Looking Your Dog’s Best

What ring wear says about a dog.

By | Posted: Thu Dec 2 00:00:00 PST 2004

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French BulldogIf clothes make a statement, we can't learn much from canine attire. However, owners and handlers dress to convey their dogs' characters, their likes and dislikes. Until at least the mid-twentieth century, European convention dictated that dogs be sartorially depicted as conservatives, by handlers in navy or herringbone or glen-plaid blazers, wool pants or skirts, crisp cotton shirts, ties for men and, often, some variation on neckwear for women.

However, modern American handlers are far more broadminded and creative than to let hidebound European tradition influence their style. In recent decades, as general attire has become more varied and far-flung, many handlers have found new ways to speak for their multifaceted canines. What might look like a fashion faux pas on the part of a handler is actually a message about the dog.

At first glance, a hat on a handlerman or womanin the show ring simply looks like bad sartorial judgment. But ask yourself what the headgear says about the dog and you realize that here's a canine that's concerned to look finished, and nothing finishes off an outfit like a chapeau. Not a real dressy one, like Audrey Hepburn's in the horserace scene of My Fair Lady; a simple straw hat or sometimes a baseball cap with a flower is all it takes. Cowboy hats are versatile in that they can underscore the personal style of a Sporting dog, as well as suggest that there's more machismo to a coated Toy than meets the eye. (Or, perhaps, that he's on his way to a Village People concert...)

A handler running around the ring at 9 a.m. in chiffon, bugle beads and sequins at a fairgrounds in the Nebraska cornfields sounds as appropriate as a stripper doing a pole dance at a Methodist church serviceuntil we consider the message: you can take this dog out of its glamorous environs, but you can't take the glamour out of the dog. Bugle bead and sequin syndrome has a counterpart for males. The puce or fuchsia or orange shirt with matching satin or brocade vest and pocket hanky might appear out of context on a guy running around a ring next to a bovine barn before noonor anywhere, any time. But again, it's about the dog, and any flashy fabric, especially one with raised designs, can only mean one thing: elegance. Brocade serves to conjure royal imagery, too, and hence convey a message that the canine is enormously highfalutin'.  

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the warm-up suit. Casual in appearance but implying a fit and healthy dog, these get-ups often come in sherbet-y colors and sometimes in shimmery, billowy, nylon-y fabrics, showing that the dog cares about fitness but is concerned to be stylish as well as comfortable. Indeed, the variety of tracksuits allows for a range of communication. A dark outfit fairly shouts that this dog takes fitness seriouslyin fact, it's a canine health nut.

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