

Fabric: Navy wool lined with checked cotton

Pattern: Suitability's riding apron pattern

Year: Eh, anywhere from 1900 to present. Wide range, I know. The bodice/jacket worn with it would really determine the year.

Notions: Snap fasteners

How historically accurate is it? Oo this question always gets me. I tried to be as true to when these came about, in the early 20th century, as possible. But without a lot of experience wearing these aprons, I went very basic.

Hours to complete: I didn't keep track. Took a few good days, though I did hand sew the whole thing. Not to be snazzy, or anything. Just that I traveled with it and hand sewing is much more portable.

First worn: Not yet. Off to the barn!

Total cost: Less than $5 for the fasteners. Everything else was stash.

And here are some pictures. It is a bizarre arrangement of fabric, until it's on a horse.

From the front, fastened up.

From behind.

And this is why it buttons up...
From the near side, or left side, one would see this.
Like my fake knee chair? It makes more sense like this.

From the offside, you see this.
The flap at the bottom fastens around the right leg,
keeping everything in place. Some aprons replace this
with an elastic loop.

I have accumulated many, many more examples of these aprons, as well as other side saddle bits and habits, over on a Pinterest board. Check it out!

And just for kicks…