Then And Now: Jockey Fashions Through The Ages

September 20, 2016

- Grant Whittington

Have you ever wondered why jockeys adorn the attire that they do when racing?

In fact, the act of wearing silks and colours when racing is a tried-and-trusted tradition, and one that originated in England as a way of identifying horses and their riders. Interestingly, this is a trend that actually took hold after horse racing was an established sport back in 1114.

A History of Silks and Jockey Colours

Just over 400 years after the first ever race meetings were held in England, individual silk colours were referenced in 1515. This came during the occupation of King Henry VIII, who was a keen sportsman and a talented rider who placed a great stock in competition. Riders were encouraged to wear fine silks and colours that were designed in line with their family’s coat of arms, helping others to instantly recognise them and the house that they were representing.

These silks and costumers were then developed throughout the latter centuries, before becoming commonplace in the early 18th century and during the reign of King Charles II. This trend has evolved throughout ages until the present day, with the famous Newmarket resolution of 1762 providing a watershed moment in the use of clearly defined silks and staged colours. These were then annexed by respective members and worn by riders, offering clarity and understanding for all parties involved.

Why have Racing Silks emerged through the ages?

One question that is often asked is why weren’t racing silks adopted from the time that sport first emerged? The answer is simple, as a lack of runners and early meetings meant that there was no real need to distinguish between riders. Close finishes were also a rarity, and even in the 1500’s silks were only adopted as noblemen riders wanted a way to display their individual coat of arms.

It was in the 1700’s that the numbers of races, runners and owners increased dramatically, however, which in turn created logistical issues to which individual silks offered an immediate solution. From confusion caused by duplicate entries to the increasing number of close finishes, it became necessary to clearly distinguish between individual riders and positively identify each participant. This saw racing silks become a staple feature of every single meeting nationwide, while eventually leading to the Newmarket resolution and the establishment of rigid, annexed colours.

Iconic skills through the ages

Of course, this resolution also lay the foundation for the emergence of the iconic silks that have dominated through the ages. From the sleek, all-black jacket and red cherry cap of the famous Phipps Family Stable that was registered back in 1932 to the Eton Blue jacket and brown cap that distinguished the Earl of Durham’s horses at the turn of the century, these silks have added to the heritage of the sport and its rich, historical tapestry. They have also given greater credence to racing’s status as the sport of kings, and one that arguably remains the most popular in the world to this day.


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