Judging a Dog by its Handler’s Cover

by Susi on July 17, 2013

in Betty Regina Leininger, dog show, Dog Show Clothes, Eukanuba National Dog Show, show dogs, Westminster Kennel Club

Post image for Judging a Dog by its Handler’s Cover

The young woman looked nervous. Perhaps if she’d not been by herself, she wouldn’t have felt as vulnerable as she did walking down a dark city street late at night. Half the street lamps didn’t work, and the ones that did flickered eerily.  She hurried from the glow of one lamp to another in an effort to reach the safety of her car quickly when she heard raucous laughing and boastful teasing coming from the darkness ahead – the sounds of teenage boys out for a good time. She pulled her coat tighter around herself and looked around. Should she cross the street to avoid the young men? Duck into an even darker alley? In the time it took her to decide what to do, they were nearly upon her, older boys in high spirits who slowed down when they spotted her.

Ed note:  Quickly  – and without thinking – describe what are these young men are wearing.

When you’re done, continue reading.

As the group neared the young woman, they stepped into the light under a street lamp. This is when she saw that the half dozen young men were wearing coats and ties, one of them even in a suit.  The tension visibly evaporated off the young woman’s face and as she passed the boys, now with more confidence, they politely moved aside to give her space.

What I’ve just described was a commercial that aired on television some thirty years ago. Created for a national council of churches, or maybe youth groups, it was a potent ad that drove home the power of appearances. If you were like most viewers who saw the ad (and if you’re being honest), your description of what these boys were wearing probably included sagging blue jeans, long t-shirts, baseball caps worn backward, hooded sweatshirts and untied sneakers.  If you were like most viewers who saw the ad (and if you’re being honest), the commercial ended differently than you thought it would when the boys appeared in coats and ties.

I hadn’t thought of the commercial in years, but a comment made on Facebook in the wake of the recent George Zimmerman verdict jogged my memory of it.  In the opinion of the person making the remark, a tragedy resulted because Zimmerman had made a judgment call based on the way Trayvon Martin had looked and dressed. It’s a comment I heard from others, but I’m not revisiting the Zimmerman trial. The verdict was rendered and as far as I’m concerned, the case is closed. I am intrigued, however, by “the power of the hoodie,” or, more specifically, that so much was made of how Trayvon Martin was dressed. I’m struck that so little has has changed since I was a kid. Appearances still matter.

When we were teenagers, women of my generation embraced the British Invasion.  We painted eyelashes between our own to imitate Twiggy, and, if we could get away with it, we wore mini-skirts so short they hovered in the nosebleed section of our thighs. Sometimes I got away with it, but when I didn’t, I was always in for a lecture from my mother who said that nice girls didn’t wear skimpy skirts. People would think I was that kind of girl. I never had to ask what that kind of girl was. I just knew.

Our parents were horrified. She was too thin, wore her hair as short as a boy's, and what was up with those eyelashes? Twiggy was an icon of the 60s and we couldn't get enough of her

Our parents were horrified. She was too thin, wore her hair as short as a boy’s, and what was up with those eyelashes? Twiggy was an icon of the 60s and we couldn’t get enough of her

By the time I was the parent of my own teenagers, the world had loosened up considerably in what we wore, but people still made judgment calls based on appearances and they still do.  You think I’m wrong?  In any high school, you’ll find “Goths,” “Preppies,” “Skaters,” “Dudes,”  “Nerds,”  “Rich Asians,” “Emos,” “Cholos,” “Moshers,” “Cutters,” “Jocks” and “Geeks” – and each has their own manner of dress. The monikers may short-change people are who surely individuals, but as I see it, what they wear is tantamount to “sartorial shorthand” for what they’re into.

And then you had my son. This kid wore pants so baggy as a teenager that I wondered how he could walk. Skulls decorated the black t-shirts and hoodies of which he was so fond, and a metal-spiked, black leather wristband completed the punk look.  I was horrified. Each and every day, I gasped, “OHMYGOD,” you’re not going out looking like THAT, are you?”

The Circle of Life was complete. I had become my mother.

