Talking all things jodhpurs with Kerstin of Jodhpurs and Sons, the Instagram feed you absolutely must follow for the chicest riding attire in history.
TEXT Susanne Madsen IMAGES Courtesy of Jodhpurs and Sons
As someone who doesn’t wear any breeches made after Pikeur discontinued their legendary Mondegas, an Instagram account dedicated entirely to the delights of traditional jodhpurs and old school breeches is an immediate follow. Charting vintage jodhpurs on film stars, royalty, professional riders and unknowns, it is a treasure trove of undiluted style and on-point nostalgia.
Intrigued as to who was behind this brilliant feed titled @jodhpursandsons we got in touch and found Kerstin, who has a background in journalism as a freelance writer and editor, something which very much comes through in the research and writing that accompanies every image, offering fascinating particulars about the picture in question. Recently she has also added a regular Q&A feature titled Me & My Jodhpurs, the first one being with stylist Sarah Kate Byrne.
Jodhpurs and Sons has made us fall in love with Instagram all over again. As the wonderful artist and photographer Sarah Harmarnee recently put it during a chat about the wonders of the feed: “Jodhpurs and Sons is a universe of timelessness and authenticity with a bit of obscure chic and eccentricity.” Basically all the things we’re here for.
“I like that description,” Kerstin says on the phone during lockdown from her house in southern France, where she lives with her husband. Surprisingly, she admits straight off the bat that she doesn’t ride but has been on a horse before and very much enjoyed it. Instead of bouncing around on ponies, her childhood was spent doing ballet, training with an eminent ballet mistress who worked with John Cranko. “I took my dancing very, very seriously. My ballet mistress basically forbade me to ride and said we’d develop different types of muscles that should not be seen when you’re a dancer so I never took it anywhere,” she says.
Having lived and worked all over Europe, Kerstin worked for a local paper during a stint in New York and later ran a personal blog titled Wallflower Despatches, which documented her French life alongside interviews with people who caught her interest, such as Guy Hills of Dashing Tweeds on Marylebone Road. Every now and then she would come across photographs of people in jodhpurs. “So I guess that’s how it started, a while back,” she explains.
I know you don’t ride but have you started a jodhpur collection?
Ironically when I was at university I remember buying a pair of white jodhpurs from Benetton of all places for five pounds and I used to wear them all the time. And also many, many years ago some from Hobbs, when it was still doing interesting and crafted things under Marilyn Anselm. I have some older ones, some Ralph Lauren, and some nameless ones, if you like. But also disappointingly I don’t wear them in everyday in life at the moment.
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Well, I think a very simple answer is style. I also think this kind of traditional wear just takes you in so many different directions. You can be in Out of Africa, you can be in an Agatha Christie novel, you can be on safari, you can be an explorer. None of the things that I see if I look on equestrian websites – apart from the Harry Hall London Collection – has the same effect on me. I don’t think ‘Oooh, Egyptian mummies!’ when I look at that. Whereas I think with all these traditional things, you get that. And I think it’s also the skill that was involved in making them. As far as I know none of the Savile Row have a jodhpurs cutter, but they did use to have them. The way fashion is going, we are being encouraged to buy something of quality, not because it has a name but because it’s well made. You wear it for the rest of your life. I think that’s what today’s products are missing, but having said that I don’t ride so I shouldn’t be so critical or have this superficial judgment.
You can absolutely have an opinion on it! It’s funny because sometimes I’ll post a picture in my stories of a pair of 20-year-old corduroy breeches I’m wearing and they get so many comments and Euro-Star even reposted some. They’re not roomy in the thigh, just a bit more traditional. I do think brands are missing out on a goldmine here. If they just reproduced one of those slightly older styles, just one, a lot more people would buy them than they think.
I agree. I was doing a story a few years ago and someone told me that E Tautz & Sons, I think, are tracking their own jodhpurs on eBay and Etsy and buying them back in, because they wanted to have them in their archives as they realised it was interesting and important, that history. Again it shows that those skills have been lost and like you say, if they offered something like that I agree, I think people would buy that instantly.
Not least the hunting community. None of them wear the skin-tight breeches. They all wear the traditional ones or ones that have been handed down. You’ve got someone like Amanda Brooks who is so chic. You just can’t fault her riding wear.
Yes, the Fair Isle vest! I think there’s a lot interest in what you might call traditional craft, such as the Vyshyvanka dresses that Vita Kin has brought to everyone’s attention. I guess it touches something in people.
Yes, that was who I was going to mention next! (laughs) She does a fantastic job in the way she puts it all together, it’s a great inspiration.
Where do you recommend looking for jodhpurs?
People keep asking me where they can find good jodhpurs. eBay and Etsy of course, but then you have to really know your measurements to get it right. I think you can get really good quality ones if you know what you’re looking for from brands such as Harry Hall, Bernard Weatherill and some of the American brands.
I’ve noticed Harry Hall like a lot of your posts and they obviously work with Martha Sitwell who is very much a part of this whole look.
