In vintage hunting and shooting clothes you can look at your best in the field, without spending a fortune
Vintage hunting and shooting clothes are found in most field reader’s dressing room. But if uncles and fathers happen not be the right size then there is much to be said for seeking out some vintage hunting and shooting clothes that will fit well. So that when you hop on to the best hunting horse you can find, take to the moor for some grouse shooting or the field for pheasant you can cut a dash. And remember to keep an eye out for the best evening wear too.
Correctly fitting vintage hunting and shooting clothes are a steal. And can add inches to your posture. They straighten the shoulders, adds vim to your vigour and may even encourage an ill-advised Roger Moore eyebrow lift, so be warned. Buying vintage hunting and shooting clothes is an imprecise art but there is nothing you can sport – certainly for under £250 – that delivers the same kick. The combination of quality and price are impos-sible to best on the high street or the Row, and the cost generally allows for a tailor to make small alterations if required.
CHASE DOWN VINTAGE HUNTING AND SHOOTING CLOTHES
And there is also the thrill of the chase. A London hatter will charge upwards of £1,500 for a capacious silk topper in best condition, so bagging one for under £100 at a provincial game fair still ranks high on my best-buys list. A legendary charity sale that yielded a cashmere overcoat for £5 and a vintage Cordings trilby for £10 showed the volume of great kit circulating, if you know where to look. Tops and tails are most difficult to track down, with shoes over a size 10 and hats larger than 7 emanding a scarcity premium.
THE FIELD’S CHALLENGE
The challenge: for a Field reader to run to earth, for less than £250 per outfit, good, vintage hunting and shooting clothes to fill those gaps in the wardrobe. The task fell to My Future Husband (MFH), who is not vintage sized by nature but is field standard. Charity sales and auction lots are unreliable so, for dependable sources, the internet was scoured and recommendations demanded from friends.
VINTAGE TO VOGUE
Vintage to Vogue in Bath has been run by John and Imren Lowin for the past six years. “The shop only sold women’s clothes when we arrived,” says Imren. “Men get bored so we wanted to give them something to look at in the shop and it grew from there.” Now the stock is divided evenly between the sexes and John has some interesting pieces on display. “There’s an antique fencing kit, Second World War motorcycle despatch rider’s boots and a leather fireman’s helmet; they were made from brass until the advent of electricity.”
John was initiated into the vintage world via shooting. “There used to be one of those old-school shooting shops in Bath called Crudgingtons. It closed down and the idea of selling shooting kit that didn’t look brand new and straight off the peg came about.”
The Thirties three-piece Harris tweed shooting suit with leather “football” button and Norfolk jacket (£250) is a classic piece. “It isn’t too heavy and is surprisingly easy to move in,” volunteered MFH as we snapped him (alongside a burgeoning crowd of tourists) at the Circus in Bath. “It is in very good nick, not at all worn or tatty – the sort of thing I imagine my great-grandfather wearing when he shot with the Prince of Wales.”
The Lowins also provided the rest of the kit for the photograph: a Thirties collarless cotton shirt (£48), a Sixties Tootal cotton paisley cravat (£30), a Fifties wool felt trilby with hat box (£58). These vintage pieces are sourced worldwide, with regular buying trips to New York and Berlin. “For variety and quality you have to go abroad,” says John. “Our most surprising find came while we were on holiday in Barbados. The contents of an old colonial plantation house were being disposed of at a local auction, and it was stuffed with shooting kit.”
Alongside their best-selling collection of tweed jackets they hold a stock of cartridge belts, cartridge bags and gunslips, including a Forties leather leg-of-mutton 12-bore case (£150). “I took a leather-stitching course as I couldn’t find anyone to repair the cartridge bags,” says John, “and I’ve started up-cycling vintage pieces into household objects.” Think charming lamps made from vintage boots.
John Morgan’s passion for vintage struck during the Eighties’ series Brideshead Revisited. “I loved it, so started buying vintage pieces. My friends wanted them, too, so I started selling them.” The business has been thriving since 1984. “In the early Eighties I belted around in my MG Midget, buying old tweeds and dinner jackets, supplying Hackett, which used to sell second-hand clothes. Now I run Hogspear and John Morgan Hire Company.” The latter hires out vintage luggage and colonial leftovers to film sets; they have appeared in Harry Potter, Tomb Raider and, of course, Downton Abbey. The former sells vintage clothes and uniforms on eBay. “I started selling on eBay six years ago,” he says, “and we have just passed the 25,000 positive feedback mark.”
The museum, part of the complex of buildings at Muston’s Mews in Shaftesbury, Dorset, where Morgan is based, bursts with boy’s-own delights. Remnants of our colonial and sporting past are there alongside taxidermy, covetable leather goods, unusual apparatus (they turned out to be breeches trees), luggage, horns, horse bits, memorabilia and delightful hunt evening tails from the Peshawar Vale Hunt in India with French-grey facings.
