Nothing evokes such elegance as riding sidesaddle and part of the elegance lies within a finely
tailored riding habit. The Victorian era saw a rise in the number of women taking up riding and so, many
tailors and dressmakers started to specialize in making sidesaddle habits, the habits always following
the whims of what was currently fashionable in mainstream clothing.
This edition looks at the sidesaddle riding habits of the early part of the Victorian era, the 1850's and
beginning of the 1860's, when CDV photographs were new and replacing expensive daguerreotypes and fashion
magazines were becoming cheaper to buy making them available to a wider audence.
A common feature of 1850's and very early 1860's sidesaddle riding habits is the jacket style
bodice with a long basque and peplum. As shown in this 1855 French fashion plate from Le Follet magazine,
the bodice of a habit could either be jacket style and worn over a blouse or a regular fitted high necked
bodice with a long basque and peplum.
Also typical with riding habits of this period and continuing all through the 1860's, was the
extremely long full skirt. This 1856 French fashion plate from Journal des Demoiselles, shows a fair
equestrienne riding with a very full skirt which reaches almost to the ground. Although cage crinolines
were not worn for riding, the required fullness would have been acheived by wearing a starched petticoat.
Breeches of wool or chamois leather would have also been worn underneath the skirt as well.
This 1855 illustration from Punch magazine parodies the growing width of skirts both in mainstream
fashion and in riding habits. Hoops would have been too dangerous to ride in but unfortunately, there were still
too many accidents occuring from women getting their full petticoat supported skirts tangled up in the horns of the
sidesaddle (which could have up to 3 horns depending on the style of the saddle) when falling off. This would
eventually lead to the creation of the safety apron during the late 19th century.
One assumes that women only wore top hats while riding sidesaddle. While top hats were certainly
worn for formal occasions like hunting, most women wore whatever hat was currently in style for mainstream fashion
although specifically designed fashionable "riding hats" were also available. This c. 1858 middle aged Scottish
lady certainly followed the fashion magazines by wearing a riding hat with ear rosettes and long ribbon ties
nearly identical to that show in the October 1858 issue of Frank Leslie's Magazine. The lady wears a long fitted
jacket with lapels over a white blouse and a dome shaped cage crinoline underneath her skirt. She would not have
ridden in the cage crinoline but it was common for women to wear them underneath their habits in the studio
when being photographed.
A c. 1858- 1859 CDV photograph of a pre-teen aged Mary Toogood, shows her also wearing a similar styled
hat to the model shown in Frank Leslie's Magazine minus the ear rosettes and ties but still keeping the ostrich feather
at the front. Mary wears a fitted bodice instead of a jacket with a long basque and peplum. Although she does not
wear a hoop under her skirt for the photographer, it does look like she is wearing a small bustle to support
the peplum of her bodice.
This unidentified c. 1858- 1859 teenage girl wears a wide, flat velvet porkpie style hat with a pompom
on top which is very similar in style to the one drawn on the equestrienne in the 1858 Punch magazine parody
illustration above. One can clearly see her long fitted button down bodice with it's long skirt like basque. The way
her skirt drapes is also visible. Tt is shorter on the right side and trains to the left so that when mounted,
there would be slightly less bulk under the right leg yet still allowing for the long skirt to hang right down
on the left side. If the rider rose on an off-side saddle, the habit's skirt would be cut to train on the right side.
A beautiful image of a c. 1860- 1862 Pre Civil War era American lady wearing a curved flat hat which would have also
been at the height of fashion in mainstream women's clothing as well. Her full sided hairstyle is slightly
out of date however, being more fashionable during the mid 1840's than 1860's! The bodice of her habit
is starting to grown shorter in length mirroring the shorter lengths of bodices on 1860's non sporting dresses but still
retains a small basque which is just visible on her left hip. She wears engageants with her modified pagoda sleeves.
A c. 1861- 1862 CDV photograph of an young English woman from the East Midlands woman with her canine companion.
Her habit is transistional in style between 1850's and 1860's fashions. The bodice is still cut slightly longer in length
than what was fashionable during the 1860's but still retains a long 1850's style basque and peplum. The coat style sleeves
of her bodice would have been common in mainstream fashion. She wears a small ostrich feather trimmed porkpie hat which were
at the height of fashion during the 1860's and stil considered slightly racy when most women still wore bonnets.
Miss Hutton shown in a c. 1862- 1863 CDV photograph wearing a curved straw hat with a velvet covered brim, a style
which would have been appropriate for a young girl to wear. Her riding habit, by this time, is starting to look slightly out dated
with it's long length bodice with basque and peplum. It does not look to fit her very well in the body so it may have been a hand
me down from an older sister who wore it a few years earlier.
In the next chapter, we look at mid 1860's sidesaddle habits...
All photos are from the collection of L. Hidic