There were lessons from this stage of his life for both of us.  Despite his long hair, the pants he wore that were more “off” than “on,” the ghoulish t-shirts and the metal studded belt he wore outside of school, this kid attended a Jesuit high school where he was an honor student, captain of the varsity soccer team,  “Spanish Student of the Year” and a team leader at a religious retreat. He dressed nothing like who he really was, and delighted  (reveled, really) in using his look to challenge perceptions. It was his way of teaching the world that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

I was proud of him, of course (though I cringed at his clothing) but I was his mother. As his parent, it was my job to teach him how to avoid trouble and earn (if not show) respect based on the shorthand of clothing. I knew then, as I know now, that while it’s noble to turn a blind eye to outward appearances, sometimes appearances are all we have to go on. It’s the visual equivalent of the old saw, “If you hear galloping, think horses, not zebras.” I wanted him to look for character, but only when he knew he was safe.

DogKnobit is written for and from the perspective of a dog fancier, and while it may seem that I’ve gone wildly off track, I think the whole “appearance thing,” works the same way in the show ring, too.  What we wear under our armband reveals something about us, even if it’s not our intention. We telegraph about ourselves everything from how tidy and fastidious we are to how current and up-to-date we are.  You might take umbrage with my opinions in the next few paragraphs and that’s okay. Opinions are like eyebrows (everyone has at least one) and here’s my first one: At a dog show, it’s not just about the dog.  At some point below, at least one of you is going to think, “The judge is supposed to be looking at the dog.”  Yes, and selecting a politician is supposed to be about the issues.  Let’s agree that these days, a pretty package will get more notice than a plain one even when both contain the same thing.

As an exhibitor, I know that if there are caveats for dog show attire, it’s that our feet better be in comfortable shoes in which we can run, and our clothes better have pockets. Where I get opinionated is the form in which those shoes and pockets appear.

As an aside, I suffered a child’s indignity of corrective shoes for the flat feet with which I was born. Bad feet stop no woman. I wore Sex in the City shoes for years, cinched my feet into ski boots so tight they were as good as fused with my ankles, and further abused them with the pounding they took on concrete floors at dog shows. Let no woman dare to compare, I am a bona fide martyr to bad feet.  I “get” foot pain, so I don’t write this next part lightly.

Sneakers in the show ring.  Not a fan.  The goose bumps I get when a magnificent Poodle or Afghan Hound floats around a ring melts off my arm the instant my eyes get to the tennis-shoed feet of its handler. This look is as visually disharmonious as tan Hush Puppies paired with a black tuxedo. Ask a judge what they most notice about a handler, and they’ll probably tell you it’s their feet. If I find sneakers distracting to the overall presentation of a lovely dog, a judge probably does, too.

A Google search for “stylish orthopedic shoes” brings up over 104,000 hits, and I’m betting that for every painful foot condition, there’s a dressier alternative to Nikes. While there might be Best in Show photos of a handler wearing tennis shoes out there, not many show up in expensive magazine advertisements for a reason.  A handler should dress their feet to win, not to play Wimbledon.  There. I said it.


Pants in a conformation ring. Not a fan. Yes, I know they’re comfortable. Yes, I know they help avoid being this person:

If we exhibited our dogs at a dog competition or a dog contest, that would be one thing. But it’s called a dog show, and that makes it more than a simple match.  Women who dress for something special typically wear a dress or skirt. Westminster is really special, and consequently, many judges wear gowns while handlers appear on the green carpet in sequins and sparkles. You know what? I like it.

Betty Regina Leininger was gorgeous at Westminster last year

Betty Regina Leininger was gorgeous at Westminster last year

A dog show is a professional environment in which judges and professional handlers are paid to perform their job and amateurs compete with them.  Pantsuits may be considered acceptable in many professions, but I’m old school and in conservative circles, slacks are still regarded as casual wear for a female.  Sorry, but there it is.


In a recent column written by my favorite veterinarian author, Dr. V., she asks, “Why do female handlers preferentially flock to what I can only describe as mother of the bride suits?”

From A Royal Rube/The Ramblings of a City Girl who Bought the Farm: “Maybe it’s the fact that they [female exhibitors] appear to be dressed for church in 1981 that turns me off so much. I’m almost certain that their lovely polyester suits have not come off the store shelves anytime in the past 20 years…. in the year 2011…here is what the handlers are wearing:

I blurred the faces - for all I know, one of these pictures is of me!

I blurred the faces – for all I know, one of these pictures is of me!

She went on: “I actually find myself having trouble focusing on the actual dogs while these women are running them around the ring, because their outfits are so damn ugly.  The intent of the handlers outfit is to showcase the dog and to provide a nice complement to their canine counterparts; not to detract attention.”

