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I See Red: Fox Hunting Attire

The value of tradition in sport is linked not so much to the performance in itself – improved by new techniques and exercises, pushing the limits of body and mind – but, more often, to the presentation of both the athletes and the event as a whole. Then, the sportive act becomes a ritual, in which the form is valued as highly as the substance, and whose presentation ends to develop into a custom.

Riding and hunting clothes, Illustrations from Le Progrès, 1851, Courtesy Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin CC BY NC SA

Sports, especially the ones with a history strongly linked to the definition of society, show their reverence to tradition in the substantial immutability of their organisation and norms. Fox Hunting is one of these sports. This kind of hunting, in its most known form, was developed by Hugo Meynell between 1753 and 1800. Etiquette was very important since the very beginning, and clothing held a central role in the outline of the ‘surface’ – that is to say, the visual identity – of the sport itself.

Hunt coats in red and blue wool with velvet collars by Johns & Pegg UK, ca. 1910-20, Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum CC BY NC

The attire consists of the traditional red coats worn by huntsmen, masters, former masters, whippers-in. Curiously, the traditional red coats are called “pinks”. The derivation of the term is uncertain; one theory speaks about the colour of a weathered scarlet coat, but the most widely accepted links the etymology to the name of a London tailor – called Pink or Pinke – who was said to be the best at making perfect attires for hunting. The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894, gives an explanation linked to the status of the sport itself: ‘The red coat in fox-hunting (or scarlet) is a badge of royal livery, hunting being ordained by Henry II. a royal sport.’ Given the meaning of red as the colour identifying roles within the participants to the hunt, it is the master who holds the power to allow his guests to wear colours; they do this in sign of appreciation for their involvement in the hunt. For those not entitled to wear colours, a black hunt coat with simple black buttons are the rule.

Three men hunting habits, 1910 ca., Courtesy Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin CC BY NC SA

The number of buttons of the coat has a meaning as well: the Master usually wears a scarlet coat with four brass buttons, while the huntsman, the whippers-in and other staff members wear five. The colour of breeches may vary, but they are generally monochrome. Boots for the red jacket are classic English dress boots with no laces: they are either black with brown leather tops, while Butcher boots, plain black without tops, are worn with jackets of other colours. The professional staff wear the ribbons of their hunt cap down, while amateur staff and members of the field wear their ribbons up.

The Europeana Fashion portal holds many fine example of attire for fox hunting, as well as many prints and drawings depicting hunting as both a sport and a social practice. Browse the collection to have a glimpse of the clothes and accessories building the identity of this fascinating sport – and of its players.

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