Redefining Dog Show Attire: Embracing Comfort, Individuality & Tradition

Lee Whittier, author of the article, Redefining Dog Show Attire: Embracing Comfort, Individuality & Tradition


Redefining Dog Show Attire: Embracing Comfort, Individuality & Tradition

One of the biggest questions that I get from owner handlers, whether they are newcomers or seasoned exhibitors, is “What should I wear that is complimentary to my dog and me?” As most of you know, the Dog Show Mentor approach is to go out to the edge of the cliff now and then, always approaching topics of merit from a fresh perspective.

“I wish I could wear something more comfortable to dog shows than a show suit and pantyhose! I’m going to quit if I have to keep wearing these outfits!”

Someone overheard this complaint in the ladies’ room at a dog show. This complaint is just more fodder for exploring how to maintain and grow the dog show population in the 21st Century. Was this just “talk” or would she stop showing dogs because of the discomfort of pantyhose? After all, there is the belief that dog handlers and ice skaters exclusively support the pantyhose industry!


Question 1

I asked a few members of Dog Show Mastery their thoughts, and here’s what they said:

  1. “I don’t think it makes a difference unless you have a top special. I think St. John is overrated; most of my jackets cost $25 at the consignment shop. I don’t believe it’s really a factor. Jean jackets come in all different colors. They can be thrown in the washing machine. In Europe, they don’t dress up as we do, and they have a lot of dogs that are better than what we have here.”
  2. “It’s a dog show, not a fashion show; they spend $4K for an outfit in the horse show. Be neat; comb your hair, and shine your shoes.”
  3. “Attending a dog show in Scotland, more subtle, tan pants, tan boots, not one person in a skirt or suit. I wear something nicer at the AKC show, an equestrian theme, Loden, classic, clean, neat, makeup, hair combed; I don’t spend big money on clothes.”


Question 2

“If we made an effort to invite people to dress more comfortably, would people be likelier to come to dog shows?”

Not one person said that they thought anyone had ever said this, despite what I’d heard in the ladies’ room!

I contend that our Sport would attract many more exhibitors if they didn’t feel they needed to dress up and buy a new wardrobe just to show their dog. Some people with excellent dogs don’t like to dress up in glitz and glitter or a Wall Street suit. There is a need for a more relaxed and individualistic approach that aligns with the expectations of the average participant. By striking a balance between tradition and personal expression, we can create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all.


Reassessing the Dress Code

Many exhibitors express their yearning for clothing that offers both comfort and style, in contrast to the perception of restrictive show suits, pencil skirts, and pantyhose which are often associated with dog shows. This sentiment raises an important question: “Does the requirement of elaborate outfits and a completely new wardrobe deter potential exhibitors? By eliminating the perceived necessity of dressing up, we may attract a broader range of participants, including those who prioritize comfort over glitz and glitter.


Voices of Experience

To better understand the varied perspectives on this matter, let’s consider the viewpoints of the different owner handlers mentioned above. Some believe that attire plays a minimal role unless showcasing a top-winning dog. They advocate for more affordable options, dismissing the notion that expensive suits are necessary. Conversely, others emphasize the importance of neatness and grooming, considering dog shows as professional events that demand a certain level of presentability. Furthermore, regional differences come into play, as dress codes may vary across different areas and in other countries. European dog shows, for instance, tend to be more casual, yet they often boast a high caliber of dogs.


The Influence of Judges

Judges’ attire has a significant influence in setting the standard for exhibitors. We set the bar. According to the AKC “Red Book,” (REJ999) Rules, Policies and Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges, “Gentlemen should wear coats and ties, and ladies should dress accordingly.” (p. 9)

With diverse styles ranging from classic St. John looks to trendsetting ensembles, judges play a crucial role in shaping exhibitors’ fashion choices. Judges must prioritize practicality and comfort, enabling them to perform their duties effectively.

Dog Show Mentor has always been inspired by other sports. Drawing inspiration from sports such as golf and tennis, players wear functional yet stylish clothing. They can provide a valuable guide for dog show judges and exhibitors. In addition, by promoting washable garments and reducing reliance on dry cleaning, we can contribute to a more sustainable planet through our choices of dog show attire.


Revamping Dog Show Garb

The focus should shift towards encouraging exhibitors to express their individuality through their attire while maintaining a level of professionalism. Striking a balance between respect and personal style is essential. Exhibitors should be free to wear clothing that allows them to move comfortably, similar to the outfits favored by golfers and tennis players. Doing so can create a more relatable and inclusive image of dog shows, appealing to a broader audience.

Regarding gender-specific attire, men traditionally wear suits in the ring, exuding professionalism and authority. However, there is room for reimagining the dress code for male exhibitors, promoting a “business casual” approach that sets an example for newcomers. For women, attire has evolved, with separates and simple dresses gaining popularity. Additionally, jean jackets have become a favorite choice among younger exhibitors, particularly on the West Coast. The key is to strike a balance that highlights the dogs’ presentation while maintaining a level of elegance and respect for the Sport.

The key is to strike a balance that highlights the dogs’ presentation while maintaining a level of elegance and respect for the Sport.


The Evolving World of Dogs

As the world evolves, dog shows must adapt to exhibitors’ changing needs and aspirations. Embracing a more relaxed and individualistic approach to attire will foster inclusivity and attract new participants to the Sport. It is vital to remember that the true essence of dog shows lies in the performance, condition, and overall appearance of the dogs rather than the exhibitors’ clothing choices. By finding the middle ground between tradition and personal expression, we can redefine dog show attire and ensure the continued growth and enjoyment of this beloved Sport.

Lee Whittier

  • Ms. Lee Whittier has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs for over three decades. Her involvement began as an owner, exhibitor and, subsequently, a breeder of Rottweilers. She has owned Akitas, Bullmastiffs, and a Sussex Spaniel. She currently owns, breeds, and exhibits Tibetan Terriers. Ms. Whittier began judging in 2000, and then took a hiatus for several years to work for the American Kennel Club as an Executive Field Representative in the Pacific Northwest. She returned to judging in 2011, and currently judges the Working, Terrier, Toy, and Non-Sporting Groups, seventeen Hound Breeds, ten Sporting Breeds, Bouvier des Flandres, and Best in Show. Ms. Whittier has judged dog shows around the world, from the United States, Canada, South America, and Asia, at shows large and small; all of great importance to each and every exhibitor. Some of the larger shows are Westminster Kennel Club, Kennel Club of Philadelphia, Del Valle Dog Club of Livermore, Great Western Terrier Association, Northern California Terrier Association, Hatboro Dog Club, Inc., Malibu Kennel Club, and the Kennel Club of Palm Springs. Ms. Whittier is a standing member of Dog Fanciers of Oregon, The Central Florida Cairn Terrier Club, Columbia River Cairn Terrier Association, and the Tibetan Terrier Club of America. As an active member in numerous clubs, she has worked in the capacity of Show Chair, President, Vice-President, Secretary, Board Member, and Constitution & By-Laws Revision Committee Member. In addition to judging, Ms. Whittier developed the Dog Show Mentor program, exclusively for owner handlers. This is an online program where owner handlers of all stages and levels learn to develop an individual, strategic approach to showing dogs. She also travels to speak to owner handlers all over the world. She currently lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her husband, Wayne, and their three Tibetan Terriers. Her other interests include gardening and hiking with the dogs.

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