The equestrian sport of dressage requires style as well as technical expertise. A specific outfit is worn in events, with the jacket being one of the most important components. A dressage jacket is very similar in style to a hunting jacket, with a slight difference in some of the cuts and the number of buttons included. The clothing worn in dressage, as with the sport in general, has a very interesting history.
Dressage, which means ‘training’ in French, originally developed as a sport from the expert training given to horses for use in the military. Being able to maneuver horses very skillfully was thought to offer an advantage for soldiers on the battlefield. From its military beginnings it was developed into a sport, and was first included as an event in the Olympic games in. Since that time the attire for horses and riders has changed very little.
The origins of the dressage jacket date back to England in the late 1700s, when long frock-coats were adapted to make horse riding easier. The adjustments led to the creation of the tailcoat, which is the precursor of the modern dressage jacket. Throughout the Regency period tailcoats were considered standard formal attire, in addition to being worn in a range of equestrian disciplines. It is interesting to note that even today dressage jackets and hunting jackets are very similar in style to Regency period tailcoats.
A dressage jacket, sometimes also referred to as a shad belly, is traditionally black or navy blue in color, and occasionally dark green. The rules regarding the uniform to be worn in the sport, particularly in important competitions, are very specific. The history and traditions of the sport are held in high regard, and are closely protected. As a result, competitors in dressage today look very much the same as their predecessors did over a hundred years ago.