The United States Equestrian Foundation (USEF) has very specific guidelines that you have to follow, but you can still find ways to let your own style and taste shine through. Overall, formal dressage show attire should have a very elegant appearance.
Let’s look first at the proper attire for the more casual weekend show, and then we’ll examine the dress code for higher-level competitions.
THE WEEKEND SHOW
When you turn out for a weekend show, you want to look elegant, but at the same time you might not yet be ready for the more formal dressage attire. Here are some recommendations for how you should dress yourself.
You should wear a short riding coat in black or navy, both quite conservative colors. You may choose either a hunt coat or a dressage coat, which is a modified tailcoat with short tails. Contrast coloring and piping is allowed, giving you the opportunity to personalize your coat.
You’ll top your white competition riding shirt or show shirt with standup color with a stock tie, choker, or a conservatively colored tie for men. Stock ties are most commonly seen on women, and are conservative in style at the lower levels.
While gloves are not required, they are recommended. They should be conservatively colored, and are allowed to match the color of your boots or jacket.
BREECHES OR JODHPURS
White or cream-colored breeches are best for your dressage show attire. While light-colored jodhpurs are allowed, these are typically seen only on young children. If your breeches have belt loops, be sure to pair them with a black belt. This will give you a polished appearance with attention to detail as you walk around the show grounds, or if you ride without a jacket in extremely hot weather.
BOOTS AND HALF-CHAPS
You should invest in a pair of dressage or field boots, ensuring they reach your knee. Black is the most common, and riders most commonly choose dressage boats instead of field boots.
At Training and First Level, you also have the option to wear Jodhpur boots instead of tall boots. These can be either black or brown in color, and may have either zippers or laces. If breeches and Jodhpur boots are worn together by a Training through First Level rider, half-chaps should be worn to most closely resemble the look of a tall boot. Half-chaps, gaiters, and leggings may not be worn by riders above First Level.
You are required to wear protective headgear at all times when mounted on the competition grounds. I recommend wearing helmets certified by ASTEM (American Society for Testing and Materials) and/or SEI (Safety Equipment Institute). You should choose a helmet in a dark, conservative color or top it with a dark helmet cover.
Remember, your hair must be neat at all times. While young riders may wear braids or ponytails, long hair should normally be contained in a hairnet and/or fashioned into a bun. Short hair that cannot be tied back should also be contained in a hairnet, to make sure distracting flyaway strands don’t get in your way.
Next, as you progress through the levels in your dressage training, you will want to know how to turn out for the higher-level tests and competitions. While most of the attire is similar in nature to the more casual weekend show, there are some differences.
TESTS ABOVE 4TH LEVEL
Anytime you are testing or competing above Fourth Level, you should wear a dark tailcoat or dark jacket with protective headgear. White or light-colored breeches are required, along with a stock or tie. Gloves and black riding boots are also required, as are spurs for all FEI tests.
GRAND PRIX FREESTYLE
For current and retired members of the Armed Services and police units you are allowed to ride in the uniform of your service. You must still wear protective headgear, however.
At this level of competition, striped or multi-colored coats are not permitted. You must wear a single-color tailcoat. Tasteful and discreet accents, such as collar of a different hue or modest piping or crystal decorations, are acceptable.
A neat, elegant appearance makes an excellent impression. Dressage is judged subjectively, so put your best foot forward before you even ride into the ring. Make sure everything is clean, starched, and well fitting. If you wear makeup, keep it light and natural, focused primarily on the eyes and lips. One of the most important tips, though, is to smile no matter what may happen.