I like Martha Sitwell’s London Collection although it was available only briefly – I would actually buy them as a piece for everyday wear. I thought it was interesting because again it shows that people want that romance, that kind of craft. The breeches you can buy nowadays, I compare it a bit to traditional tennis sportswear. In the 1920s and 30s when people played tennis it all looked very glamorous with the men in white flannel trousers and shirts, and now it’s Adidas or Nike or whatever.
“Something I have learned from running the Instagram account is that it’s actually a subversive piece of clothing because if you think about it, when women wanted to wear trousers in the 1910s and 1920s they couldn’t go to a shop and buy a pair of trousers or even have some made”
I really like what the Swedish brand Aisling do, it comes quite close to that old school look as well, much more effortlessly chic, wearing a men’s shirt with your breeches, and it’s not the whole tight fitting Lycra or high tech performance fabric.
Exactly. I guess it’s like anything, people want to sell something so therefore with garments they want to be able to say they have the latest technology, the latest fabric, this will help you perform better, so I can understand why it’s moved that way. Personally I think it’s a little bit sad because the romance gets lost on the way. But then the romance gets lost on the way in so many things.
I suppose originally jodhpurs were very practical and meant to be for sportswear and to be active in.
That’s definitely one element. Something I have learned from running the Instagram account is that it’s actually a subversive piece of clothing because if you think about it, when women wanted to wear trousers in the 1910s and 1920s they couldn’t go to a shop and buy a pair of trousers or even have some made. So wearing a pair of jodhpurs was actually a way of wearing trousers. There’s a photograph I posted of two young women, I guess it’s the 1910s, and they’re walking down the street giggling and it’s very of that era but they’ve put on jodhpurs and you can see that one of them is wearing a corset underneath. If you look at it from that point of view, actually they are exactly like the teenager who is walking down the street at the moment. I’m not up to date on what the revolutionary thing is that teenagers do nowadays but the photo shows the 1910s equivalent of that.
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Exactly. And then I think there’s this other element, which is aspirational. I guess I would even include myself in that because I have never ridden (chuckles) but I just love wearing the trousers. You put them on and it says something. Maybe for men the image of playing polo comes to mind – horse, tweeds, all those things, which I think can be achieved by putting on this pair of jodhpurs.
Yes and I think Ralph Lauren has built his entire business on that and it works very well if you look at his success. I’m not totally obsessed with Ralph Lauren but if you go to his shop on Bond Street in London or the Rhinelander Mansion in New York, it’s set up in a certain way, very deliberately, to look like you’re going into an English country home. It is this kind of romance that is associated with those times as well, which none of us have lived in which is of course why we can be romantic about it, which is why Agatha Christie is still selling, and which is why everybody loves P.G. Wodehouse.
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On one post, if I really research it, maybe half an hour. I have a library of photos I’ve saved that I post from. Recently I reposted this picture I’ve always loved of an African American woman dancing in jodhpurs. I have it as a postcard. I thought, who is this? Who took the photograph? I must admit on this I spent a bit more time and it was actually very interesting because it turned out to be a completely different story behind the photograph. It’s not just this woman dancing but a very serious project that the US government did in the 1930s where they sent photographers into the poorer states and documented people’s lives. I post in the morning and then I forget about it. I started out just doing it occasionally but now there’s a lot of feedback so I’ll try to post one every day because it’s a bottomless pit (laughs) of photographs of people in jodhpurs. If I ever get to post 3,000 I’m sure if I started all over again no one might notice the difference!
I posted a picture of a guy called Kwame Brathwaite with two black guys and I just thought, wow, these are cool guys and I had no idea who they were but they turned out to be activists in the 1950s and 60s and he actually coined the phrase ‘Black is Beautiful’ so his son contacted me and left a comment. Also Rupert Finch Hatton, whom I think is the great nephew of Denys.
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If you go back to it he says, ‘Good God, where did you find this photograph?’ And in the beginning Amanda Harlech left a short comment, which I thought was quite sweet. I’ve had others, for example there’s a woman who was inspired by some of the Grace Kelly posts and she made her own jodhpurs and kind of copied it and it actually looked really nice and I featured her in one of my stories. Another nice thing that happened was a while back Jo Ellison went to Paris Fashion Week and someone had designed some jodhpurs and she tagged me. That was also a little highlight.
I’m aware that there’s a whole area of kinky stuff associated with this but luckily I’ve hardly had any of that. I can probably count them on one hand and then I just block them. I have been told off about some posts, usually involving politics… I have my reply, which is: “It’s a very fluffy and frivolous thing to post photographs of jodhpurs, please do not read any more into it than that.” The other sweet thing is that I do get sent some really lovely family photos as well.
I think that’s a really lovely example of how the internet can actually bring people together.
Absolutely. It’s such a niche thing so I’m still thinking, wow, I didn’t realise other people would be interested in it!
The kind of feedback you get is just gold. And now that I know your background is in journalism it all makes sense because I think it comes across so well in what you do.