From The Wet Nose: “[The] one thing I have found that seems to go hand-in-hand with a thin show lead is terrible fashion sense, especially in regards to female handlers.”

Admittedly, people outside the sport wrote these comments – but I hear similar sentiments every time a dog show airs on national television.  What’s up with the dowdy suits?  Why are junior handlers dressed like their spinster aunts? Or the ultimate dagger: What was she thinking?

As someone who’s had her share of fashion mistakes, I’m sympathetic to the challenge of finding the right clothes for the show ring.  It seems to be a rule of nature that the perfect dog show outfit –  the one that makes us look 20 pounds lighter and ten years younger –  either doesn’t come with pockets or even remotely in our size.  Most people from outside the sport have no idea what a female handler has to consider when selecting an outfit: Do the clothes compliment the dog? Does the color hide a wonderful topline or accentuate a cowlick we’d rather hide.  Is the skirt so “flouncy” that it blocks the dog, or so tight that we can’t run well enough to show the dog’s movement? Is the skirt so short that admission should be charged for the peep show we put on every time we bend over, or so long that it optically impacts the dog’s size?  Will the material stain from bait, wrinkle before group judging, have a place to hold liver, clean easily? Can it be put on in the space of a bathroom stall? Can we afford it AND have enough left to enter a dog show?

I get it, I really do. But I also think the authors of the aforementioned comments have a point.  Here’s a sampling of what came up with a Google image search on “dog show outfits.”


These are lovely – safe – outfits. After thirty years in the fancy, I’ve had a couple like them in my own closet.  But our sport, already facing difficulty, is said to be out of touch. What some of us are wearing may not be helping. If we’re to change perceptions, let alone attract younger people for whom appearances do matter, could it be high time to update our look?  If there’s safety in numbers, don’t we want dog lovers to look at us and think, “I want to be that person?”  Don’t we usually notice the exhibitor who’s wearing something different, attractive and modern? Don’t we always hear something about what the female judges wore at Westminster or Eukanuba?

And when the handler looks pulled together, tidy and well groomed,  don’t we subliminally think of the dog they’re handling in the same way?

It can be a trial to find a great outfit, but it’s not impossible.

  • My daughter’s generation caught on quickly,and through her I learned that second hand shops, Goodwill, and thrift stores like Savers are a goldmine for shoppers willing to pick through racks of circa 1970s disco polyester suits. Guess what, these stores can surprise you. I’ve snagged designer clothes so new, the pockets to the Ralph Lauren jacket were still stitched shut, and the sales tag to the Anthropologie skirt was still attached;
  • Etsy is a global web site specializing in handmade and vintage items, including clothing, while Artfire provides original, one-of-a-kind fashions. Both sites make it easy to deal directly with designers, seamstresses and tailors in case a customer wants to request that a garment be made with pockets, in a particular color or fabric, or even ask to negotiate a price;
  • Pinterest is a good source for getting ideas and sources. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, forgive me now for introducing you to a new addiction;
  • If the Ann Taylor suits of your dreams was out-of-sight expensive, look for it on Ebay or do a Google search for “discounted Ann Taylor suit.” You might be surprised at your options;
  • Never pass on a garment because it doesn’t have pockets.  Do-it-yourselfers can easily add pockets using these instructions, while those of us who lack time or know-how might consider approaching students at local vocational, technical or opportunity schools. Students need the practice (and the spare income), and the pockets will be attached at a better price than what most tailors charge.

Clichés become clichés for a reason: They’re time-tested. Dress for success. Power clothes. Dress for the job you want. I’m not saying that with the right clothes, a dog will become a group contender because at the end of the day, the quality of dog is what matters. All things being equal, what I am suggesting is that it’s naïve to think that our own appearance doesn’t have impact in the show ring, on the people who watch us, may be looking for the breeder of their next dog, or simply makes us look like someone a newbie can trust.

Both fine actors below, but who would you rather have on your arm at a party?  I rest my case.





{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Becky July 17, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Okay, you’re going to have to show us examples of what direction we should be going w/r/t show clothes. At least we don’t look like the folks in the Western Pleasure rings! I collect suits that can double for “dress up, the big boss from DC is coming” clothing at work. Kasper is my favorite brand. Occasionally I wear something a little retro/vintage because that ‘suits’ my style, or lack of style. Perhaps I’ve been showing dogs too long – I thought most of the WKC pics were nice!


