Top 5 Riding Habits


Who doesn’t love a riding habit? Inspired by menswear and military uniforms, these smart outfits aren’t just for sitting on horses. They’re high fashion and look great on-screen. Here are five fabulous riding habits in historical costume movies and TV series.


1. Georgiana’s “Fox Campaign” Riding Habit in The Duchess (2008)

In a film filled with fabulous outfits, the Duchess of Devonshire’s Fox campaign uniform easily stole the show.  Designed by Michael O’Connor, it was described as a:

“… Dark blue silk chenille costume … based on portraits and political cartoons of Georgiana done in the late 18th century. It has a military style jacket with leather trim with gold braid and brass buttons; it is lined in rust silk. The costume and hat are trimmed with fox fur as Georgiana is on the campaign for the election of Fox. The colours of the Whig party were blue and orange.”

2008 The Duchess 2008 The Duchess

I know you’re all wondering why I included this under riding habits since its mostly a military inspired political statement in clothing form, but it’s clearly derived from the portrait of Lady W by Joshua Reynolds, just in blue instead of red. What riding habit is that, you ask? Well, read on…


2. Lady Worsley’s Red Riding Habit in The Scandalous Lady W (2015)

Designed by James Keast, this is a fairly faithful attempt at a repro of Romney’s portrait of Seymour Dorothy Flemming, aka Lady Worsley. The portrait now hangs in the Cinnamon Room at Harewood House.

The Scandalous Lady W (2015)

The costume probably hangs in a warehouse somewhere.


3. Victoria’s Black Riding Habit in The Young Victoria (2009)

I promise I will get around to reviewing the costumes in this eventually, but I had to point out this particular outfit because it was what gave me the burning desire to make a Victoria riding habit of my own. Designed by Sandy Powell.

The Young Victoria (2009)

And this was the only really good photo of it that I could find on the internet. :-/


4. Viola’s Green Riding Habit in Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Once again, this one was designed by Sandy Powell. You’d think I had a fixation on her or something.

Shakespeare in Love (1998) Shakespeare in Love (1998)


5. Jeanne de Valois’ Buff-Colored Riding Habit in The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

I promise I didn’t just include this photo because there’s a picture of Adrien Brody in it. Milena Canonero designed the costumes.

2001 The Affair of the Necklace

I like to think she spent hours designing and perfecting Adrien’s towel, as well.


Do you have a favorite riding habit we haven’t mentioned here? Share it in the comments!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

27 Responses

  1. Jill

    You don’t see it for very long, and she’s wearing a hat out of some wardrobe person’s very bad imagination, but Emma Thompson wears a pretty good one in a very short scene with Hugh Grant in Sense & Sensibility. Too bad she’s on a modern sidesaddle…

    • Kristina

      Since a lot of “costume” films don’t show very clear views of horses’ saddles, I tend to assume that they often get them wrong and just try to conceal that fact from the audience — camera tricks are cheaper than having accurate tack made, I’m sure. (Obviously, considering that you can see the saddles in S&S, Ang Lee must have not given a damn about the accuracy in that scene). I don’t know very much about historical riding, though. Just out of curiosity, is Fanny Price’s saddle in the 1983 miniseries accurate?

      • Jill

        No, it doesn’t appear to be to me. The easiest way to tell is to look at the horns. Before the 1830s, ladies’ sidesaddles had a pair of horns on the top that formed a “U” shape, and your right leg would fit inside the “U.” After the 1830s, the horns were approximately “V” shaped, with one curve to hold the right leg and the other serving as a brace for the left (supposedly this made you more secure in the saddle). Since I don’t see a horn on the top of this image on the right side of Fanny’s knee (image is a bit dark), Also, the extra strap on the right saddle connecting to the girth was a more recent sidesaddle safety feature. I’m saying NO.

        BTW, I cannot think of any film depicting pre-1830s sidesaddle riding where the saddle is historically accurate. Filmmakers doubtless assume a sidesaddle is distinctive enough, and let that slide

        • Jill

          Oh, God, and I completely forgot to snark on the fact that she has no riding crop. Good luck getting a horse to turn properly without an aid on the right side.

