Over the years I've discovered what to wear on unfamiliar occasions by looking around and trying not to be too cheap. But hunting is a whole other ballgame.
You can't just rock up in chaps over jeans, or a colourful hat silk and muddle through. This is a sport famous for its traditions and etiquette.My wife would die if I showed her up. I'm allowed to fall off in good sport but I'm not a clown and she won't be seen with one.
So, having decided to go full steam ahead and hunt this season, the clothing thing initially proves tricky.
Dressing a lump like me in any costume runs the risk of parody. I'm not slip of a girl. I'm a sizeable unit and the overall affect needs to be correct, without a whisper of flamboyance, or we are in juggling and custard pie territory.
My first outing was to be in Autumn and I had nothing to wear. Not a thing. I went off first to the local equestrian centre to grab some basics. No dice. You know why women look so great in riding gear? They’re trim and the clothes are tight and stretchy and made exactly for them. There’s also lots to choose from.
But when a six-foot one 100kg middle-age gorilla strolls onto the premises they presume you are there to pick something up. Like a massive wheelbarrow. They carry no stock at all for the hunting chap and what is there is thin, badly fitting and, as my wife said, a bit too ‘show-jumpy’. So that was a total washout and I was running out of time. I needed to take this up a notch if I wasn't to look a total tool.
Enter The Vintage Tack Room (Editor: modest cough). These guys have a brilliant business model. They lie in wait for the desperate newcomer who crawls in begging for anything that fits and looks the part. The shop is filled with old leather boots, lovely coats and flashes of scarlet. It's very seductive to a magpie like me. (Editor: how rude! Please read below * for a clarification of our business model).
On my first desperate visit there was a comment about men these days being bigger than the men of yesteryear whose clothing was now considered vintage, and also a comment that I had ‘unusual calves’ (which I’d never noticed before and was flattered).
Autumn hunting, they told me, required ‘ratcatcher’. That is to say a tweed coat and beige breeches. The breeches had to be made - my choice, I wanted the high-end ones - but the Keepers tweed jacket was a lovely old heavyweight one that fitted beautifully. I'd wear my own old shirt, and a blue tie with spots. Job done. There would be no risk of turning up looking brand spanking new like a visiting American.
There also happened to be, as Fate would have it, a pair of brown boots which fitted me (made for a cavalryman with unusually large calves I expect) and man alive did I look smart! Hunting attire is fairly slimming and I was well chuffed. I'd consider wearing this lot on the tube.
But those people at The Vintage Tack Room were not done. Autumn hunting will turn to the ‘Season Proper’ shortly and if I was serious about fitting in ‘kit-wise’ (was I ever) then I would want black boots, a black coat, fingerless gloves, a hunt shirt, a stock and a pin.
Well I'd be damned if I was quitting before the Season started so I asked them to load me up. I figured having the kit ready and waiting would be a motivation.
I was assured nothing I had bought was stylistically exceptional beyond being excellent quality. I would fit right in. If I was to be left flat on my first day it would not be because of the clothes on my back.
To any person out there who likes a little stash then hunting is your game. It is wonderful; the vintage boots, the dandy waistcoats and that’s before you get to the whips, flasks, sandwich bags.... it is heaven to pretend you need any of it.
* Anyone who knows us knows our business model is about running one of the world’s most niche businesses servicing a pastime 80% of the country thinks they want banned, from a rural location with a black hole for broadband which makes running an international online store ... exciting.
Our customers range from newcomers like Will to longtime subscribers, Masters, Huntsmen and Hunt Servants across England, Ireland and around the world. We also sell beautiful vintage Savile Row coats & traditional handmade caps to show riders. We’ve even dressed a show-jumper or two.