Susi July 17, 2013 at 9:04 pm

You know, Becky, that’s a tough call. One has to factor in our respective ages, body builds, etc. I struggle with trying to look current, but there comes an age when one risks looking like a Cougar caricature if one isn’t careful. But you ask a reasonable question that deserves an answer. I’ll work on it for a future article, deal?


Betsy Copeland July 17, 2013 at 9:36 pm

OK…..since I am completely aware that I am NOT a fashionista, I do play it safe. But in the interests of educating my non- existent fashion palate…I went looking. Elena Miro’s 2013 collection of professional attire and wound up on a page called Trending Styles – womens Suits 2013 ( http://www.gorodmod.com/female-business-suits-2013/ ) About half of the suits involved pants….and maybe a quarter of them could be acceptable in the ring…and almost all of them are designed to be worn with 4″ heels and look silly with the flats necessary to run with a large breed. Even Neiman Marcus has brought suits with pants into the acceptable realm…( http://www.neimanmarcus.com/category.jsp?itemId=cat41860742). But what we need is an attractive, comfortable supportive shoe that doesn’t look like its orthopedic or belongs on our 90 year old great aunt. I’ll trade in my tennies if I can find one, but I’d rather be able to walk at the end of the day than look good


Susi July 18, 2013 at 9:27 am

I hear you, Betsy – and I quite like the suits I saw in Trending Styles – womens Suits 2013. My husband maintains that nearly everything a woman can wear looks better with heels. Snort. That’s a man’s opinion and we all know (winkie winkie) that women dress for other women. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to put a nice pair of flats with one of those suits because though heels may be called for, it’s still a dog show/sporting event. Have you done a Google search on “stylish orthopedic shoes?” My search brought up tons of sites….


Betsy Copeland July 18, 2013 at 9:42 am

yes…most of them look like tennis shoes :-(


Susi July 18, 2013 at 12:16 pm

My new quest is to pass along sites for comfortable shoes that don’t resemble black sneakers. Give me time….


EvaMarie Coe July 19, 2013 at 8:21 am

I am wondering why even in 2013 it seems to be protocall that women wear a skirt in the show ring. Everything else I get, but that is something that does not sit well with my. Why are we required to bare our legs and men not so ? there are many classic women`s suits that have slacks instead of a skirt. For myself I have physical issues that I do not feel need to be on display in the ring as well as the issue about being able to comfortably move your dog without stressing over wardrobe malfunctions. When does the the sexist double standard end .Seriously get with the times !

Rachel July 18, 2013 at 9:42 am

So, keeping in mind that this was taken directly from the Nordstrom website, and so the actual suit prices are astronomical … one could, if you wanted to put in the time to pick through thrift shops and discount stores, re-create these looks with some very reasonably priced pieces.


Of course, if you’re like me, you look at those rail-thin models above and just feel like crying. Don’t worry, we larger women have options too:


The one thing you’ll notice about these dresses and suits vs the pictures in Susi’s post is that the fabric isn’t shiny “mother of the bride” fabric! I went looking for “work” fashions, which seem to nicely straddle the line between formal enough to be taken seriously in the ring and fashion-forward enough that you don’t look like something out of the wedding from Steel Magnolias.

At the same time I’m posting this, it’s as I’m also considering this article: http://smallnotebook.org/2011/04/07/add-classic-style-to-the-small-wardrobe/ and I’m preparing to down-size my own wardrobe. I don’t know that I’ll cut back as drastically as she did (I’m not trying to fit everything into a carry-on as we relocate to Italy!), but I’ll be keeping it in mind as I shop for show clothes for the autumn and winter.


Susi July 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm

I agree, Rachel, that good looks can be recreated using accessories and coordinates that don’t equal a house payment! I shared the link to Pinterest for that reason: inspiration. You’re also right about the importance of fabric and that it can make the difference between mother-of-the-bride and a smart ensemble. “Back in the day” when madras first came out, it was a cotton fabric. Fast forward to the next time madras became popular again and I thought, “Awesome! I still have some shirts left over from the first go-round.” That was my first lesson in learning that designers change a trend just enough to make it different from the original (read:dated) – the “new” madras was an entirely different fabric blend – and oh, the cut of the shirts was different, too. I wore the “Old” madras proudly as a vintage item, but I would never have been able to fool anyone that it was new.

