Aside World Magazine
Spring 2021 Issue
Costume Concourse D'Elegance
Article and Photos by: Park Lady Equestrian Costumes
As a costume designer and I work with many people from numerous industries however I hold a special place in my heart for Costume Concours D'Elegance.
I started riding sidesaddle and making concourse costumes after catching the side saddle bug from my mum whom I accompanied as the “tame Photographer”.
I aim in the following article to go over some of the questions I'm asked on a regular basis and hope that you find it informative and interesting.
What is Costume Concours D'Elegance?
Quite simply It means the elegance of horse and rider in costume judged in harmony on the overall picture of elegance.
Does it have to be historically accurate?
This is a question that I get asked on a weekly basis via Facebook and emails and the answer is it depends on what you are wanting to do...
It is really hard to be 100% historically accurate in anything because let's face it we are using modern materials and most of the time modern techniques to create our outfits.
In the UK (and it's not even really seen many places here) there is a showing class called The Historical costume class. I have only ever seen this class in one or two places maximum.
This class is all done at the walk and is exactly as it sounds for historical costumes. To enter this class, you need a painting of your costume (or a photo if it’s a more modern historical costume) and a write up for the judges who are allowed to come and inspect your costumes up close and personal. They will even look under your skirts to check shoes, bloomers etc.
But as I say this is a one off for this particular class. I normally say you don’t have to be historically accurate but it is nice to be historically inspired. This is one costume I have been fortunate enough to have seen up close and personal in the V&A in London and my rendition of it. It is a riding coat from the 1750s (at this time they were styled after a man's coat and even made by men's tailors instead of a lady's dress maker) the original is made from a brown wool with wide silver lace braid (the silver has tarnished with age) and was lined with silk. Despite not being historically accurate you can see the inspiration.
How do I find inspiration for my costume?
With the internet finding inspiration has been made super easy! Pinterest is your friend in this case. Search for the date you would like to re-create for example late Victorian let's say 1890s riding habits and it will throw quite literally millions of images at you not all of them relevant so make sure you limit your search to what you are actually looking for.
Many of these images will be fashion plates from magazines from the time such as La mode and harpers bazar it is always worth trying to find the source material for further information. Others will be from artists such as Alfred De Dreux you can find many of his paintings hanging in the Hermes gallery in Paris but are more easily accessible online.
Another way you can go is to check out museums such as the V&A in the UK or the MET who have a fantastic online catalog with wonderful high-quality photos. It is also worth checking out your local museum more often than not they have had items donated and have them sat in the back catalog not on display. They may allow you to view them privately if you explain your interest. If you are ever over in the UK the V&A offers this free of charge but do remember if you want to do this you need to book months in advance. (If you do get the chance to do this its SO worth it!!)
I want to have a nice silhouette but I don’t want to wear a corset. (AND) Can you Ride in a corset?
To answer two questions with one answer no you don’t have to wear a corset in order to have a nice silhouette. You can put synthetic boning in to the seams of the jacket to provide structure without any restriction of movement. And yes, you can absolutely ride in a corset! I ride in mine 99% of the time purely because I have a bad back and I find it provides wonderful support. Obviously be sensible and don’t tight lace and make sure you get a well-made corset from a trusted supplier. Check out Red threaded https://redthreaded.com/collections/historical-corsets-ready-to-ship They make lovely stays and corsets from historical patterns made for the modern body.
How do I design my own costume without looking the same as everyone else?
Well now here is an interesting question... there are a few things you can do
1. Take a well-loved costume and make it in a completely different color.
This is a customer of mine who loves the red Lady W costume but it is quite literally everywhere in the UK (I believe I once counted 6 Lady W’s in the same class!) which is a shame as it’s a lovely costume. Zana wanted hers to stand out so ordered it in cream and gold after being inspired by another painting of the same period.
Photo to left of painting providing clients inspirational color palate.
Photo above left is of Zana's ultimate costume.
Photo above right is painting of the red "Lady W" costume.
2. For customers who want a costume but don’t know what they want I say ok go away and find me three images (4 max) from the period you are aiming for, that you absolutely love and tell me what you love about them. From these 3-4 images we will design something particular to you. So, they might say for example I like the sleeves on this one, the shape of the next and the design detail on the third... there you have your costume!
Don’t forget no two women would want to be seen looking exactly the same, they each wanted to stand out in their own way.
I want to do Costume Concours D'Elegance but I can't afford an expensive costume...
Not a problem there are a number of people who hire out their old costumes its always worth asking on some of the many Facebook sidesaddle groups or you can always get creative and have a go at making your own! Izabella from Prior attire has some wonderful books that include riding habit patterns in them. Well worth a read! And as for it being expensive you can always find less expensive fabrics out there you just need to look for the sales.
What fabrics are best for a sidesaddle costume?
From a personal standpoint I try to use only natural fibers such as wool, cotton etc. when it comes to fabrics but this is purely personal preference. Obviously natural fibers are slightly more ecofriendly, but also using natural fibers allows your body to breath far more than a synthetic fiber. This means that you will sweat less. Using natural fibers obviously comes with a significant price difference but if you go searching you can often find some bargain goodies!
What is my number one tip?
My number one tip on any sidesaddle costume be it one you have made yourself or one that you have made for you is DO NOT put curtain weights in the hem!! This is for practical reasons as well as aesthetic ones.
Firstly it makes your hem look really unnaturally stiff. Yes, I know we don’t want flappy skirts but this can be done by adding a thick 5” hem and adding canvas to the inside of it. This is what was done historically they would some times even line the hem with light weight leather to protect the fabric but also to help weight the hem down.
Secondly and maybe I should have mentioned this first. Please don’t put curtain weights in your hem for heath and safety purposes. I know adding them to a light weight skirt will make It less flappy but it also means that if the wind gets up you them have weights flapping an hitting your horse. I have seen it happen to someone's horse at a show where their horse took off round the ring, as you would if you were being hit with curtain weights.
If you have been doing this for years, I mean absolutely no disrespect, but I do caution as new riders and new horses to the world of side saddle may not be prepared and I would hate to see an accident.
I hope this has been of informative and interesting and has answered some questions. If you do have any other questions PM me at Park Lady Equestrian Costumes and I will endeavor to help. If I get enough questions, I will perhaps do another article for you all.
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