A Study in Scarlet -- an examination of five vintage hunt coats

Nearby where we live, there is a lovely little tack shop called Horse and Rider.  They have all the usual things -- from paddock boots to show clothes to horse brushes and fly spray to the newest books on training your horse.  But they also have a consignment area.  And being a clothing historian in Upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania, this is the part I find most intriguing.

Every time I stop by Horse and Rider (which is more often that you would imagine since I haven’t been riding regularly for about two years), I take a look at what they have on consignment.  A few years ago, I got a lovely dressage hat that I wear as a Steampunk topper.  And Bob’s much-loved hard derby with leash came from Horse and Rider’s consignment section.  They even have a riding crop that has my birthdate engraved into the silver (if I had been born in 1933!).  I love to look through the consignment stuff.  It’s like visiting an equestrian museum. Bob’s favourite stuff, of course, are the hunt jackets.  He tries at least one of them on every time we go and I have to remind him that he doesn’t know how to canter yet.  *wink* There are two areas of clothing history that I have always adored -- equestrian clothing and bespoke tailoring.  With hunt coats, you get a little of both.  Hunting coats aren’t jut red blazers; they are based on historical riding costume an each variation has its own meaning and use. Also, you can’t buy hunt coats off the rack.  So they are all custom made.  And the details and craftsmanship of bespoke tailoring really shows. Well anyway, we just happened to swing by Horse and Rider a couple days before my birthday and I decided to ask the owner if she would have any problems with me photographing some of the hunt coats.  She said no, so I pulled out my handy point-and-shoot and went to town. The first coat is a HUGE morning coat made by Mlasovsky and Wagner in Philadelphia.   See? Unfortunately the name of the owner and the date have washed away. It is a red wool morning coat lined in red and white Tattersall and possessing buttons from the Radnor Hunt.  Morning coats are considered less formal than frock coats and may be worn by newer members of the hunt and field members.  The colour scarlet indicates that the wearer is a full member in good standing with the hunt club.  The collar is grey, Radnor’s colour.  Sometimes the collar is faced with velvet, but this one is wool flannel.  The whole coat is made from a heavy wool melton and the Tattersall check with which it is lined is wool as well.  Unsurprisingly, hunt coats are made to be worn outdoors in chilly weather since hunt season is in the autumn. In construction morning coats are similar to the frock coats from which the derived.  Morning coats are basically frock coats the front tails of which have been slanted back and rounded to stay out of the rider’s way.  The first morning coats appeared in the 1850s when country gentlemen wanted something informal to wear on a casual morning ride.  By the 1880s, the morning coat supplanted the frock coat as formal daywear for men as it continues to be today. The next hunt coat I photographed and examined was a small hunting frock coat made by Svante E. Nyborg in Drexel Hill for a Harry Hankins in 1963. The buttons are fairly worn, but we think we can make out AVH -- Amwell Valley Hounds, a hunt club across the river in New Jersey.  The collar of the coat is faced with moss green velvet which is Amwell Valley’s colour. This is the typical hunt frock coat as worn by the Huntmaster and Huntsmen on a formal hunt.  It has the square skirts and waist seam of all frock coats since the early 1800s.  The coat is made from very heavy wool and lined with Tattersall.  It is well-worn as evidenced by the buttons and wear on the buttonholes but in excellent condition otherwise. The next specimen is very different from the previous examples.  While a hunt coat, this one was never worn on the hunt field at all. This is a hunt dress coat.  It is meant to be worn by members in good standing of the hunt to hunt balls and other formal occasions.  It is simply formalwear in the hunt colours.  The buttons on this one say “Rose Tree Hunt” and the collar is faced with olive green velvet.  Unlike the field coats, this coat is lined with silk and has yellow satin revers facings.  It was made on February 8th, 1929 for Mr. T. Wallis Armstrong by Witlin-Gallagher and A.B. Mathews Co on Walnut Street in Philadelphia.

I’d never heard of the Rose Tree Hunt, so I looked them up on the internet.  Oh, and how interesting is this:  http://www.rosetreehuntclub.com/history.htm  They are the oldest subscription hunt in the U.S. (est. 1859) but in 1960 they moved from Delaware County, PA to York County.  (This coat is from the Del Val period of course).  If you live in York County, they sound like a very friendly and welcoming group. The next coat I want to talk about is another dress coat. My first thought looking at it was that the tailor had tried to make it look Victorian by piping the revers with braid and creating false cuffs with two-needle stitching.  And then we found the tag:

Yes, that says December 30th, 1890.  Apparently Mr. E.H. Outerbridge, Esquire, got a new coat for the New Year’s ball.  I wonder if he’s the guy who owns the bridge!  I just thought it was “the outer bridge”, not someone’s surname! The buttons say RCHC but the only hunt clubs I found online with these initials hunt deer and other game with rifles, no horses involved.  So I have no idea if it’s a defunct hunt or they just don’t have good search engine placement. The collar is not faced with a hunt colour, but the piping is olive green.  The revers are white grosgrain but it’s possible that this was originally canary yellow like the other dress coat (canary yellow is the formal hunt waistcoat colour).  For its age, the coat is in incredible condition. And last but not least, the only female coat in the consignment area.  To put it bluntly, except for side saddle habits, women’s hunt clothing completely sucks. This undistinguished little princess-seamed blazer is what passed for formal hunt attire for women.  It is custom-made like all the men’s coat, but feels like a polyester blend and is lined with poly taffeta.  There is nothing structured about this coat an it certainly wouldn’t keep you warm on a chilling hunt morning.  The buttons are generic fox-head buttons without a hunt name, and there are no hunt colours on the collar.  Since scarlet isn’t allowed to non-members, the owner of this jacket had to belong to the hunt, but her jacket doesn’t show it. Next time -- Ladies' Riding Habits that Don't Suck -------------------- © 2011 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.