The riding habit, was first introduced in the 17th century. They were tailored by men in the manner of men’s dress: a fitted jacket worn over a long skirt, often worn with a masculine hat. Samuel Pepys, ever helpful with observations of his time, wrote in 1666 of seeing the Queen’s ladies of honor “dressed in their riding garbs, with coats and doublets and deep skirts, just for all the world like men, and buttoned their doublets up to the breast, with periwigs and with hats; so that, only for a long petticoat dragging under the men’s coats, nobody could take them for women in any point whatever — which was an odd sight, and a sight which did not please me.” – Candice Hern
In the 18th and through most of the 19th centuries, women’s riding habits were generally made by tailors and constructed like men’s wear. They were usually buttoned left over right, like a man’s coat. Other women’s fashions were made by dress makers and mantua makers. Masculine touches onwomen’s riding habits included mariner’s cuffs and fabrics and trims as seen on naval uniforms. These riding habits were functional, but in the late 1700s they became fashionable dress as well, and were worn for informal day wear for traveling, visiting, or walking.
The materials worn for riding from the mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries were easily distinguished from the silks, muslins, and velvets of fashionable evening dress. Equestrian activities required sturdy and often weatherproof fabrics such as woolen broadcloth, camlet (a silk and wool or hair mixture), melton wool, and gabardine for colder weather and linen or cotton twill for summer or the tropics. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, habits were frequently adorned with gold, silver, or later woolen braiding, often imitating the frog-ging on Hussar or other military uniforms. – Equestrian costume
The appearance of a lady on horseback in a fashionable London riding-habit, and tricked out in the newest guise with patches, is amusingly described by Steele. The lady is supposed to be riding through the town of Kettering in Northamptonshire, in the month of July, 1724. ” Yesterday astrange and surprising creature was seen to pass through our town on horseback. It had the face of a young woman, stuck full of patches ; a perriwig which hung down to its waist; a hat cock’d with the smartness of a young officer; a huge bunch of ribbons fastened behind its left shoulder; a shirt laid in large pleights on the breasts and tied close at the neck and wrists, which, with a vest of white satteen, trimmed with black, had much the resemblance of a shroud.
Our whole town was soon alarmed with this strange appearance, and various are still the opinions what it really was. The old people, who were the most couragious generally, went pretty near to it with their spectacles on to view it more distinctly; the younger sort kept it at an awful distance. Some were of opinion that it was a highwayman in disguise, and accordingly were for seizing it; others took it for a nun; but by a certain arch leer it had with its eyes I dare engage it had not a bit of nun’s flesh about it. However, by its pale complexion and shroud-like dress, most of my neighbours at last concluded it to be a ghost, and so took to their heels, and left me (who am no great believer in these things) almost alone with it in the road. I had now an opportunity, during the time it was drinking a glass of Rhenish wine and sugar at the Saracen’s Head Inn, to survey it well, and thereupon concluding it to be an Hermaphrodite, I enquired of the man who seemed to have the keeping of it, if he intended to show it in our town, and at what inn? For you must know, Sir, that I have a mighty curiosity to see one of those creatures all over. But the man with an angry countenance told me: That what I took for an Hermaphrodite was only a young lady, and that the sort of dress she was in was commonly worn for a riding-habit by the ladies of fashion at London. But as neither I nor my neighbours can believe it possible for folks upon no ill design to disguise themselves in such a manner… – A history of English dress from the Saxon period to the present day, Volume 2 (Google eBook)R. Bentley, 1893
Women’s riding outfits, known as ‘riding habits’, of the 18th century adapted elements of men’s dress. This jacket of the 1750s is styled after a man’s coat, although it has been modified with a waist seam to fit over stays and a wide petticoat. A narrow straight collar attached at the back neck and buttoning in front added protection on chilly rides. The fine tailoring and plain aspect of this jacket is typical of 18th century women’s riding habits. – Victoria & Albert Museum.