This weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking to participants at Harvard Fox Hounds’ Foxhunting 101 clinic about proper attire for the hunt field. It was a great clinic with lots of auditors and riders, and I was delighted to talk equestrian style and answer questions about what (and what not) to wear.
Hunting attire is practical, neat, and simple. You don’t have to spend a fortune to outfit yourself; in fact, most riders who compete already own the essentials. Plus, unless you’re hunting with an extremely traditional and conservative hunt, no one is going to ask you to leave because you’re wearing the wrong sort of boots. Hunt staff and members understand that it takes time to acquire items, and that if you’re not sure if hunting is for you, you may not want to spend money on new apparel!
There are two seasons of hunting, and each has its own set of attire. The informal or cubbing season usually occurs in the fall before the regular season begins. Dress for this season is referred to as “ratcatcher” or “informal” attire. This apparel is characterized by earthy colors and patterns.
- Helmet: While some hunts allow hats or hunt caps, I strongly recommend wearing an ASTM-approved helmet any time you’re hunting. You’ll be riding over terrain at speed and a helmet is the best way to protect yourself from serious head trauma. For cubbing season, you can wear a black or brown velvet helmet.
- Coat: Tweed coats are the most popular option for cubbing. Tweeds come in a plethora of patterns and colors, but as long as they are muted earth tones, they are acceptable. If you don’t own a tweed coat, it’s also appropriate to wear a black or navy hunt coat.
- Shirt: A light-colored, collared shirt with sleeves is appropriate for cubbing attire. Some hunts will allow polo shirts or turtlenecks, especially in areas where it’s hot during the fall. Oxford shirts are also acceptable, but must be worn with a man’s necktie.
- Stock tie: If you’re going to go hunting, you’re going to need to learn how to tie a stock tie. It’s not hard- it just takes practice! During cubbing season, you can wear any color tie except white. Plaid or patterned ties are very popular, and many people make their own from fun fabrics. The stock should be secured with a horizontal pin and have the ends pinned down. If you choose to wear an oxford shirt, wear a man’s necktie without the pins.
- Vest: Vests are optional during cubbing season, but a canary yellow, tattersall, or muted-color patterned vest can be worn.
- Breeches: Tan, buff, gray, rust, or any earthy color is perfectly fine to wear.
- Boots: You can wear black or brown dress boots or brown field boots during cubbing season.
- Accessories: Black leather, brown leather, or string gloves are correct for cubbing. Stock pins may be decorative. Jewelry is discouraged. Riders should wear leather belts, which can be used in the event a stirrup leather breaks or a loose horse needs to be caught.
- Notes: If coats are waived, a staff member will let you know. If coats are waived, you can choose to wear your vest and neckwear. If you remove your vest, remove your neckwear. (If you aren’t wearing a vest and coats are waived, remove your neckwear.)
Formal attire is worn during the regular season, which begins at Opening Hunt. Formal attire is different for members and non-members, and for ladies and gentlemen. I’ll cover what’s appropriate for a non-member lady to wear.
- Helmet: An ASTM-approved helmet in black or dark blue velvet is appropriate for formal season. If you have long hair, you should confine your hair in a hairnet or braid it neatly.
- Coat: A frock (*shudder*) or hunt coat in black, dark blue, or dark gray with plain dark buttons is correct for hunting. Both hunting and frock coats should have three buttons on the front of the coat and two buttons on each sleeve.
- Shirt: The Masters of Foxhounds Association’s (MFHA) rules don’t mention what sort of shirt should be worn for formal season, but you won’t go wrong with a white, long-sleeved show shirt.
- Stock tie: For formal season, you should wear a plain white stock tie that’s fastened with a plain, horizontal safety pin and pinned down to keep the ends from flying up white you’re riding. If you don’t relish the thought of forking over $8 + shipping for a pin, you can usually find 2″-2.5″ pins at a craft or sewing store for much less.
- Vest: While a canary yellow vest is the most formal look, tattersall vests are also acceptable.
- Breeches: Tan, buff, or canary breeches made from heavy synthetic stretch twill or cord are both appropriate and practical. Heavy breeches will help keep you warm on wintry days and will protect you from being scratched by branches and brambles.
- Boots: Black leather dress boots are appropriate for formal attire, although black rubber boots are also acceptable in wet weather.
- Accessories: In the formal season, you can wear buff, black, or brown leather gloves. Jewelry, if worn, should not be visible. Riders should wear leather belt, as in the informal season.
- Notes: As in the informal season, a staff member will tell you if coats are waived. Sandwich cases are optional, but recommended for flask storage! Don’t wear a coat with a contrasting collar; members of hunts earn the right to wear the hunt’s colors on their collar.
There are many other rules about attire that apply to men, ladies riding astride, and hunt staff, but these essential points should get you started and give you the confidence to go hunting! Above all, remember that you should be neat, clean (at least at the beginning of the day!), and dressed as closely to the MFHA’s rules as possible. A tidy rider and horse are a sign of respect to both the hunt staff who are working to provide you with a day’s entertainment and to landowners who are allowing people to ride on their property.
The MFHA’s guidebook is available online and covers almost everything you need to know about hunting, from apparel to staff positions to hound selection!