To Bling or Not to Bling?

Show Me Style with Wendy Brown: Bling or No Bling? That is the Question

What is a show clothing company doing writing about the controversy of bling? Show Me Again was inspired during the Congress this year when Kristen Galyean took the arena, and the web, by storm by wearing a plain shirt during her pleasure class on VS Lady In Red. Galyean explained, “I love the comfort of it,” and she added that the focus should be on the horse. People sang her praises and the story went viral.

So is bling really necessary? One of our recent customers, upon returning to the show ring after a hiatus of twenty years, was caught off guard by how attire had changed. “I do understand, based on previous experience, plus simple knowledge of human nature, that, in order to be competitive, one has to “look the part,” said customer Charese Pelham. However, she wondered if spending thousands on each outfit was going to be required, or if she should just sell her western horse completely. More on that at the end.

Reasons to Keep It Simple

We offer both fitted shirts and bling at Show Me Again for a reason. There is a place for both, and here’s what we love about pieces like zip-front, fitted shirts with no sparkle.

Sophistication and clarity: Erin Bradshaw, owner of multiple World Champion Sire John Simon, says she likes bling, but also loves a great fitting shirt like Kristen wore. “You can never go wrong with a classic…that’s the foundation of fashion.”

Comfort, simplicity and affordability: Not only do many oxford shirts have stretch, but they are surprisingly affordable – just a fraction of the cost of high-end, World Show level garments. Showing in a button down or zip-front shirt certainly makes a show day less complicated, and often the shirt can be hand washed or thrown in the gentle cycle. Fitted shirts can now be customized and can be ordered in a variety of colors with accents and piping, so you can match a pad and have a sophisticated look for less than $500 at Show Me Again.

Trendsetting – and being yourself: If you truly think horse showing should be bling-free, continuing to show in unadorned clothing, and showing at your best, is the best way to prove your point without saying a word. “Thank you Kristin Galyean for representing,” said Kelly Curran Gross. “I’ve been showing at the breed level for years in a plain saddle and button downs and I’m pretty sure the judges don’t care. So refreshing.”

Another exhibitor, Pamela Britton-Baer, makes a very good point. She explains that bling isn’t really necessary, especially at a Level 1 event, and she points out that judges aren’t as mindful of the bling as some think. “I ride English. We all look the same and judges have no problem placing a class. The same judges use the same method of judging to place the western pleasure. They aren’t looking at the saddle and clothes; they are looking at the horse/rider. I wore a plain black jacket and pants to Level 1 in the showmanship three years ago. I was fifth out of 40.”

Why Wear Bling?

Of course, many exhibitors love bling, or it wouldn’t be so prevalent. Not only does it speak to their inner princess, they wear it because it makes them feel confident and wearing it, to them, is much like dressing up for a special occasion.

“Yes, bling!” exclaims, Amateur exhibitor Kathryn deVries Mitchell. “I love the glamour of it and I feel more confident in a ‘look at me’ type of outfit – especially at the larger shows. I will wear a plainer (cooler) shirt at some of the smaller shows that are outside when it’s hot – but even my plainer shirts have to have a little bling.”

Climate is another consideration, as well as the size of the show, as Kathryn mentions. Just as dinners or social events can be more formal, so can horse shows, and attire coincides with the tone of the event.

Former trainer Jack Atwell also makes an interesting observation about the presence of bling in the show pen. “Beautiful outfits are great, but it will never make you the winner. The glamour, however, adds a little show and glitz to a very lacking spectator sport,” he explains. While we are used to shows, for most non-horse lovers, shows can be rather boring. At a show in Arizona, one youth exhibitor’s aunt was overheard during the prep for a pleasure class saying, “The pageantry of this is really amazing.” Hmm – we hadn’t thought of it that way. Not to mention admiring the extensive handwork and artistry of each designer’s work. Where else would you have a chance to wear such a piece?

Another point of consideration: while Exhibitor Ora Sue Nagy is not for the glitzy look, she reveals that a basic black vest helps the over-50 ladies hide a few rolls. “Just can’t tuck in a shirt and be attractive anymore.” she says. “But if I was thinner, I would be sporting a basic shirt tucked in and a nice pattern pad. It’s so professional looking.” What an exhibitor chooses to wear can be dictated by age, weight, and more, and sometimes, a little extra fabric and flattering design with some bling drawing the eye upward is much more comfortable and desirable.

One thing agreed upon by many exhibitors: don’t take the bling too far. Sparkle should be done in a tasteful way. “My take on the bling is it’s beautiful until you take it to the point that it looks gaudy,” adds Erin Bradshaw. (pictured left)

We’ve even heard some clients say, “I haven’t earned that much bling yet; I’m just getting started in the event so I don’t want to draw that much attention to myself.” Yet, another perspective to consider is bling being the reward for progressing in a new class as confidence soars.

The Rule of Thumb

We can all agree with Kristen Galyean that the horse should be the focus, and many praised her for being confident enough to proudly display this look. The Show Me Again philosophy: You should wear what makes you feel most confident, and there is no one right or wrong way to dress. Being unique is prevalent.

Some women like basic street clothes, while others love colors and accessories, and it’s no different in the show pen. If you feel like a million bucks in a plain black fitted shirt, then that is what you should wear; if you love the crystals, then by all means, show in them. How you feel in your clothes, and being you, will translate into confidence in the show pen. If we were all meant to look the same in the show pen, then that requirement would be in the rulebook. We are also in favor of choosing clothing to fit the event.

So what did our CEO, Wendy Brown, tell the customer who was appalled at today’s prices? “While it is more trendy to ‘look the part’, how far each individual takes this is completely by preference,” she explained. “If your preference is to go bling free, you are free to do so, and it cannot be held against you in scoring. In fact, at Show Me Again, we sell many inexpensive, fitted shirts and vests for this reason, and the entire basis for the formation of our company 17 years ago was to provide competitors an avenue to sell and purchase pre-owned, decorated clothes without having to break the bank; and recoup some of your investment for the pricey pieces. So perhaps you may want to start without bling and possibly for a larger show you want to dress up a bit more (or perhaps not)”

When Kristen stepped into the ring in a fitted shirt, it wasn’t that bling was going away from the show pen, for those of us who like it, it proves the point that it’s all about how you shine on your own. Kristen may have said it best in her confident, to-the-point manner: “I believe in wearing what makes you feel good.” Or perhaps the famous line from Legally Blonde, spoken by character, Elle Woods, can be the perfect gauge: “Being True to Yourself Never Goes Out of Style.”

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