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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on October 11th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 32

Women's equestrian fashion featured at historical exhibit in Santa Ynez

Wear 'em, cowgirl


Women’s equestrian fashions, highlighted in a new exhibited that launched Oct. 8 at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum, evolved out of necessity as women were required to do more and more work on ranches.

A cowgirl refused to wear a corset during a competition and helped change the way women equestrians dressed forever. 

That’s just one small nugget revealed in a new exhibition presented by the Costume Council at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum. The Evolution of Women’s Equestrian Attire Through the Past Century, which opened with a formal reception on Oct. 8, is a look back on the shift in women’s fashion in horseback riding. 

“This exhibition focuses on the fashion changes that have made women equal to men in all equestrian activities and sports,” the museum stated on its website. “These are the only athletic pursuits where women and men now compete together and equally. One hundred years ago this would have been unthinkable.”

The Costume Council’s Exhibit Curator Kathleen Graves said the exhibit focuses primarily on California, starting with Spanish and Mexican influences on fashion. Before the 1890s, women rode side-saddle in an elaborate dress with undergarments.

One of the exhibits at the Evolution of Women’s Equestrian Attire exhibit in Santa Ynez is a suit made by Nudie Cohn, a Ukrainian-born fashion designer who made costumes for Cher, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and cowboy singing duo Dale Evans and Roy Rogers.

“As Westerners came across the prairie, women started to wear the clothes of men,” Graves said. “Women were doing the work of men, so they started to wear trousers under their dresses, and then eventually they wore the split skirt.”

The split skirt, an extremely wide-legged trouser and tapered garment that gave the illusion the wearer had on a skirt, became popular for women riders. As more and more women took to horseback riding, they had to invent clothing that was “fashionable but functional.”

Big puffy jodhpurs started to be seen more and more by 1910. Women had worn them under their dresses to make riding easier but it was a very risque choice, Graves noted.

The exhibit highlights Vera McGinnis, a rodeo rider from the early 20th century who famously took her corset off during a tournament and went on to win. McGinnis also balked at split skirts and preferred trousers.

“For her it made no sense to wear a split skirt,” Graves said. “She could not have done the trick riding she did if she had.”

Women’s equestrian attire has evolved significantly from the time when women were forced to wear bulky trousers underneath their skirts to help them ride. Following the 1890s, women embraced the side-split skirt, which gave the illusion of wearing a skirt. By the 1910s, rodeo riders like Vera McGinnis made trousers the acceptable riding fashion.

The exhibit also features costumes designed for Dale Evans and Roy Rogers by Nuta Kotlyarenko, known as Nudie Cohn, a Ukrainian immigrant born into poverty who became famous for his “Nudie Suits.” The costumes were elaborate chain stitch embroidery designs coveted by no less than Elvis Presley himself.

“Nudie Suits” were a name that resulted out of a butchering of Cohn’s Ukranian birth name when he arrived at Ellis Island in 1913, Graves explained. The name eventually proved to be lucrative when Cohn opened “Nudie’s of Hollywood,” a famous store that outfitted some of the biggest celebrities of the day, including Hank Williams, Gene Autry, and John Wayne.

Graves said she also plans to feature a new component of the exhibit. People are being asked to nominate a cowgirl, living or dead, they think is worthy of recognition in a future exhibit. People can leave their choices on a card at the museum for archiving.

Ride into the past
The Evolution of Women’s Equestrian Attire Through the Past Century is currently on display at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum at 3596 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez. More info: 688-7889.

The exhibit also honors equestrian women of the Santa Ynez Valley, including Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductees Sandy Collier, Audrey O’Brien Griffin, and the late Sheila Varian, as well as bronze dressage medalist Charlotte Bredahl-Baker, hunter-jumper competitor and sport horse breeder Buffy Oas, and three-day event champion Jennifer Wooten
“It’s important to showcase and honor these women,” Graves said. “They mean so much to the equestrian tradition.”


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