Occasionally, I’ll end up shooting the breeze with another photographer or journalist who, in the course of the conversation, admits in hushed tones that they always feel a little bit overwhelmed by trot-ups — how to find interesting angles, how to pull a decent story, how to pay lip-service to notable brands without it coming across as shoehorned #sponcon. Not me. In the heady moments before a horse inspection, I slowly transmogrify into a bargain basement Anna Wintour, perched in my front row seat and ready to cast my beady eye over outfit after delicious outfit, much as I do when live-tweeting the Met Gala, though with fewer kitchen cocktails involved. (Unless, of course, I’ve been roped in by EN’s US squad to pen an unofficial jog awards post, in which case just as much alcohol is involved, and I’m usually writing them while wearing lipstick and sunglasses in a bubble bath that’s dangerously close to overflowing. It’s hard work being this wildly glamorous, but someone’s gotta do it.)
So when my pals at ritzy British footwear company Fairfax and Favor suggested we put together a jam-packed post full of trot-up outfit tips and some of our favourite looks of the 2021 season, it was absolutely no surprise that I, the Carrie Bradshaw of the team, was asked to do it.
(Actually, the conversation went something like this:
SCENE: SLACK APP INBOX. CUT TO DM BETWEEN EN EDITOR SALLY SPICKARD AND FASHIONABLE PROTAGONIST TILLY BERENDT
SS: …and so that’s the brief, basically. Do you think you could do that?
FP: Absolutely! Delighted you think I’m the person for the job. I have many opinions already.
SS: I mean, you’re the only one who’s remotely into fashion, so it’s sort of yours by default.
FP: I will…take that.
And so, dear reader, here you are: safe in the hands of a sort-of-certified fashion expert-of-some-description; a journalist who, if nothing else, has been trusted to dress at least two riders for five-stars in recent memory, so mustn’t be that bad at it, right? (Right…?!) I’ve rounded up some of the trot-up looks that really caught my eye this season, and put together some pretty solid advice if you always find trot-up prep a bit of a stressful situation. Do you need to follow my advice? Not at all! Fashion is subjective, and I’m a thirty-year-old woman who still tries to bring emo bangs back into style approximately twice a year, so feel free to take what works for you and discard the rest. If you’re already consistently slaying on the horsey runway, you might not need any of the advice that’s to follow from here on out — and equally, if you view trot-ups as a purely functional task and think this is a pretty frivolous topic to fritter away 2,000 words on, that’s totally cool too. If, however, you’re somewhere in the middle — keen to make the most of the moment, aware that a great outfit can give you the chance to elevate your personal brand and promote sponsors, and feeling just a bit frazzled by all the options — then I hope that together, we can venture towards the light, to a safe space devoid of tweed ponchos.
Find your style
Maybe you’re planning ahead for your first-ever trot-up, or perhaps you’ve reached your hundredth and still find yourself rummaging around for a vaguely clean shirt minutes before the ground jury assembles. In either case, finding yourself in the fashion hinterlands can be pretty overwhelming, and understanding how to put together an outfit that doesn’t make you feel like you’re playing dress-up in someone else’s clothes can seem like a confusing time-suck. But ultimately, it doesn’t have to be a tough task — what we really want to do here is to create an outfit that’s very you. Think about the outfits you gravitate to in ‘normal’ life. Who are you when you’re not on a horse?
“Someone who’s eagerly awaiting their next opportunity to get on a horse,” you might be thinking. If clothes really, really aren’t your thing, start by working out what you feel confident about, and emphasise that. Maybe it’s a feature — like Ariel Grald, you might have toned arms to rival Madonna’s, in which case centring your outfit around a great sleeveless top or dress is just the good and right thing to do — or maybe it’s a sentiment. One of my absolute favourite sartorial choices at a trot-up this year was just a small, significant accessory: at Kentucky this spring, Ema Klugman opted to display her allyship via her mask. While I do hope the masks themselves will soon be consigned to history, along with the pandemic, I think this could usher in a great wave of literal statement pieces on the trot-up strip, most obviously in the form of graphic tees. Whether you want to make a point about global warming, human rights, or you simply want to share a quote that means a lot to you, don’t be afraid to be let your clothes do the talking.
