If you want bespoke fit and the best materials, the initial cost may seem prohibitive, but the levels of service, aftercare and longevity may repay you handsomely.
If the hat fits
Patey is the only manufacturer of bespoke riding hats left in the UK. The company has been making riding hats — hunt caps, bowlers and top hats as well as all sorts of military and ceremonial hats— in the same way since 1799. Today, its small factory in East London employs around 10 skilled craftsmen and women.
The company survived fallow years during the 1970s and 1980s, when the custom-moulded Patey hunt cap was considered unfashionable and cheaper options flooded the market. But those alternatives came at a price —ushering in the era of the chinstrap to keep them on the rider’s head.
“The key element is the way the Patey fits — to the individual. It lasts a lifetime because it can be refurbished,” says proprietor Trevor Campan. “I do stand by the assertion that a Patey will not fall off your head.”
The shell of the Patey is formed from linen pasted with the delightfully named “coodle” — a gut-wrenching mixture of ammonia, meths, shellac and water — then cured for up to six months.
The cured linen sheets are cut into strips and “ironed” onto a wooden block — there is a block for every size and style of hat. The shells are left to harden on the blocks for a week.
The hats are varnished and covered with the best Italian velvet, using steam to fit and bond it, panel by panel. Seamstresses stitch in the French silk lining and ribbon.
Once finished, the hats are brushed up, the peak shaped and the sizing checked.
You will pay £350 for a hunt cap, £450 for a top hat and £360 for a bowler. Polo caps start at £175.
A colourful business
Sporting Colours operates from a spare bedroom in rural Hertfordshire. A computer, fax and telephone compete for table space with colouring charts, measuring tapes and four sewing machines. And glancing out of the window as she works, Rosemary Mills, who made her own school uniforms as a child, can see her 17.2hh warmblood grazing.
“It’s because I am a rider that I know there are real problems finding clothes,” she points out. “In the horse world I’m a very average shape — everybody who rides or carries hay bales is going to have muscles in all the places they don’t want them — but I couldn’t get anything to fit.”
Rosemary started her made-to-measure service in 1992 after being made redundant from a job in industrial design. Doing everything from maintaining the website to sewing on buttons herself, she now caters to riders at every level in all disciplines, as well as supplying the mounted police. She has dressed the British eventing team at two European Championships.
“Every customer will have some hang-up, but it’s amazing how you can transform and flatter a shape just by changing the cut and the colour,” she reveals. “If someone is narrow in the shoulder but quite big on the hips, I can make them more in proportion; if somebody is straight up and down, I can create a shape.”
A pair of Sporting Colours made-to-measure cotton breeches costs £98, and riding shirts start at £38.
As with so many good hunting stories, it all goes back to Capt Ronnie Wallace.
“I had worked in the shoe factory in Brynmawr for many years,” says Dennis Davies, founder of Davies Riding Boots.
“One day, I was out with the Exmoor Foxhounds, and while leaning on a gate with Capt Wallace, he asked me what I did for a living. The conversation turned to riding boots, and he asked me if I could make some. The Captain said that he thought there would be a real need for good, hard-wearing hunting boots at an affordable price. Maxwell’s and Lobb’s was charging £1,000 per pair.”
So Dennis, together with his wife, Margaret, set up a company in 1977. It has flourished in the South Wales valleys ever since, making elegant, gleaming boots. The couple’s daughter, Elizabeth Withey, and her husband, Lyndon, took over the business when Dennis and Margaret retired four years ago.
“Who is average?” asks Elizabeth. “Everyone’s such a different shape, and unless you’re incredibly lucky, a pair of boots bought off the peg will never fit properly. The quality of ours is superior, and they fit immaculately.”
Each pair is handmade from very high-grade leather, including the linings. Multiple measurements are taken: a drawing of the foot is made, the joint around the toes is measured, around the ankle, around the heel, the height to the back of the knee, around the calf and around the top of the lower leg below the knee. Prices start at £460, and wooden trees — so important for keeping the boots in shape — cost £264.
Patey (tel: 020 7635 0030); www.pateyhats.com
Davies Riding Boots (tel: 01495 313045)
Sporting Colours (tel: 01438 820400); www.sportingcoloursuk.com