I love the link you shared (small notebook) and subscribed to it. I’m always trying to downsize and had made a real dent in “editing” my house when the perfect storm occurred. My son moved back home to attend law school – and brought with him the entire contents of his apartment – AND, my in-laws moved out of state to a senior community. My husband came home with a U-Haul and his pick up truck loaded to the top with stuff they didn’t take, and stuff he couldn’t bear to throw out. Talk about wanting to cry.


Rachel July 18, 2013 at 6:20 pm

I’ve been using her method of making iced coffee (cold brewed over night with a French press) and I’m pretty much addicted to it now.

I thought about this post today as I was digging an 8-year old dress out of the back of my closet to wear to Stormville tomorrow… It’s the only thing I own that I think I can wear in this abominable heat.


Susi July 18, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Every day, as sure as the day is long, I drink a “Polar Bear” when I’m home. It’s coffee made in a cold toddy maker, mixed with sugar free vanilla syrup, then frapped with milk in a blender. Like you, I’m addicted. As for the age of your dress, it’s as I tell my kids: I have socks older than them.


Kathy Graves July 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

Michelle Billings has worn pants when she judges, so did Annie Clark. I was once told that you should dress like the judges do, so……
I personally think pants are ever so much more practical. Obviously no worries about flashing the judge or audience. If I have to get down on the floor to hand stack, no worries about catching a heel in the hem of the skirt and taking a nose dive when I try to get up. If it’s cold I can layer under the pants to keep warm. Most pants already have pockets so if I find a jacket I just can’t live without and it doesn’t have pockets, not a problem. And oh my gosh, there are soooo many lovely jackets out there. OK, I confess I am a jacketaholic.
At 5′ tall and no longer a slim bod, I look much taller and slimer in the right pants and jacket than I do in a skirt. If I feel better about how I look, that confidence will not only go down the lead but will also be noticed by the judge.
Over the years I have tried nearly every brand of shoe that is out there. I’ve yet to find a single one that I can wear all day and my feet not hurt. I now wear athletic shoes outside the ring and change into my show shoes for the ring. It helps. I’m currently in love with Hotter shoes. They are made in Great Britan and are designed for comfort plus they are cute! And they come in wonderful colors:
Frankly, I find the dowdy outfits less of a distraction than the number of well endowed female handlers that don’t wear adequate support “up there”. When I watch them in the ring and “the girls” are going in 6 different directions, seemingly at the same time, well, words fail me.


Susi July 18, 2013 at 11:56 am

All good points, Kathy, and I expected to have disagreements on the shoes and pants thing. I conceded that I’m “old school” and so much of this is one’s personal opinion – that said, I love the shoe link you shared. I’m always a bit skittish about ordering shoes on-line without having tried them on. Did you find an outlet where you could have the shoes on your feet before purchasing?


Kathy Graves July 18, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Hotter is on-line only. I buy 5’s and they fit me just like any other size 5 I get. They tend to have a roomier toe box than most shoes, which I like.
Since I buy my shoes pretty much on-line (no one has size 5 locally) if I have doubts I may order one size down or up plus the one I think will fit and just return the ones that don’t fit.


Susi July 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Good to know, Kathy, and thanks again for sharing it here. I’m hoping we can provide some options to anyone reading the comments!


Léo July 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I advocate spending a little bit on a good sports bra too. Or in my case two. Yes. I am an over-achiever. But us larger girls will find we might be able to keep up with our pups if we’re not worried about getting a black eye. And bouncing twins are definitely a distraction.


Susi July 18, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Thanks, Léo – a good reminder that what we wear under UNDER the armband matters, as well.


Julie July 18, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I’m guilty on all accounts. I will wear the shiny, Mother of the Bride suit. My fashionista, adult daughter also wears them. My body can only look “decent” in certain show clothes and pants are not included in the mix.

I’m seriously pondering starting to wear some retro – 1950’s type dresses. Although I don’t know tht THAT will help the judge to concentrate on the dog. I like them and I feel I look good in them.

I have far more concern with the people wearing long flowing skirts or things that just flat out don’t fit or are so casual you wonder just what they were thinking.

And yes, bras are an issue – I wear a regular one and a sports bra. My daughter wears 3 plus a form fitting tank top – no bounce takes a lot of work when well-endowed.