It’s all about tailoring
The most simple and easy to execute piece of advice I can give you is this: great tailoring will change your life. Or at the very least, it’ll ensure you always get profile pic-worthy photos on trot-up day. The most obvious place to consider this is in a blazer or sport coat, which should be slim cut and offer adequate movement through your shoulders. Save boxy, oversized blazers for the riders’ party — they tend to just look shapeless while you’re running, whereas a coat that’s cut to suit your frame will be flattering at all angles and in all paces.
As before, the best way to tackle this is to know your body and what you feel great in. What kind of shape would you tend to go for if you were invited to, for example, a wedding? What’s your go-to night out outfit that makes you feel reliably excellent, and how can you incorporate similar components into a look that’s horse-friendly?
When I write up trot-up reports with heaving galleries of images, it’s always the shoes that people comment on — for better or for worse. It’s not generally because the commenter doesn’t like the look of the shoes, if they’re leaving a disparaging bit of feedback; instead, it’s that they view them as ‘wildly impractical’ or ‘impossible to run in’, despite significant photographic evidence that the wearer did, in fact, manage to run in them.
Ultimately, your choice of shoe will come down to your own comfort level, and the confidence you have in your horse on the day. If, like me, you lost your university years in a haze of cheap nights out at neighbouring nightclubs, you might be quite adept at running (and much, much more) in a heel. In that case, I say sod the haters — go forth and conquer. A heel — even a relatively insignificant one — elevates any outfit, and can provide the opportunity for a statement shoe, but err on the side of caution and opt for a blockier heel, as a skinny stiletto could snap over uneven ground, putting you in an avoidable risky situation.
If you’d rather skip the heel, a Chelsea boot is always a classy option, or you can find flat versions of many knee- and thigh-high boots, such as Fairfax and Favor’s Regina or Amira styles.
For men, styles aren’t just limited to dress shoes, which can look a bit identikit and uninspired a lot of the time. Try pairing a sport coat with a sharp, clean trainer, like Australia’s Kevin McNab does. In doing so, he makes his footwear the focal point of the outfit, which isn’t just quite a cool look — it’s also really savvy promotion for his sponsor and major owner, sneaker company Scuderia 1918. If you’re working with a clothing or footwear company — whether they’re an ongoing sponsor or have provided some free or discounted clothes (or you’d like to try to persuade them to!) — follow Kevin’s lead. Rather than going all out with a head-to-toe statement outfit full of the brand’s boldest pieces, pick one really eye-catching item and let it do all the talking, keeping the rest of your outfit simple and complementary. For example, if you choose a statement boot, such as an oxblood red thigh-high, pair it with a neutral pair of skinny jeans, a white shirt or dark, slim-cut sweater, and a matching nail polish or lipstick to tie it all together. The same idea works if your showcase piece is a bright blazer, an interesting belt, or a graphic tee — don’t overpower them with too busy an outfit. Let the rest of your clothes be the stage, and keep the spotlight on your piece of choice.
Use novel materials to play up classic cuts
Sometimes I feel for the menfolk, who have fewer options where fashionable turns are concerned at trot-ups. But actually, there are so many clever variations on the trot-up suit that can be employed — and one easy way to elevate an outfit is to opt for something a little bit less ‘accountant chic.’ Will Rawlin really nailed this at Bicton this autumn, where he made his five-star debut: though the cut of his outfit is a familiar one, with a slim trouser, crisp shirt, and tailored sport coat, his choice of a deep, sultry blue velvet made the look so memorable. We’ve seen other variations on the theme over the years — Paul Tapner‘s wooden bowtie at Badminton a few years ago; Tom Crisp‘s Liberty floral shirt under a slim-cut blue tweed suit that I am happy to take all the credit for, also spotted at Badminton. I’d love to see an emerald silk blazer on someone next spring, and to be totally honest with you, it might end up being me.
In any case, this advice works for men and women alike, and will be particularly helpful once you’ve figured out what works best for you. If you know you’ll always wear skinny jeans to show off your great pins, try deviating from classic denim: black leather is an obvious and commonly-used alternative, but the truly bold could go for a snakeskin, or a punky tartan. There’s a pair of high-waisted silver snakeskin skinnies in my wardrobe just waiting to be called into service the next time I’m tasked with dressing someone. Admitting that might guarantee that no one ever asks me again, but they really would look incredible alongside a dappled grey.
