My latest novel, Dark Blue Waves, takes place in 1813.
When my protagonist, Janet Roberts, travels back from modern-day Bath, England to the same town two centuries earlier, she comes armed with a good amount of literary knowledge of the period.
Even so, she trips herself up a fair bit in trying to appear at home with traditions.
One of those traditions that catch her off guard is the nineteenth century riding habit.
When she travels with the family hosting her to their lavish estate of Helmsley Manor, Janet is excited to be invited to explore the grounds on horseback, alongside her new friend Emma.
Somehow, however, she wasn’t expecting the voluminous skirts of the riding habit that was the fashion of the time.
Nor does she have any idea how to ride sidesaddle.
The morning ride across the manor land isn’t looking as appealing when Janet realizes she risks getting her skirts tangled in the horses hooves and being thrown from her horse – or worse.
Apparently, this was a very real fear for lady riders of the period.
In fact, a new invention in 1875 was the so-called “safety skirt”, designed to decrease the possibility of a woman getting her skirt caught in the hooves, being thrown from the horse and then – yikes! – dragged behind the horse.
Fortunately, we have many lovely illustrated plates that show us how riding habit fashions evolved over the years.
They are lovely to look at, but like Janet, they strike fear into my heart at the very idea of handling a horse wearing, essentially, a voluminous gown.
That said, I did enjoy sifting through illustrations of the riding habit to get an idea of what a well-bred young lady would have worn back in 1813 for a day out on horseback.
And while I do have a weakness for all things nineteenth century, I think my admiration for the riding habit would shift starkly were I actually expected to ride horseback in it.
What do you think, readers? Would you be game? And for historical fiction writers, what do you enjoy most about fashion research?