As far as shoes — I have a size 6 1/2 EEEE foot. Due to the width of my foot a flat that doesn’t lace will come off my foot the moment I start to run. Believe me, I’ve tried.

This is a bit random, but the fact of the matter is – a thin woman wearing a pair of pleated and cuffed long shorts, a silk t-shirt and a vest combined with the right amount of bling jewelry can look stunning. I, however, wearing the same thing and even in brand new condition, am going to look like a hot mess. I’ll stick with the shiny Mother of the Bride suits – tyvm!!


Susi July 18, 2013 at 3:35 pm

LOL, Julie, you paint a vivid picture – and I hear you. Some people are simply able to “pull off” certain looks that on me would be a crime against nature. I like the idea of going retro, and if it’s a good look for you, I’d totally “go for it.” It just might become your signature look, another aspect of show ring clothing that I thought about mentioning in the article but didn’t. We all know someone who has, or did have, a “look.” From the man in the cowboy hat who showed for many years when I was just starting out, or the woman who currently shows her Great Danes while wearing a glittery baseball cap (although in her case, I suspect bringing attention to her head visually helps distract from the fact that she’s marginally taller than the dog she’s showing!) people who consistently wear a similar look or item are instantly recognizable – and if they have a great dog – it’s a convenient way for a judge to find them (winkie winkie).


Rachel July 18, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Julie, DO wear the retro-inspired dresses. I love them!


Cindy Cooke July 18, 2013 at 2:16 pm

About a year ago, I joined Weight Watchers and lost 50 pounds. My wardrobe has changed dramatically since then and I now have twice as many shoes as I’ve ever owned. When I was heavy, buying clothes was a chore. If the color made a nice contrast to my dogs and the outfit had pockets, it would do just fine. Now that I’m back to my high school weight, I have a lot more interest in the clothes I buy. I get compliments all the time now on the clothes (and the shoes) I wear to dog shows. I suspect that a lot of my peers are in the same boat. I can’t recommend WW highly enough. Not only do I make a better frame for my dogs, but my doctor is happy with my medical results, too.


Susi July 18, 2013 at 3:27 pm

How funny you bring this up, Cindy. Riding a bike 100 miles a week also changed my figure, and buying clothes became a joy again. And then I went to Hungary. Hungary with its amazing bread, Longos, Csirke – sigh. I’m paying for those two weeks dearly, but I loved how it felt to be able to wear certain clothes and if I now have to ride 120 miles a week, so be it. That said, many of my acquaintances have issues that make weight loss really tough, and for some of them, showing their dog is the most physical thing they are able to do in the course of a week. They spend the next week recovering and building up reserves for the next time. My heart goes out to these folks, and for them buying show clothes is a challenge that will never go away. I rail against the thought that they’re doomed to wear wedding suits and I’m already thinking about a follow up article with links to clothing options……

All that said, Weight Watchers is a fabulous weight loss program that I also recommend. Congratulations on reclaiming your figure, it’s empowering, isn’t it?


Robyn July 18, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Great article (as usual).

I watched a lot of the live-streaming from Westminster this year and the comments from the public–over and over and over–were absolutely *withering* regarding the handlers’ apparel. Go into the archives! It’s all there, and they didn’t hold back. Both the numbers of larger women packed into shiny tight monochromatic skirt suits bouncing all over the place and the Mother-of-the-Bride theme were particular sore spots. It got me thinking then, and I’ve been pondering it since. So, this piece is timely.

I have a lot of trouble finding things that are quiet, tasteful, NOT dowdy, and that fit. I’m 6′ tall and a size 14. (So not in my 20’s anymore.) It is what it is and it makes dressing for the ring a real challenge because I do care, I think every point you (Susi) made is true, and the overall impression one presents does matter, like it or not.

For a time I adopted what I felt were smart pantsuits and accessorized carefully. I think the look was okay but I was always uncomfortably aware that most of the time the judges and better handlers alike were in skirts. So, back to skirts I’ve gone.

I also did finally make the jump and invested in a few gently-used St. John pieces; while most of their jackets are made for more “normal” people (i.e. women 5’2″-5’7′), some of their stuff is cut longer in the body and sleeves…and because St. John is knitwear it actually forgives a whole lot and fits a wide range of bods, including mine, especially if you have a good dry-cleaner who can steam it shorter, wider, or longer. So I was more than willing to hunt for items in resale boutiques, figuring the payoff was manifold in that I look (I really hope) pulled-together and non-matronly. The only drawback (besides cost) is that St. John knits are substantial, and downright HOT in warmer climates.