        • Trystan L. Bass

          I wonder if historical saddles & kit is too expensive to be a priority for the companies that provide horses & gear for movies/TV? Ppl have pointed out this inaccuracy before. There may also be insurance issues (I swear I’ve read about this happening on at least one film) — using modern equipment may be easier or considered safer for actors who aren’t generally good horse riders.

          • Jill

            I’m certain you are correct about the cost being prohibitive, and there are definitely insurance issues. A modern sidesaddle is much safer. I’d never agree to ride sidesaddle faster than a sedate trot. I still cannot believe Angelina Jolie agreed to ride at a full gallop in Tomb Raider (hellacious movie, but she looked great).

            • Trystan L. Bass

              Heh, I wouldn’t put it past Jolie to have trained for that! She’s definitely the exception. For a star with clout, a production might work it out with insurance, but I bet most of the time it’s “let’s do whatever’s fastest & cheapest,” so historical accuracy is low on the list.

            • cecikierk

              I’ve always wondered, how fast could Sybil Ludington have feasibly rode on sidesaddle?

              • Jill

                Most certainly as fast as Paul Revere, if she were a good horsewoman and could take the jumps. Horses average 25-30 mph at full tilt, but of course you can’t run a horse 40 miles without stopping, so she would have had to let it slow down a bit.

                • CatnipTARDIS

                  At full gallop, one’s horse won’t last much longer than a few miles at a time. The next pace down, the canter, is much slower and more suitable for long distances. It’s also FAR easier to ride (even when posting–the up-down motion of the rider during a trot) than a trot. The motion of the canter (and gallop) from the rider’s perspective is very fluid and wavelike; the trot is particularly jarring, requiring lots of practice and muscle strengthening to meld one’s body to the horse through the trot’s motion.

                  As sidesaddle forces the rider to be asymmetrical, it is obviously much more difficult to retain one’s seat if the horse spooks or is off-balance through a jump. The weirdly sticking out bumps on a sidesaddle are designed to increase security when thrown off balance by gripping with the thigh muscles (as one cannot in that position grip the horse with the legs). This is a terrible analogy, but sidesaddle vs astride is like driving a car without seatbelts; one will be fine unless something goes wrong, at which point injury is far more likely.

  2. Lu

    Felicity’s forest green riding habit in the American Girl Felicity movie. But I may be biased because that’s the movie that started my love of Historical costume movies.

  3. Susan Pola

    My favourites are Seymour Lady Worsley, Sandy Powell’s in both Shakespeare in Love and Young Victoria, Jenna Coleman’s Victoria ones designed by Roz Ebbuts, Georgiana Devonshire’s 2 in the Duchess and Mary’s in Downton Abbey.

    I believe Ms Powell designed one for Orlando and I like no love that one.

  4. picasso Manu

    Samantha Eggar costume in Dr Dolittle left me speechless for a variety of reasons: the velvet! the color!

    I also remind a few from the “Sissi” films with Romy Schneider. I grew up with those (yes, I’m an old), so its more of a sentimental choice.
    But those films are still going strong, believe it or not. In France, during Christmas Holidays or during august, we’re sure to get a re-run of those and/or “Angelique, Marquise des Anges”.

    That stuff is most people first brush with historical films… The costumes are something, and there are plenty of them!

  5. Penny H

    Dunno if it was anything special, but there was Christina’s in the Flambards television series (set pre WWI).

  6. AshleyOlivia

    The Duchess of Devonshire wore an outfit modeled on her husband’s military regimentals when he was called upon to raise a regiment at Coxheath Camp in 1778 (when Britain was worried about France invading the coast after they joined forced with the colonists in the American Revolutionary War). The graphic satires depicting the outfit made it look very similar to a masculine-styled riding habit. I’ve always suspected the film combined those satires with the ones depicting her campaigning for Fox in the 1784 election to create that costume (she did wear an oversized hat while campaigning with fox tails and feathers–the later a reference to the insignia of the Prince of Wales, who was also supporting Fox).

  7. Donna

    Another nice riding outfit (especially the hat and jacket) are worn by Helene de Sisis in Start the Revolution Without Me.
    She also has the great line “HOW MANY COSTUMES DO YOU THINK I CAN PACK?”
    We’ve all been *there*, right? :-)