“Vintage clothes have a life of their own,” Morgan enthuses. “I am not selling pristine costume, I’m selling great kit that was made to be worn, not shut away or treated with too much reverence. Yes, it’s great that each piece has a history, I love the tailor’s labels and the names inscribed on them, but I believe in making it your own, in wearing it.”
MFH takes home two great fieldcoats: one muted and relaxed with cuffed sleeves in soft herringbone tweed by Hawkes of Savile Row [ac-quired by Gieves in 1974] (£50); the other a 1962 structured, heavier-green tweed by Denman & Goddard of Piccadilly – by appointment to Georges V and VI (£50). “These are no-brainer buys,” opines MFH mid-twirl. “Everything about them, from the material to the cut and general feel, is great.” The eyebrow does start to rise.
The Henry Poole evening tails (£55-£60)are a stunning example of a great vintage find: heavy silk lapels, working cuffs, elegant buttons. “It really should be worn,” agrees MFH, “although it might be a little on the snug side.” The accompanying white tie, shirt, collar and waistcoat are reasonable to buy (£20), although many are rather too well worn, so look out for less-well-used examples. “Some-thing old gives the wearer a certain cachet,” says Morgan. “Buying from Hogspear gives you a unique piece from a private source. You won’t bump into anyone else wearing the same thing and you can create your own story with it. To wear vintage you need to appreciate the quality but also have some imagination.”
And the top vintage picks? “Smoking jackets, morning tails and evening tails,” Morgan confirms. “These are often claimed by relatives and are much harder to find. Also, good-quality English shoes.”
OLD HAT STOCKS GREAT KIT
“If I closed the vintage side of my business I’d be lynched,” laughs David Saxby of Old Hat on Fulham High Street, the go-to place for vintage kit in London for the past 25 years. He has been manufacturing his own “vintage” clothes for the past 10. “I don’t use new patterns, only vintage ones,” he says. “A single-breasted suit with a single button and a shawl-collared, double-breasted waistcoat, that is the David Saxby style. You wouldn’t look out of place today, in the Sixties or in the Twenties wearing it.” His caps (there are more than 2,000 in stock) are based on a Thirties’ original, deconstructed and used as a pattern; his waistcoats (£175 single breasted, £195 double breasted) boast a continuous neckband, “They stopped making them like this 20 years ago,” he says. Saxby is creating new vintage. “I took over the workforce of the old Phillips & Piper factory (also known as Lambourne) in Ipswich, when it closed down. It had been manufacturing riding jackets and hunt coats for all the best retailers for more than a hundred years. The British ‘Lambourne pattern’ is admired and respected all over the world.”
The vintage tweed suits sold at Old Hat (standard price £95) are popular for Good-wood. MFH found a Sixties Dunn & Co Border twist tweed that fitted. “It was a bit dated in style, definitely of the Sixties,” he says, “but a good weight and very acceptable price, although I’m keener on the new vintage caps and shooting suits.” [The Saxby shooting suits start from £670 for a two-piece: a Norfolk jacket and fishtail-back plus-fours.] After a timely reminder that we were on a £250 budget, we turned to the biggest-selling vintage line at Old Hat, the dinner jackets and suits in vintage barathea. A brilliant vintage buy, they start at £100 and there are more than 900 in stock.
THE VINTAGE TACKROOM
The Vintage Tack Room (formerly Field and Country Antiques) was taken over by Mia Woodford in January this year. Woodford, who hunts with the Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray, saw the opportunity it presented as an online business and has thrown herself into the venture with gusto. “For me, vintage is not about age – a new Bernard Weatherill coat is vintage. It is about a look, quality and being made in a traditional style,” she says, “although I do have a Cavalry officer who hunts in the shires and will buy nothing post-1950.”
Woodford is an enthusiastic consumer of vintage bargains. “I can spend hours Googling the names of past owners of a coat, finding out which hounds it has hunted to. Well-made things last; the 1927 swallowtail coat (£135) is a perfect example.” For MFH, the vintage breeches were resolute in their refusal to be pulled over his calves (there was a moment of terror when it seemed they might have to be cut off). “Even the newer Oliver Brown breeches have 15in calves,” says Woodfood. Be sure to check your leg measurements first. The hunting coat (£75) fitted well and was a good weight, perfect for a first foray following hounds, and the leather boots (£115) ticked the box. For anyone new to riding to hounds or a seasoned thruster looking for some dashing kit, The Vintage Tack Room can provide. “We run a hunt scheme,” says Woodford, “which is free for the hunts to join. Any hunt member receives a 5% discount and we donate 5% of the hunt member’s spend to the hunt. We also provide a hire service, as new items can often lead to accusations of ‘all the gear, no idea’.”
Whether you are yomping through heather after grouse, standing in a line at a formal shoot, riding to hounds, racing at Cheltenham or throwing shapes at the hunt ball, the best vintage kit will ensure you cut a dash – and stay in the black.