BY LAUREN MAULDIN
I’m not really what you would call a fashionable person.
Growing up, my favorite outfit was a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Not fancy, designer jeans mind you—my tried and trues were traditional wash GAP bootcuts. And the tees? Well of course they were mostly horsey ones, the more authentic the better. Top choices included my coveted Volunteer Brookfield Steeplechase shirt (an event North Carolinians from the late ‘90s may remember), and another covered with illustrations of Palominos.
At school, this was my uniform, my armor. I am a horse girl. The things I care about the most are far beyond this building. When everyone else was covered in Abercrombie & Fitch and spent hours before school perfecting their frosted eyeshadow and thinly plucked brows, I rocked my ponytail and t-shirts safely outside of the popular crowd. My identity as horse girl protected me from a complicated social circle of ever-changing boyfriends, grass (I’m fairly confident they didn’t mean Alfalfa) and drama.
Settling into adulthood, I kept up with my plain, uninspired wardrobe. I identified as one of those low maintenance, chill girls who didn’t have to spend extensive time in front of a mirror. It wasn’t until my late husband, rather kindly, pointed out that I dressed “a little bit like a bum” before I realized that my relaxed wardrobe came across less like a horse girl and more like someone who didn’t take pride in their appearance.
And really, it makes sense that I wouldn’t. The fashion industry trained me to believe that I wasn’t meant to belong within it. I’ve struggled with weight and fitting into the “ideal” mold my entire life. Things are a lot better in 2019, but when I was a teen models didn’t exist that looked anything like me—horse girls or otherwise. Plus, being a horse girl in my adulthood means that I am perpetually on a budget. I might love a designer purse or fancy jacket, but my horse loves his shoes and supplements a lot more.
It’s taken me a long time to settle into a personal style that blends a low maintenance attitude, financial practicality, and self-love. Because what I finally learned about fashion is that it’s a way to express self-care and loving yourself—whether that’s wearing your favorite pair of comfy jeans or a fancy sundress.
Fashion means something different to everyone. I still don’t collect designer clothes. Rather, I have an entire drawer filled with $8 Target t-shirts. My riding wardrobe is by far the most fashionable and fancy collection of clothing I have, but they’ve all been collected through clearance racks and consignment shops. I love how many riding clothes there are out there with amazing craftsmanship and detail. Those items are beautiful, and it’s fun to watch the elite don them at the big shows. But I’ve finally realized that just because I can’t afford $300 breeches doesn’t mean I’m not fashionable too.
Even though my body might not match the models in the magazines and I rarely have the season’s latest trends, it doesn’t mean I can’t pick out my clothes with care and appreciation. Real talk—those $8 Target tees are incredibly soft, and they can look really sharp with a pair of dark jeans and a statement necklace. And at the barn? You’d be amazed at how a sharp belt can tie together an outfit, even if your sunshirt is older than your horse and has potentially seen better days.
At this point in my life, I don’t dress a certain way to impress any kind of insider crowd, but putting care into my appearance makes me feel better about myself. When I swing my into the saddle for a lesson, having a clean, tidy outfit on tells my trainer I respect her, the process, and myself. My favorite equestrian item, my hunter green show coat, gives me an extra boost of confidence in the ring.
No matter how much I did or didn’t spend on an item of clothing or how my unruly body wants to look in today’s outfit, being mindful about my fashion has improved my overall demeanor and confidence. Growing up, I used my clothes as armor to say, “I don’t care” because I thought it would protect me from judgment. Now I realize that clothes are a way to show the world that you love yourself, and recognize you’re worth the effort to feel good.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.
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