Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Red & Gold Riding Habit

Last week I showed you a Titian portrait of a lady in all white.  Most of you approved of the  all white frock, and the way it focused the attention on the wearer, and would set her apart in a sea of Renaissance richness.  It lost points for weird pleating, and for the very stiff bodice, but still managed a very respectable 8.7 out of 10.

While I can’t say I personally love the frock, I really feel I ought to recreate it.  For one thing, I do LOVE all white gowns.  For another, I’ve got exactly the right body shape to match Titian’s lady: no bosom means that bodice is going to be just as flat on me (really, check out my pair of bodies), just the right hair (blond-brown-red, with a tendency to fringe), and I even kind of look like her – too much nose and classic curved  eyebrowns.  If only I had teeny curvy lips and a little dinky chin I’d be all set!  (side note: all the other historic costumers seem to be constantly finding old portraits that look just like them, but I never find an old portrait that looks like me, despite having an old-fashioned face!  Perhaps I need to do a ‘find a portrait that looks like me’ contest 😉 )

Right, back to business!  For this week’s Rate the Dress, let’s look at a late 18th century riding habit in rich red and gold:

Woman's Riding Habit Italy, Venice, circa 1780 Costumes; ensembles Watered silk faille, watered plain weave silk, linen lining, LACMA, Purchased with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Dennis C. Stanfill (M.82.16.2a-c)

Woman’s Riding Habit,  Italy, Venice, circa 1780,  Watered silk faille, watered plain weave silk, linen lining, LACMA, Purchased with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Dennis C. Stanfill (M.82.16.2a-c)

The ensemble features a red waistcoat, and a jacket and front-opening skirt in rich gold, with revers and cuffs in red to match the waistcoat.  The black petticoat and hat and white stock are  almost certainly  modern  recreations to give the effect of a full outfit without being visually distracting.  The front buttoning skirt is presumably to facilitate riding.

Most riding habits seem to have been in blue, red, and dark green, so this gold one, while not totally unique, would still have stood out as something a bit different.

Though it’s hard to tell for certain, the fit on the mannequin suggests it was made for a slightly larger woman.

What do you think of it?  A nice way to set a riding habit apart?  Or, because of the natural tones, would she just blend in to an autumn hunt?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Ummm. I love tailored garments, including women’s riding habits, and I love this combination of orangish red and antique gold. A perfect 10, so far as I’m concerned, and this one I’d personally wear in a heartbeat, too.

  2. Julia Ergane says

    I love the military look of this era’s riding habits. There are a number of lovely examples by England’s renowned portraitists. This one is equally lovely and I will also give it a 10/10.

  3. Susan says

    Agreed: 10/10. Lovely colors, nice lines. I can almost hear the hoofbeats and the cry of “Tally-ho!”

  4. Susan says

    ^^^(Although I do realize that this is a riding habit, not a hunting habit. Perhaps the “foxy” colors made me hear the baying of foxhounds in my inward ear…).

  5. I like the front opening petticoat especially. It is not usual (I believe) and this is the fetching element for me. The coat and waistcoat are charming too. But I´m fewer fond of the colours.

    8 from 10

  6. I love this one! I am finding more and more that colors I wouldn’t like on their own, such as this gold, are awesome with just the right contrasting color, like this red.

  7. Barbara Stevens says

    I would have liked a ‘back view’ too – there is a tantalising glimpse of a pleat/fold at the back right – what is the back like? This habit looks as though it would be relatively comfortable to ride in – having worn a Victorian version I know they can be hellishly uncomfortable. I love the unusual colour combination – obviously made for a lady who knew her own mind. I give it a 10, for being different from the norm, and for style – love the front fastening skirt.

  8. Love it! The colour combination is brilliant (I have a jester’s hat in very similar colours) and the buttonage adds interest without being Too Much. I would definitely wear it, if only it would fit me. 10/10 from me too.

  9. Lynne says

    I fancy this, too. That military look makes my peace-loving heart go pit-a-pat, for some reason. I think it’s the frogging. One of the things I will always regret not buying (note to the young – I regret not buying costume things much more than I regret buying things) was a British artillaryman’s jacket, the front, side to side glorious frogging. Sigh.

