Riding is an athletic activity, and our attire should reflect that. It wasn’t too long ago that the word “polyester” conjured up images of cheap-looking suits. That’s no longer the case, as polyester now includes high-tech performance material, which moves with you and is anything but cheap. Polyester yarn can be spun thinner/finer than ever before and is now blended with other ingredients, such as Lycra or spandex for stretch, silver for odor control, or even natural ingredients. One of the fibers in the FITS shirts is made from crab and shrimp shells.
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This “new” polyester fabric has appealing benefits:
- Extremely lightweight
- Natural wicking
- Dries quickly
- Easy to launder
- Resists wrinkling
- Doesn’t shrink, fade or bleed.
We wore a sampling of summer-weight riding shirts, and we’re hooked. Every shirt was comfortable, lightweight, cool, and easy-care. While your ultimate choice will depend upon your body type, we’re happy to tell you that there’s definitely at least one for you.
Designer Quality. We were impressed at the engineering and planning that goes into designing the shirts. Manufacturers, most horsemen themselves, recognize riding as a sport and equestrians as athletes. They move seams to eliminate chafing when shirts are under a coat, add color accents to flatter curves, and make sure seams align between tops and bottoms. The result is functional, flattering riding apparel.
The light, cool fabric is moisture wicking. Some brands add sun protection and antimicrobial/antibacterial materials to reduce odor. The Eous shirts weave silver into the X-static fabric for a permanent antimicrobial element. Ariat adds MMT, an antimicrobial finish for odor control, and additional wicking. While Ariat says the finish washes out after 30 or so washes, the wicking ability and feel of fabric remains the same through the life of the garment.
These lightweight tops felt like we weren’t wearing anything. Of course, with sheer fabrics comes the question of see-through problems. That said, some of the manfucaturers add a double panel across the front and back of the shirt for modesty. If you’re concerned about your bra showing, be careful with the see-through aspect of mesh panels on many of the tops, too.
Some competitors will want to stick with long-sleeved show shirts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t secretly enjoy the delicious coolness of mesh panels and featherweight fabric.
Since the improved ventilation is diminished when worn under a show coat, you’ll notice when the coat is removed. We also appreciate how much easier the shirts are to tuck into breeches (no bulk).
Some shirts had a more athletic cut (narrower through the hips), while others were designed for a more hourglass fit, but they were all comfortably stretchy.
All of the shirts have a loop on the back collar for a stock tie, but we were especially pleased that the loop on the Romfh Pirouette shirt has a snap, which makes it much easier to put on a stock tie.
Several of the shirts have a pocket, sized nicely to fit smart phones, however, we think adding a Velcro closure or snap to the pocket would keep the contents more secure. After one ride, we dismounted and looked down to find an empty pocket and no cell phone. (Yes, we did find our phone.)
Try-On Tips. Since riding’s an athletic endeavor, trying on your shirt involves more than a look in the mirror. Get into your riding position and check feel and fit. Move your arms and body as you would in the saddle (it’s the rider’s equivalent of the “squat test” for jeans).
Try several different sizes without looking at the tag. Sizing varies across manufacturers. We found that an XL in some brands fit like a L in others. We found sizes from XS to 3XL. The Ariat Triumph show shirt comes in discrete sizes (32-42) for a more custom fit.
Bottom Line. Your shirt choice will be driven by the features most important to you—cost, features, color, sleeve length, fit, and style. To help your search, we’ve listed our favorites in a number of categories:
Traditional Long Sleeve Show Shirt: Choose the Romfh Pirouette shirt for maximum sun protection and lower cost. The FITS Anna shirt is awesome, with lots of mesh and extremely soft, luxurious fabric, but its price may be beyond some of us.
Schooling Shirt: The Eous Technical sleeveless and the Kerrits IceFil are affordable, light, flattering, and comfortable. If you want maximum stretch, go with Kerrits.
Shortsleeve Show Shirt: The design of the FITS Fanfaire shirt is ingenuous. Opaque panels offer modesty, and the mesh is strategically placed on the shoulders, sleeves, and back for great ventilation. The quarter zip has a zipper cover for added comfort and a neat appearance. It’s an easy pick.
Most Stylish: This one was a tough call. The Irideon Quarterline polo has a narrow stripe, with fun contrasting side mesh panels and placket. Its opaque fabric is silky. The Romfh shirt has color mesh panels on the side, while the front of the shirt is white, allowing you to enjoy a splash of color in side panels, but under a coat, only white can be seen. It’s a draw.
Blue Ribbon: If we had to buy only one shirt, we’d get the long-sleeve Romfh Piroutte show shirt. We like the design’s maximum sun protection, ventilation, and stretchy-cuff no-button long sleeves. A traditional look with modern perks.
Best Buy: The Kerrits IceFil Prism. We like the short-sleeved comfortable cool feel with flattering shaped fit and smart hem design.