I don’t want to take any credit for that but it’s good if you enjoy it. It’s slightly ironic that of all the ‘work’ I’ve done where I had to really research something and do some real work (chuckles) it’s just ironic that something like Instagram can bring this kind of enthusiasm. I find it entertaining. But I guess that’s how it is nowadays. We’re all conditioned to concentrate for no longer than five minutes unfortunately, so I guess that’s just the format now.
I also wanted to ask you as I suppose some people may not know: why do jodhpurs look the way they do? In Danish we call them ‘frog legs’ rather than ‘elephant ears’!
Oh really? How funny! That actually makes more sense. The first time I saw the expression ‘elephant ears’ I was like, I have no idea what these people are talking about. Frog legs, yes, I think I might save that and put that in a story. Apparently jodhpurs can be traced to the regent of Jodhpur, Sir Pratap Singh, who was a very avid polo player. In India they have these traditional trousers, which are called churidars that are loose around the hips and tight along the calf. He then designed a prototype, if you like, and flared out the size of the hips a little bit more. And because at the time there weren’t all these different types of fabric he asked that the cut was altered and then reinforced the inner calf and the knee to protect it from rubbing when you’re riding. He had them tailored in Jodhpur in the 1890s, that’s what it says everywhere, and made from thick cotton twill, I guess maybe like the army fabric they would have had at the time. The other polo teams then adapted it and he was then invited to Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897, and apparently there was a lot of polo playing going on and everybody was super interested in these breeches they were wearing. The story goes that he apparently needed a new pair while he was in England and went to visit his Savile Row tailor, revealed the design, and then the tailor asked him ‘Well, what is this called?’ and Sir Patrap, misunderstanding what was said, said ‘Jodhpur’ and that’s how it came about. Out of all the various explanations I found it looked the most plausible and the safest one, I suppose. But I am happy to be corrected.
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People now obviously think of jodhpurs as being related to riding but they were kind of the all-over sportswear and leisurewear, weren’t they?
Exactly, and if you think about it, a lot of stuff always seems to come out either of the military or out of sportswear. I guess they’re the ones that money is thrown at. I mean, if you have a rich maharaja who can play polo, I’m sure he can turn his thoughts to, how can I improve my outfit to have the technical advantage. Because it was such a sturdy garment I guess it was why it then went into the military and then also people using them as workwear for a while, and that’s all before we had jeans and denim. I think denim, the acceptance of denim and the fashion of denim, signalled the end of jodhpurs in everyday wear.
I think you’re very right. That’s probably why jodhpurs fell out of fashion. Denim took their place.
Exactly. And there is a certain irony that due to this pandemic, quite a few well-known denim brands went bust or filed for bankruptcy and I suppose it’s because now everybody is wearing sweatpants! (laughs)
Karl Lagerfeld is turning in his grave at all the elasticated waistbands going on right now.
I’d like to point out I’m not wearing sweatpants but I am wearing jeans. (laughs)
Do you have a favourite era for jodhpurs?
I thought about that and I guess my mind is somewhere in the 1930s and 20s but then I looked at it again and I thought, well, actually I like them all! There are some that I would very happily wear and they could be from the 1950s. The overall look that I don’t like so much is the 1940s, but then 1980s Ralph Lauren, that was probably his high point where those were concerned. But if I had any pick I guess it would be a pair from the 1930s and everything that goes with that.
If you were to take up riding next week, would you then be riding in vintage jodhs?
Yes, I would definitely go down that road. I think I would probably find the jodhpurs first before I find a horse, so it’s terribly shallow! (laughs)
No, no, absolutely not. A major part of riding is we like dressing our horses and we like dressing ourselves.
See, I hadn’t thought of that angle and I noticed you posted – I don’t even know what the word is, the stuff the horse wears.
Oh the saddlepad and the bandages around the legs?
Yes, and I thought, oh, there’s a whole other world of accessories I hadn’t thought of!
It’s terrible once you start going down that route. I think the horse has more outfits than me.
I have just learned something. (laughs)
When I got an Hermès saddlepad and matching bandages and ears, I ran around my sitting room squealing.
Ah yes, wasn’t Jean Paul Gaultier the last one to really tap into the equestrian history of Hermès? I like all the other designers, Lemaire, and Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski. But I believe Jean Paul Gaultier was the last designer to tap into the company’s equestrian roots. I can well imagine your excitement at a package from Hermès. So maybe I shouldn’t start riding at all because already I have terrible thoughts in my head. (laughs)
Oh god yes, you always feel like there’s another thing you ‘need’. And you absolutely don’t need it. I’m so gutted the Saut Hermès in Paris was cancelled. Have you ever been to a horse show?
I lived on the other side of Windsor Great Park when I was at university, so I would go to the one up there. I have been to a few others, but not recently.
Who do you think personifies jodhpur chic?
All the names that have already come up but Margaret Rutherford just popped into my head. She’s actually not wearing a pair of jodhpurs but she riding side saddle as Miss Marple in Murder at the Gallop. It’s kind of funny to think of her as someone chic, but to me she has real style.
I imagine a lot of brands would be very keen to work with you?
Jodhpurs & Sons started off as a bit of a joke and now I am chatting with a few people. Perhaps it’s better to stay in the background. We’ll see.