Minimise the accessories
Or, at the very least, be sensible about them. By all means, embellish your outfit, but keep in mind what you’re there to do: you need to run alongside a hot, fit, unpredictable animal, and you need to not be hindered in your attempt to do so. For that reason, it’s best to avoid anything that flaps or jangles, such as statement necklaces, bangles, or scarves. Enormous earrings are risky, too, though I say this firmly as someone who was frightened into submission by an old riding instructor that any piercings were almost guaranteed to be ripped out by a horse at some point. Mind you, she was referring to the lip ring I’d recently acquired, but having since heard horror stories of someone having a nipple ring yanked out while walking down a barn aisle (fully clothed!), I’m inclined to think she might have been onto something.
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Instead, pick something a bit less likely to get in your way. Bold belts are great, and a big, kitschy buckle is particularly on trend at the moment, or treat yourself to a bright manicure for a pop of colour. Laura Collett is queen of the themed manicure, and Mollie Summerland went for a patriotic touch for her winning trip to Luhmühlen this year. If you’re desperate to channel your inner Jackie O with a silk scarf, consider tying it into a ponytail or as a retro headband, which actually leads me rather nicely into my next bit of advice…
Avoid a hairy situation
If you’re blessed with a voluptuous mane, you’ll be all too familiar with the struggle: just one errant gust of wind and you’re Cousin It, sprinting blindly down the strip and praying you don’t fall over a potted plant. Wearing a jaunty hat to keep it in check is hardly any better; the EN photo archives are teeming with pictures of hats doing some interpretive sky-dancing as their person disappears out of shot.
The solution? Hat pins, if you must wear the fedora — and otherwise, functional, pretty hairstyles that’ll keep your mop in check. Half-up styles are easy to execute and work brilliantly if you, like me, look like the lovechild of Miss Trunchbull and a founding father with your hair up; practice before the big day with a claw clip or an embellished barrette to nail the art. Or go all in, and all up: sleek ponytails and buns offer an instant facelift, which most of us will be grateful for on Sunday morning after a particularly raucous riders’ party the night before. Pinch some mousse from your braiding kit to tame any flyaways and ensure a Kardashian-crisp slicked-back look. Pair with a sweep of bronzer on each cheekbone to revive yourself from the dead and make yourself look like you just emerged from the salon, not the back of a random horsebox.
Something I’ve discovered this autumn, much to my own chagrin, is that TikTok really does have its uses here — it’s absolutely heaving with impossibly polished-looking fifteen year olds who know how to finesse complicated updos with total ease. I’m ashamed to admit I turned to them for help for a reason black-tie event, and shamefacedly, I must now hand you over to the teens. Here’s one example of a relatively simple look that’ll make a big impression at your next trot-up — and all you need is some braiding bands.
Also useful to have in your wardrobe is a dressy headband, which can instantly elevate a look and hide (most) hair sins. And absolutely essential? A can of dry shampoo, obviously.
Safety is stylish
It might not yet be de rigeur on the trot strip, but dressage star Charlotte Dujardin proved in Tokyo that you can look just as good in a riding hat while presenting your horse. And if yours has a tendency to act up in situations like this, or is making his trot-up debut? Give yourself one less thing to worry about and don the hat. Our favourite way to build an outfit around it? Think coordinated, smart schooling attire (or startlingly-clean-model-from-pages-of-tack-catalogue): a tidy, sleek ponytail, a smart shirt or polo tucked into a pair of breeches in tan or a fun colour, a belt, clean gloves that go with the rest of the outfit, and polished boots. You can still make bold fashion choices: perhaps you school at home in a pair of brown fully-laced boots, and you’ve been aching to pair them with a rust, aubergine, or forest green breech and a crisp white shirt. This is a super opportunity and will likely rocket you to the business end of the best-dressed list, too.
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Ultimately, though, the first and final rule of fashion is simple: just have fun, choose what makes you feel good, and let that fill you with confidence. That’s the greatest accessory you’ll ever wear. (An incredible pair of boots is a close second here, though — so if you’re ready to treat yourself, head on over to Fairfax and Favor’s website to find your next winning look!)