Fashion at the Tack Shop

Boots and other gear found there aren't always made for riding.
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Boots and other gear found there aren't always made for riding.

People who manufacture and distribute products for U.S. tack shops generally concede that certain trends, particularly those concerning fashion, catch on first at the far sides of the country and then work their way over the next couple years toward the center. If you want edgier fabrics, colors and designs, look first in Florida and California.

I was in Welly World last week visiting my mare and saw my vision of a rhinestone cowgirl in the person of a well-known dressage rider. She was wearing stretch denim breeches with lots of bling and tooled cowboy boots. I presumed the boots were made for walking and that she’d change to her regular tall dress boots for riding. No cowboy hat, though, just a regular ball cap with a pony tail port. She looked great and I envied how she could rock those breeches – I consider myself fashion forward just riding in denim, and no way am I going to plaster bling across my hips.

Since we all tend to be locked in our own little worlds, I was surprised recently when I was reading a mystery novel by C.J. Box set in Wyoming and he matter-of-factly referred to Ariat cowboy boots. I didn’t realize Ariat boots were commonplace in the Western world as well. I just thought they made my absolute favorite paddock boots plus other stuff for English riders. Then, I pulled into a feed store in Florida and there was a huge display of Ariat western boots, right next to the Wrangler clothes and Stetson hats. I felt rather silly. Why wouldn’t Ariat make western stuff?

Another trend I’ve noticed in a lot of tack shops is that often a full range of consumable products, like supplements and sprays, is no longer being carried there. One tack shop owner told me she simply couldn’t compete with online and catalogs for those types of products any more. Tack shops are turning to fashion stuff to keep sales up, especially when space Is limited, which then becomes a problem for anyone who needs to pick up a quick product on the way to the barn. One tack shop I know has kept their regular range of products but opened up an attic to higher-end clothes.

Speaking of higher-end, I have this thing for Joules clothes, although I try to resist until they go on sale. I’d only thought of them as riding stuff available at tack shops, but then I saw them at Harrods when I was in London in 2012. Recently, I found out that Neiman Marcus also carries them here in the U.S. When you look at Joules clothes, there’s little about them inherently for riders, except maybe for some of the polo and eventing motifs. I am not sure if Joules is something that started for riders and then has edged out to the general clothing world, or vice versa.

That’s sort of what’s happening with Ariat now, especially since the company was purchased in part by the Fisher family that founded Gap. The Ariat designs for clothes are nearly as seductive to me as Joules, and much of it now isn’t necessarily designed for riding. My feet love their boots, so I hope that core market isn’t ignored as they explore other fashion worlds to conquer.