I DO not wish you to attach too much importance to your clothes, but a few hints may be useful to those whose parents do not happen to be riders themselves. The fit of your breeches or the shape of your boots will not make you a horseman, but they may materially conduce to your comfort in the saddle. The boy in irreproachable horseman's dress who has no idea of riding is a subject for ridicule to onlookers, and is more conspicuous when it is evident he is conscious only of his perfect clothing and ignorant of his equestrian deficiencies. The first pair of breeches will give a boy much harmless enjoyment, and when he pulls them on he will feel he is one more stage nearer to manhood, but his performance in the saddle ought to justify the wearing of a horseman's outfit.
What we shall put on is not, however, a question that concerns us much in early life, and an arbitrary parent generally decides the manner in which we shall be clothed. The time comes eventually when we have a voice in the matter, and it is for that moment I am preparing to offer you advice.
Neatness is the essential point in a horseman's dress, and I would have you always bear this in mind. Any slovenliness or untidiness, which might be overlooked and forgiven in a pedestrian, is brought into conspicuous prominence when one is mounted on a horse. In fact your whole appearance should be of an unassuming character, with your clothes fitting in a manner that defies criticism, and of a quiet pattern that does not catch the eye.
Breeches are the most important feature of a horseman's rig. A misshapen coat may sometimes be pardoned, a battered old hat overlooked, and bad boots condoned, but an ill-fitting pair of breeches condemn the wearer at once. Breeches, to be thoroughly comfortable for riding and to fit properly, should be too tight for walking. They should be very loose in the thigh and just as tight at the knee. There are now in most provincial towns tailors who can make breeches fairly well, but until recently it was impossible to get them outside of London. However good a tailor may be with other articles of apparel, it is hopeless to get breeches from him unless he has made them a speciality, and the best London man will fail without he is given sufficient opportunities of trying on. The fit of breeches is quite as important to the comfort of the wearer as it is to his general appearance. For your own sake and that of your friends you should clothe yourself in a manner that defies criticism—perfection in fit with sober pattern and colouring. Here let me repeat, that dress which will pass muster on foot may become a glaring eyesore when you are on the back of a horse.
For ordinary riding purposes you can please yourself, and you have a wide range wherein to make your choice, but if money is a consideration, you would do well to have things which will stand the strain of a day's hunting. Riding-boots are rather expensive articles when required only once or twice a year, but a neat pair of leather gaiters do equally well for an occasional day, and your feet can be shod in ordinary walking boots. Stout cloth breeches of a material which I believe is called whipcord will stand an immensity of wear, and when "strapped," i.e. patched, with buckskin on inside of the knee will last several years.
The Newmarket boot, which has a box-cloth leg and a leather foot, is both neat and comfortable for summer use, but it appears to have gone out of fashion lately. However hot the weather may be, do not be led into the mistake of wearing thin breeches, as they will not stand the chafing of the saddle, and your own skin will suffer at the same time. If it happens you get unexpectedly the opportunity of a ride and have no riding breeches, a small strap below the knee will convert your ordinary trousers into very satisfactory substitutes. The action of a horse has the effect of making trousers work up, and unless there is something to keep them in place, you will soon have exposed to view a wide expanse of bare leg. The old-fashioned strap beneath the foot kept the trousers in place, but did not prevent chafing at the knees.
These hints given here on the subject of costume can be of no practical use to those with ample means at their command, as they have only to put themselves unreservedly in the hands of the best bootmakers and tailors to be turned out in correct style. The poor man or his son may perhaps be able to glean some information which will save his pocket and help him to avoid glaring errors.
The taste of the individual may be allowed some latitude in the selection of a costume for an ordinary ride, but in the hunting field custom has ordained that certain articles shall be worn, and to depart from these unwritten rules is to make yourself unpleasantly conspicuous. A gentleman owes it to himself to be ever clean, neat, and tidy, but if he appears at the meet in unorthodox costume he is not showing a proper respect to the master or the hunt.
For the man or boy who hunts only once or twice in the season, it would be absurd to turn out in the full war-paint of the chase, but the regular follower of hounds should always wear a red coat. A red coat, however, demands certain accessories, and to omit any detail is an unpardonable sin. The high silk hat, top-boots, white breeches, and white neckcloth are absolutely indispensable when the sportsman desires to don pink. It would be better for a man to appear in the hunting field in his shirt sleeves than for him to be guilty of wearing a scarlet coat with jack-boots.
The breeches may be made of any material the wearer chooses, but they must be white and of a good fit. Buckskins when properly cleaned look better than anything else, and I think are the most comfortable to wear, but they require very careful cleaning, and white cotton cords are preferable to badly cleaned " leathers".
The neckcloth must be tied—no dummy, please— and the whole knot should be securely fastened to a flannel shirt with a strong safety-pin. If you want to avoid lumbago, rheumatism, and frequent colds always wear flannel for hunting, and don't be tempted by the luxurious softness to clothe your body in silk. The waistcoat is a very important part of your clothing, and you should remember on it you will depend for keeping yourself warm when standing at a covert-side in a bitter east wind.