Sew Your Own Custom Hunt Jacket: Pre-Planning

I've been sewing and altering my clothes for decades, but I don't consider myself any kind of tailor. Sure, I know my way around a sewing machine, but as far as couture techniques, draping and grading, no. In fact, I don't even like zippers.

I hate hand sewing, welt pockets, linings, and making buttonholes. Can I do those things? Certainly, and I have, but I don't like doing them. I'm more of what one would call a quick 'n' dirty sewer. If there's a hack or shortcut, I'm on it.

The reason I made so many of my own show clothes is because I am hard to fit, and in the horse world I'm comparatively poor. Even when I'm not-so-poor, I'm still cheap because I'm wired to think like a thrifty person. Since I'm built for custom made and a creative sort, it just always seemed better to sew my own.

My fitting issues: Looooong back, short arms, busty, small waist, big booty, long thighs, short legs, tiny head, tiny feet. Fact is, I'm built like a dachshund. Or a T-Rex. Or something designed by committee.

vintage pattern layout
She's smiling because she didn't have to bust out extra paper and a roll of Scotch tape to add 3" to her back waist length. She's also reading her pattern cover from 3 feet away without glasses. #NotRealLife
Off the rack jackets fit like a joke, no matter the price point. Tight through the back, tight in the bust, baggy at the waist, too long in the arms, and the waistline sits just above my last rib, acres above my real waist. Sure, I could alter something, but that involves picking out stitches and linings, and then there's usually a welt pocket parked right in the middle of a seam I need to reduce.

welt pocket seam
Reducing a seam that intersects a welt pocket? Nope. I'd rather put forks in my eyes.
I have three such jackets hanging in my closet, ranging from almost-fits to WTF was I thinking? They're waiting for complicated alterations I can't face beginning. Linings, welt pockets… ugh.

Honestly, it's easier to make my own. Obviously, not easier than handing someone a wad of cash for a custom, but easier than trying to make something work that doesn't work that I'm never really happy with.

I've been fancying the European competition jackets. I like the technical fabrics, the washability, the overall cut, and details like piping and velvet. What I don't like is the often haphazard topstitching over squidgy polyester, sometimes so crooked you'd swear it was sewn by Stevie Wonder. I dislike the gaping buttonholes and wobbly buttons. As even a half-assed seamstress, I notice those things and it really bothers me. Be damned if I'd pay for it, let alone the prices for brand name stuff made in China. In that respect, I'm very much a traditionalist. Besides, my elderly aunt would beat me senseless if I made something that sloppy. "It's just not done that way."

hunt coat pattern choices
Narrowing down my pattern choices. Olympic style frock coat or mod a tailored jacket pattern, or something else entirely? Whatever pattern I choose, it will take plenty of pattern alterations to truly fit.
I've read endless discussions on forums about what's in and what's out in the HUS show ring, how judges "hate" this or that, and I've grown immune. I mean, if you're riding the A circuit on the east coast or qualifying for the AQHA World Show that might apply, but it really doesn't affect me either way. I show locally, I like what I like, try to kinda/sorta color between the lines, and that's as much worrying about offending anybody as I have energy for.

If my coat isn't melton-y enough, plain enough, black enough, navy enough, long enough, too short, has four buttons instead of three - is it really the end of the world? Am I really taking that much of a dump on tradition? Is it such an affront to the senses I should be flogged, disqualified, lead my horse out in shame?

I could go the safe route, and create a navy or black jacket that would never offend anyone. I could even push the boundaries with dark brown or green; three button front, double vent back, and call it good.

3 conservative hunt jackets
(Left) Traditional bottle green jacket by Moore's Riding Wear, New Zealand. (Center) R.J. Classics very safe, very conservative, very traditional show coat in navy. You can't go wrong at any show, any level, with a tailored navy show coat in your closet. (Right) Tone-on-tone black plaid is still far from rebellious, though not as conservative as solid black. Images: Pinterest.
Frankly, if I'm going to make something, I'd like it to be just a little more exciting. A little color, a little texture, something not so dry white-toasty.

3 interesting hunt jackets

(Left) Winning Couture brown check plaid with white piping and perfectly paired custom shirt might not be considered conservative or necessarily traditional in some circles. Personally, I think it's classy and beautiful. (Center) The Arabian crowd constantly pushes the envelope in hunt seat show attire with fabulous, fashionable turnouts. This yummy, plummy brown and tan check with coordinating custom shirt by Show Season is still quiet and elegant, but perhaps not traditional in the purest sense. (Right) Peach piping adds a fun twist on traditional dark gray pinstripe from Winning Couture. This is just a tiny bump beyond conservative, and could easily dress up or down depending on which shirt is worn underneath. Images: Pinterest.
Once I have the fabric, color and pattern figured out, there's the question of how many buttons. Generally, in stock type Hunter Under Saddle you're only going to see 3 button fronts. In America, 3 button fronts are typically associated with hunt seat and 4 button fronts with dressage jackets. Worldwide, that isn't the case, but here in the States that seems to be the unwritten rule. Who wrote the rule? Somebody with a button hangup. Somebody who chases "those young whippersnappers" off their lawn and counts people's buttons and hits children over the back of the hand with a ruler, that's who.

With my long torso, I can easily wear 4 buttons. Or a dozen. Also, 4 buttons help keep the girls in check without gaping between buttonholes. I'd like to avoid wardrobe malfunctions if at all possible.

4 button riding jacket
OMG! A riding jacket with 4 buttons can't possibly be a hunt jacket, right? Call the button police! This beautiful jacket made by Moore's Riding Wear in New Zealand.
I love the cut of frock coats too, but here in the USA frock coats are generally dressage attire. Historically, frock coats weren't uncommon in the hunt field, but the stock breed show ring ain't the hunt field, no matter how traditional they pick-and-choose to be.

3 hunt coats
Will the "authentic" show coat please stand up? Three lovely variations of hunt-type jackets. Left: Equetech Marlow Deluxe Tweed Riding Jacket, specifically a "hacking" jacket cut on traditional lines with double back vents over honest-to-goodness canary breeches. Top right: Equetech Ladies Keeper Frock "Hunt" Coat with 3 button front and double vent back (discontinued). Bottom right: Ariat Bronte Show Coat in a very safe navy color with - gasp! - a 4 button front and the preferred double vent back.
We've evolved from tube radios, drive hybrid cars, have dishwashers, wear Spanx, have 24 hour mascara, use penicillin, inject Legend, love memory foam knee rolls… I think there's a little wiggle room, or should be, where tradition is concerned. I'm not saying let's turn stock breed HUS into Comic Con, but it's time to let go of some hangups.

I'm more concerned about sloppy equitation, to be honest. My own, in particular.

If I have a good trip in the show pen and feel like I looked good, that's what I'm in for. Just maybe, if I feel like I look good, I may ride better.

I think a new jacket that fits would make me feel better. I already know the ill-fitting stuff hanging in my closet makes me feel sad and guilty, and who needs that? Who needs to dedicate 10 linear inches of closet space to that kind of negativity?

I need some chocolate cake to ponder which pattern I should use, which color, how many buttons, and how far on the fringe is too far. What I know for sure is jackets that don't fit make me feel bad and chocolate cake makes me feel good.

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  4. thoroughly enjoyed this post. Currently altering show jackets for women of all shapes and sizes. They are so out of proportion to what normal older riders are...typical industry fit model sizes. And the Elastane is a bear to work with. You cannot iron, wash, dry clean, or otherwise look at it crosseyed. Trying to alter without too many previous stitching holes showing....ugh!

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