Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Antique Side Saddle Habits at Auction

Along with riding side saddle, I also collect side saddle memorabilia and with the type of business I am in, sometimes come across antique side saddle habits.

Late last year, I decided to declutter my life and made the hard decision of parting with some of my antique side saddle habits. I contacted Kerry Taylor with whom I have done much business with in the past, to sell my habits in her December 2009 Sotherby's Costume and Textile auction.

I decided to part with a riding habit which dated from the first half of the 1860's which was made by Wolmerhausen. It still had the original label sewn inside the bodice which said "Military Tailors & Habit Makers to her Majesty, the Prince Consort and the Royal Family, no 49 Curzon St, Mayfair."

It is made from finely woven black wool with flat soustache trim on the bodice. The inside of the bodice is lined in black silk but the skirt (not an apron!) is only partially lined in brown Silesia with Lady H-- (the rest of the name is illegible) written on the inside of the waistband.

It was made for a lady about 5'5" and would have fit a 38" bust. The bodice was too small and short for me as I'm 5'9" but the waist of the skirt fit me (it has a 30" waist) and I was often tempted to ride out in this long full skirt to see what it was like. I wish I had now!

Also in the auction was my pair of tiny and narrow sized late 1860's lady's riding boots which were lined in white cotton and pink leather. They are field boot in style rather than the typical dress boot (so all you historical re-enactors out there who ride side saddle, field boots WERE worn then for riding!) and have square toed straight soles with spur rests on BOTH boots.

There are three explanations why there were spur rests on both boots:
1) The lady rode astride.
2) As was the fashion to have straight shaped footwear then, shoes were always swapped over to prevent them from moulding to the shape of the foot, thereby, keeping them nice 'n straight. Having spur rests on both boots would have allowed the wearer to wear either boot on either foot.
3) She rode in a reversible or off-side side saddle.

I had bought these on Ebay a few years ago and they were literally as dry, stiff and flat as cardboard. To restore them, I saddle soaped them to restore the moisture so that I could start "remoulding" them back into a boot shape while at the same time, using Jeffries Fine Leather Creme to rejevanate them. I think I did a pretty good job?

They are also featured in Jonathan Walford's book on shoes called The Seductive Shoe and am now happy to say, they have now since gone onto join his collection!

My late 1880's riding habit for a young lady was also in the auction along with a pair of late 1880's young lady's riding boots and a side saddle whip hallmarked 1873.

The habit was made out of itchy brown wool (which always made me sneeze) with the bodice being lined in blue floral striped cotton and heavily boned. The riding skirt was partially lined in brown Silesia and was made as a "safety skirt" with a long slit on the offside to accommodate the pommels of the saddle yet allow the rider to come free if she fell off. The color, style and size of the habit means that it would have been appropriate for a teenage girl to wear.

The boots have right and left shaped soles unlike the earlier pair but interestingly enough, there is riding wear on the inside AND outside of each boot which means that the original owner rode in a reversible or off-side side saddle. The boots are about a tiny size 2 narrow which also leads me to believe that they were for an older girl or teenager's which would explain the wear on both sides of each boot as girls were taught to ride in reversible and off-side saddles to prevent (what they thought) caused curvature of the spine.

I found these boots at an antique shop in 1999 and they were dry and flat as the 1860's pair but I restored them the same way.

This was my FAVORITE whip! I never used it to ride in but it was so tactile and had a nice "feeling" to it. The inner shaft is made from baleen and then covered in catgut as was typical of the era. The upper part of the shaft is covered with smooth brown leather which took on a glossy appearance from years of use. The handle was real ivory and the silver collar at the bottom of the handle was hallmarked Birmingham 1873. Such a dainty lady's crop!


  1. I'm drooooling! I love the brown habit. Actually I love it all but that one is my favorite. I'd say you did a really good job on the boots too!

  2. I loved the brown habit too. I found some more photos on my computer that I took for the International Side Saddle Organization for Aside Magazine. I'll post them here later on so you can see how the skirt is.

  3. The brown habit is utterly drool-worthy! An absolute beauty and no mistake. However, I would also get the sneezes due to the wool content. That aside though, it's a marvellous sight to behold. Think I've raved on enough about this.....

  4. It was a beautiful habit, I regret selling them now!!

  5. Wolmerhausen is my family. I am thrilled to find that their work still exists! thank you so much!

  6. do you know of the company Bowley and Co from the mid 19th century and based in London. they made miliary boots and spurs
    also do you know F Oldaker and Co, saddle makers of London and Paris



  7. Hi Simon, F Oldaker and Co sounds familiar as I may have seen one saddle for sale ages ago on Ebay but can't remember anything about it. I've never heard of Bowley and Co though.

  8. Hi I have an old champion &wilton side saddle appointment by the King would you be interested