Hunting for a pair of breeches that fit can be as frustrating as searching for a saddle that fits both horse and rider. If you’ve ever marched into your local tack shop ready to plunk down big bucks on a pair of breeches, then walked back out without taking a big hit on your credit card, you’re not alone.
Breeches follow the lead of fashion with a sizing system based on waist inches and leg length, since that’s what the consumer expects. But the waist and length are relatively minor considerations since waists can be adjusted by a belt and legs can be shortened. It’s more important to consider the areas that can’t be adjusted easily, especially in full-seat breeches: hips, rise (distance from crotch to waist), and length of thigh.
You can get around the sizing dilemma with this formula: Measure your hips and subtract by 10. That should be the size number where you should start your search. (Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for men, who should stick with the waist number.) Next, measure the length from your crotch to the middle of your knee. If the measurement is around 12”, you’re a Regular, around 14” and you’re a Long, no matter the length of your leg overall.
The crucial measurement in the thigh is similar to the same problem that people have in finding a saddle that fits. If you find yourself forced back on the cantle, or wanting recessed stirrup bars or a longer, more-angled flap, you probably also need breeches in Long.
If you’re wearing Regulars when you should be wearing Longs, the pressure from the knee will pull the material right out of your crotch and the waistband down against your kidneys. If you have full-seats, you’ll find the leather stuck to the saddle and your body hovering above. If you have a knee patch, it will likely be too high for your boot. You want the bottom of the knee leather to fit into the boots by at least 3”. If your thigh is a Regular, you want to stay away from Longs because wrinkles in the leather can cause rubs.
When breeches properly fit the rise and the thigh, it will thus reduce the amount of friction in the crotch area, particularly in full-seat breeches. “Listen to your body. There must be fabric above the knee area,” said Elizabeth Guffey, of Conchas Dam, N.M., who makes custom breeches through mail and phone order as Elizabeth G.
Guffy said breeches are like panty hose. They must go up well into the crotch area to be comfortable. If there’s any pulling on the knee or across the back, then they’ll remain below the crotch and rub because the material holds onto the saddle while the body slides back and forth.
Conversely, full-seat breeches that are too large allow the rider to move around too much, said Guffey. A proper snug fit makes you stay in one place, which is the purpose of full-seat breeches in the first place.
The type of material and how much give it has also affects fit more than the waist size, including seat cover (leather, synthetic leather or fabric) and the overall fabric itself (full-cotton, cotton blend, poly, 2-way stretch, 4-way stretch, knits, wovens and poly blends that wick moisture). Even breeches from the same manufacturer can vary from a 28 Long to a 32 Regular on the same figure type. European brands tend to run smaller (but not always!) and American brands larger.
“Material makes the breeches, even in the same brand.” said Natasha Tarasov of The Horse Connection in Bedford, N.Y. “Different models have different fabrics and can fit differently.”
Tack-store owners find that some customers just can’t seem to get past the size as a waist number. They think of themselves as a 28, for example, and they won’t consider anything else. But the number is really just a rule of thumb, not a size. Another concern is that the fashion world calls for short-rise pants and jeans, but most breeches come in a longer rise. This bothers some of the younger customers. Breech models are gradually turning to low-rise options.
Charlie Tota, of Euro-American Saddlery in Flemington, N.J., said, “I wish more customers could be open-minded about pleats,” because they can compensate for a lot of figure issues.
Some customers, especially hunter/jumper riders, also can’t get past a specific “look,” especially that of the classic Tailored Sportsman breeches. Since these can be tight in the calf and knee areas, especially for men, riders will often buy a size up and then have them altered to fit.
The whole issue wouldn’t be so frustrating if we returned to the old-time choices of cotton and wool breeches that flaired at the hips because they had no stretch. Wrinkles were expected. Once stretch fabrics were introduced we wanted a sleek look, but we paid the price of precise measurements. Then we wanted the added grip of leather full-seats, making the perfect fit even harder to find.
Unless you’re happy to settle for really stretchy pull-ons, you’re going to have to run through the variables and try on a lot of breeches to find the perfect pair. Economy-priced pull-ons have their own fit issues since the elastic waist can sag down, especially in the back, and they aren’t always appropriate for showing.
Pull-ons made with more-substantial fabrics and leather seats can be found in the mid-price range. Don’t expect that these pull-ons are as simple to fit as a pair of leotards — check out the waistbands, hips and leg length as carefully as you would regular breeches — but the comfort level can be especially high if they suit you.
The other alternatives are to just buy big and have the breeches altered, which is particularly challenging with full-seats, or to buy custom-fit breeches. Surprisingly, there aren’t many people who provide a custom-breech service. Prices for custom-fit are usually competitive with mid- and higher-priced ready-to-wear.
And yes, you’re right: Many shops are gradually reducing their inventory of breeches. The competition from catalogs means that many tack shops simply can’t carry breeches in a full range of sizes, styles and colors, especially the more-expensive European brands.
We think consumers may make a big mistake in the long run if they try on breeches in a shop to find the right fit and then go and order them from a catalog. Breeches in the catalog aren’t always in the same materials as the models in the shop, even by the same manufacturer, so they may not fit. The pricing in shops also is gradually coming closer to that of catalogs. Throw in shipping fees, especially if there are returns, and the catalog bargain becomes less enticing.
If your local shop doesn’t have the type of breeches you want, in the materials and price range you prefer, your best bet may be to shop at horse shows that have a lot of venders, thereby raising the number and variety of breeches available in one locale. If price is a major consideration, use foresight and buy your breeches at the end of the season, then stash them for when the weather changes back again. There are also more breeches in the shops when seasons change than in mid-season.
If your body-fat index is far from ideal, you may find it easier to fit into breeches with heavier “high-compression” material s, suggests Stephanie Berlin of 1824 in Clifton, Va., which specializes in riding clothes for women who are petite, tall or plus-sized. And then there are also high-compression undergarments designed for riders, ranging from shorts to knee-length and stirrup-length, made from microfiber and wicking materials (or thermal for winter) that can allow you to go down a size in breeches. If rubbing remains a problem after you find an otherwise perfect fit, consider microfiber briefs with a padded crotch. Undergarments range from $15 to $30.
Bottom Line (Literally)
1. Measure your hips. Subtract the number of inches by 10 and use that number to start your search, not your waist measurement.
2. Measure your thigh from the crotch to the middle of the knee. If it’s around 12”, you’re most likely a Regular. If it’s 14”, you’re most likely a Long.
3. If you want full-seat leather, start a size up.
4. If it’s an American brand, start a size down; if European, start a size up.
5. If the material is heavier, full-cotton or fairly stiff, start a size up, then take in the waist if necessary or use a belt. If it’s lighter or stretchy, start a size down and let out the waist if needed.
6. If it’s a plain front with a side zipper, start a size up; a pleated front with front zipper would start a size down.
7. Ask the shop clerk which brands they carry are short-rise or long-rise.By shopping with this plan in mind, if your hips measure 40 inches, and your thigh 12 inches, and you want a pair of German cotton full-seat breeches with a side zipper for warm-weather dressage showing, you would pull 30 Regulars off the shelf to try on first but also check out the supply of 32s.