Legwear and footwear is even harder. Pantyhose is supposedly deader than Elvis, and I’m not a fan myself. I realize it does make leg flaws vanish, but there goes the uber-granny card for the public (especially the under-40’s) again. And footwear…thoughts? I struggle with this. As bad as cement floors in show halls are after 8-12 hours, the ortho route is so ugly. And sneakers—I couldn’t agree more–please don’t even go there. I don’t care for Mary Janes or shiny work-type loafers either. They’re boring, even if I totally get why people resort to them.

Because I am naturally reserved, and pushing 50, I’d prefer not to add the risk of flashing the ringside. I’d rather hurl myself on sharp rocks. So I have a couple of longer black St. John skirts that I usually pair with tall riding boots…yes, this combo is totally inappropriate for warm weather (and I live in Houston—ugh), but I haven’t found a better alternative yet that doesn’t leave me feeling either over-exposed, or mutton masquerading as lamb. I’m open to suggestions!

And I’ll add to the foundation-garment thing—if you are of a certain size or voluptuousness, don’t leave home without ’em. I hate Spanx with a passion–they’re hot and constricting–but they do smoothe bulges very well. I don’t wear the camisole thing–it rolls up, and I actually chucked mine–but the half slips/full slips work. And Title Nine (www.titlenine.com) sells bounce-proof bras…they’re worth it.


Susi July 18, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Wonderful points, Robyn, and I’m pretty sure someone will look up St. John clothing as a result of your comment and because they may be of a similar build. I always wanted to be taller and quickly tired of having to hem everything I bought. On the other hand, my taller friends struggled to find clothing that they didn’t have to “let down.” It’s always something, isn’t it?

When did pantyhose became out of style, I wonder, and why. Baring my legs at winter shows doesn’t work for me and I’m afraid I’ll pull on the nylons to stay warm, though when I can, I love colored or textured tights.

But I digress. I’ve been thinking about a follow up article with links to good shoe and clothing sites. There’s a wide variety of taste and what I like may not suit everyone, but it would be a start, eh? Thanks for the Title Nine tip about “undies.” I’ll include it in the follow-up article.


Robyn July 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm

And P.S.–in a perfect world I would look like Betty Leininger. She always looks amazing.


Susi July 18, 2013 at 3:19 pm

She took our breath away last year, Robyn. I stood next to her at the after party and felt like a carp.


Cathy July 19, 2013 at 6:55 am

Great article! It’s funny how much this topic has been brought up lately so great timing! I’m with you on wearing skirts. I do have a couple of pairs of pants I’ll wear in the ring but they’re dressy and the jacket is cute. :) Also, since I’m on the short side (5′ 4″) it’s a lot easier for me to find skirt suits as pants always seemed to be tailored for someone 5′ 8″ that will be wearing 4″ heels. As far as shoes, I love my Mary Janes and have them from Lands End, Life Stride and Naturalizer. I was at a show recently and noticed an exhibitor I didn’t know staring at my feet while we were waiting ringside. Finally she told me my shoes were really cute and wanted to know where they came from – Lands End. They are cute, comfortable and have good support and traction. I also have lace-ups from SAS and Life Stride. When I find a style I like I buy one in black, blue, cream & taupe because you as soon as you don’t they’ll discontinue that style and those colors will cover about every outfit I could possibly own. In any case, I have high arches so it’s equally important for me to have good support for them as you for flat feet. I can’t wear cheap shoes without being in a fair amount of pain pretty quickly.

Anyway, thanks for another great article!


Susi July 19, 2013 at 9:28 am

Thanks, Cathy, for the compliment and for sharing the tips of what shoes work for you. I love passing along helpful sites among ourselves, and hopefully other readers looking for comfortable shoes will see your suggestions. And how about this? I thought I was the only “kiss of death” for a product line because AS SOON as I like something, they quit making it or selling it. At least now I know I have company (grin). Thanks for writing!!


Caroline July 19, 2013 at 7:21 pm

I have several just to the knee black straight skirts – I pick them up on sale whenever I see them – Jones New York, Evan Picone, Ann Taylor, Kaspar etc. I pair them with a classy jacket or blazer also picked up on sale out of season. In summer I have cotton equivalents. They don’t cost a fortune and always look neat and elegant.


