Wardrobe: Kicking the Habit
A native of central Kentucky’s Thoroughbred country, Carl Meyers grew up in a family that had outfitted riders for decades. At the age of 6, he wandered into his father’s equestrian clothing factory and, with a little help from the tailors, fashioned his own heavy wool gabardine riding suit. Nearly 50 years later, Meyers proudly displays the pint-sized suit in his eponymous Lexington, Ky., shop, one of the country’s largest purveyors of equestrian clothing. Though Meyers was never much of a rider, he continues to enjoy the sport’s fashions. “Like half of Lexington today,” he says, “I wear equestrian clothing just to look chic.”
Sensing that other clotheshorses share his appreciation for fitted hacking jackets and boot-cut slacks, Meyers recently launched a collection of riding-inspired tailored clothing. He found an enthusiastic partner in Critt Rawlings, the former president of Oxxford Clothes, whose encyclopedic knowledge of the Scottish and English textile industries proved invaluable for obtaining authentic wool Saxony and cavalry twill fabrics. Together they enlisted the services of John Daniels, a Knoxville, Tenn., custom tailoring operation that produces Carl Meyers’ ready-to-wear clothing, which is carried at Paul Stuart in New York, Carroll & Co. in Beverly Hills, Mitchells of Westport, Conn., and other specialty stores. This fall, Traguardo II, the New York City equestrian clothing factory that Meyers co-owns, will fit and manufacture a custom collection of suits with prices starting at $2,000.
“These clothes have a lot of attitude,” says Meyers, a burly chain-smoker who insists the tapered shapes lend an athletic stance even to an armchair sportsman such as himself. “[The look] is based on Savile Row suits, but with a much sportier interpretation.”
The line includes five different hacking-style jackets—originally named for hacks who drove horsedrawn carriages in the 18th century—that display elongated suede elbow patches, belted backs, throat tabs on lapels, and other equestrian details. “They also have an extra outside pocket, which was historically used for holding a horn while hunting,” says Meyers. He also has embellished his collection’s trousers with extension waistbands, scooped Western pockets, and key-shaped belt loops—all elements found on genuine riding pants.
Meyers attributes his interest in riding clothes to his grandfather, a shopkeeper named Emanuel Meyers. In the 1930s, Emanuel designed and patented the original habit—the Kentucky jodhpur and a long flared coat—for riders of American saddlebreds, the high-stepping breed that the U.S. cavalry once rode. Soon after, he opened a factory in Lexington to produce the riding outfit, which remains popular today. Although Emanuel closed the factory in the 1960s, he passed down the family-owned store, Meyers, to his son, Marvin, a riding vest maker. When Carl, Marvin’s son, took the helm in 1983, he renamed the shop Carl Meyers.
“When I came to work for my father 25 years ago, riding clothes were like uniforms. That’s why they were called habits,” says Meyers, who offers riders a more stylish option by coordinating fashionable ensembles to be worn with specific horses for particular events. If the horse is a chestnut and the event is during the day, he may recommend a glen plaid suit coordinated with a vest, shirt, and tie so horse and rider complement each other. Now he has assumed a far greater fashion challenge: “I’m trying to make men’s suits a little more sporty,” he says, “and less like uniforms.”