My latest costuming adventure? Making a riding habit.
I chose this project for three reasons.
- For (one of) my reenacting persona(s), an officer's wife and woman of upper-middling to upper-class, who is not "following" per se but rather visiting a semi-permanent encampment, the use of a riding habit as a traveling suit makes a lot of sense.
- Pretty! But also somewhat under-represented, at least in my corner of the reenacting world.
Riding habits were worn by upper-class women not only for riding, but for traveling and sporting. Based on men's suits, with a waistcoat and jacket tailored to be worn over stays and a petticoat in place of breeches, they were a status symbol (clothes for specialized purposes!) but also pragmatic (hard-wearing wool and minimal froofy decoration).
You see riding habits cropping up in military camps--presumably women visiting the camp wearing a riding or traveling ensemble.
Scan of Lady's Magazine plate accompanying story "Military Beauties" (Sadly, I have nothing more on this one.)
Of these four images, the first two depict fictional scenes, the third could potentially be a realistic rendering of a real event, but we (at least, I) don't know what, and only the last provides a corollary for real-world situation. Following the 1780 Gordon riots in London, troops were encamped in and around the city. Artist Paul Sandby seems to have made hay out of this development, and many of our images of British camps from the period come from sketches he made of these encampments in St. James Park and elsewhere. We can add this image to the list of nifty London-area camp images--whether these ladies are out for a sporting drive or deliberately aiming to visit someone in the camps, it's kind of neato-keen to see the habit in action at a particular historical junction (even fictionalized in the print itself).
But habits aren't just for visiting military camps, of course. This oddly diminutive riding-habit wearing woman seems to be playing unsuccessful gooseberry to this lover's tryst (dog also not included in riding habit ensemble):
Women driving is another motif that highlights habit-wearing:
Nice images of habits, both, and are they possibly satirical commentary on gender-bending misses? Jabs at gender norms--and the breaking of them--show up in plenty of prints. Could the habit be a visual symbol adding to the joke?
Of course, use as a symbol doesn't mean the garment didn't exist, or even that it wasn't worn in the contexts it is shown in.
Here, a sporting pair at their favorite hobbies. Miss Trigger wears what appears to be a habit (that looks like a habit shirt from her neckline).
Finally, a satirical print aiming at a different joke entirely:
So, what do we see? It's often hard to parse out the reality from the symbolism in satirical prints, but since we know from other sources that it was normal for women to wear habits for these activities (portraits, etc), they are likely a good source for the garments themselves.