Susi July 19, 2013 at 7:30 pm

This past year, I, too, discovered straight skirts (Again. Live long enough, you see styles go in, go out, go in, go out, lol). I suspect that the smaller the dog, the narrow the bottom width of a skirt can be. I can’t imagine showing an Afghan in a pencil skirt – you get my point. But you’re quite right: Those simple straight skirts lend themselves to a multitude of looks changeable with a jacket, blouse, eye-catching belt – the ever popular scarf. Thanks for the tip Caroline!


Cathy July 20, 2013 at 9:43 am

I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only one with a closet full of black skirts! Though I’ll admit I have almost as many black jackets to wear with printed skirts. :)


Megan July 19, 2013 at 9:31 pm

What is wrong with using what the sporthorse/draft horse handlers use to show off their 6 figure animals? They are traditional, you can RUN, but there are more updated options. None of these outfits distract from the horses:




Nice pants with a good top, boots of some kind. I like skirts and dresses but the outfits posted as an example of dog show outfits make me cringe. I would either want to look practical and business-like or go all out and rock the red carpet:



Susi July 19, 2013 at 10:40 pm

There were handlers in the pictures of the horses???

Kidding. But those horses are just so wonderful – and large – that they pretty much command all the attention. That said, and at the risk of inviting cries of “double standard!!” the horse world is different. Except for the days of ladies riding side-saddle, pants (as far as I know) are “the” uniform for hunts, hunter/jumper, three day eventing, etc. Except for the pants thing I’m with you, Megan. Go all out, or go business-like.


Nanci July 20, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Have you ever visited Shop in My Closet on Facebook?


Susi July 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm

I took a look this evening, Nanci, and saw mostly computer ware. Can you provide the link to the clothing part?


TS aka Chuck July 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

Having been a frontline witness to the women’s movement even before you, I quickly realized how politicized it was. And worse, that it subtly and subliminally promoted agendas that had nothing to do with improving the lot of women including the emasculation of men to the point that many children today believe that men, in general, are buffoons and inferior to women. Case in point: just read an ad for Mercy Corps soliciting funds with the line “In some of the world’s toughest places, access to safe clean water is out of reach for thousands of women and children.” Men don’t need water? Men don’t deserve water? When did men leave the human race?

Far more negatives….and dangerous ones, at that…… have been wrought by the women’s movement than positives, IMO. Thanks for starting to point out the fallacies that lie at the core of this movement and that so many are still falling for. We need more observations like yours’.


Susi July 21, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Thanks for shoring up my opinion, “Chuck.” You might find the following article interesting which reinforces an observation my husband made when the TV show, “The Simpsons,” came out. I’m keenly aware of his point of view now, and the article shows we’re not alone: http://www.naturalnews.com/041027_Clorox_Burts_Bees_boycott.html


Betsy Copeland July 21, 2013 at 10:19 pm

On the subject of “containing the ladies”, I can recommend the Enell No Bounce Equestrian bra. I, alas, have what my husband refers to as “Vast Tracts of Land” and a breed that is shown at a full out run. Taming the bounce will also correct your posture in the ring and keep the judge from nodding to the beat as you run! LOL


Susi July 21, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Betsy, you have such a vivid way with words. I’m thinking about doing a follow-up article to this, one that would offer links, advice, and tips about shoes, undergarments and fashionable but practical clothes. Any and all suggestions are welcome!


Susi July 19, 2013 at 9:44 am

As a frontline witness to the woman’s movement as it happened (well, not the first go-round since I’m not quite old enough to have been a suffragette) I believe that feminism failed in its original promise for equality. Instead of having choices and being respected – truly respected – for the choices women made, in the end those of us who had children were still expected to work outside the home, then return after an eight hour day and work some more doing laundry or cooking. And if we did stay home with our children, we were asked at cocktail parties, “Do you work, or are you ‘just’ a mom?” So sexism in that context has a hollow ring for me, EvaMarie, given that today’s feminist members of NOW pick and choose which women they’ll support based on her politics, and which men get a pass for being slime balls (Bill Mahrer uses the “c” word to describe a political figure and NOW has nothing to say about it?) DogKnobit is an opinion site and I make no apologies for having one. By all means, wear pants in the show ring. My opinion still stands about the subliminal message of wearing skirts in a show ring. I do appreciate you writing, however, and I love your passion.


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