    The only thing that gives me pause about this outfit is the width of the lapels/outside front facings. Too wide, I feel. At first glance, I thought, “Ah! Something for a dumpy little thing – would suit me.” But I think the lapels are making the front look more solid and heavy. Less red and more gold, so the frogging gets a chance to shine.

    9 out of 10.

  10. I love the lines! The gold is a little mucky and faded looking, but I’m guessing it wasn’t originally so gross, so I’ll excuse that.


  11. I’m uninspired. 6/10 Although seeing everyone gush about the colours, I wonder what it would look like on a different screen.

    Leimomi, there’s always something off about portraits that makes them not me – the face is too round, the lips are too full, the eyes are too far apart, the eyebrows are too arched… It’s funny, because there are many portraits I look at and can exactly imagine the person, knowing the type – there’s even a 1790s portrait in the Met that reminds me of my mother. But not me. Now that I look at it, we do have superficial facial similarities – the same sort of combination of features that seems to be missing from portraiture!
    Let’s do a “Find a historical portrait that looks like me” blogfest of some kind, maybe?

    • Riiiiight. The abundance of buttons, which is the selling point for some, is really the sinking point for me. I have a deeply embedded dislike of front-opening, button-fastening skirts. So deeply embedded that I didn’t at first realise that was what I disliked about this.

  12. I rather like it. I especially like that it shows that even larger women would be active, and dressed well, as they played. I like that the red is against her face and not the gold. How stunning she must have looked upon her regal steed!

  13. I’m not particularly fond of this. There are so many gorgeous 18th century riding habits and this one is…not making my short list. I’m not fond of the colors (greensy mustard and rust is how they read to me), particularly in combination with the black as shown, and the front-opening skirt is too fusty for me. Add to that the extra-wide lapels and the way the jacket ends up with kind of a dumpy look…not my favorite habit, I’m afraid. 5/10.

  14. I love it. The colours are beautiful and would look good outdoors surrounded by nature, though I would like to see it in person to know whether my monitor is giving me an accurate rendition of the colours. I like the cut too. 10/10

  15. I like it a lot.

    In terms of the actual design, it is marvelous, especially the massive lapels and the frogging.

    In terms of colour combinations, blech. The red is lovely, but the ‘gold’ (more like greeny yellow, ugh) is a sticking point for me.


    • Alex: I’ve seen the outfit on several monitors now, and it doesn’t look “greeny yellow” on all of them, only some of them. I’m betting that the real color is an antique gold and not greeny though I could be wrong….

  16. I like the colours but don’t love the fit on the mannequin. I agree that this riding habit was likely made for a larger lady. Something else I wonder about: Most riding habits have skirts which are too long on one side, so they will look even when riding side saddle. This one doesn’t have that. The left side looks kind of gathered up but the position of the mannequin’s hands suggests the lady may have just pulled that up a bit. And then there is that front button closure… Would that help the dress look good when riding side saddle? I guess I just don’t know enough about riding habits from this era. It would work really well if a lady wanted to ride like a man…
    Just as an unusually coloured riding habit, I don’t love this, so I would rate it 5/10 but if this is the outfit made for an adventurous and slightly scandalous outing of a buxom lady riding in a man’s saddle through the autumn forests, then it has to be 9.

    • I may be wrong (riding habits aren’t my area of expertise), but I am 90% sure that riding habit skirts don’t become asymmetrical until the 19th century, so the even hem of this one is standard for an 18th c riding habit skirt.

      The buttoning could have been used for riding astride, but 18th c ladies who wished to ride astride could also wear breeches – it was a bit risque, but not uncommon. Marie Antoinette was known known to do it (and there is even a portrait of her in a breeched riding habit, astride a horse). She was criticised for it, but considering the politics of the French court, and the powers that were opposed to her marriage from the very beginning, the criticism is not shocked or virulent enough to indicate that women doing this were totally outrageous – simply that the critics were just finding any excuse to have a go at her. Rather like the way opposing American political parties will criticise any action of the others candidates, where any reasonable observer will look at those actions, roll their eyes, and know they are just minor quirks and making a fuss over them is stupid.

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