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Driving Aprons
by Kristen Breyer

"The driver shall wear a hat, an APRON or knee rug and gloves."

Apron? Butcher, baker, Mickey, cocktail, shop? Confusing?! The "driving apron" is probably the most confusing element of required attire in the ADS/FEI rules, right next to "appropriate", which assumes one has good taste (not tastes good!). Rather than get into an argument over "good taste" and "appropriate to vehicle style", I'll stick to trying to sort out and clarify the mysterious "driving apron"...

In the ADS rule book, nothing defines the apron's size, style or construction at all, merely requiring the wearing one or a knee rug. In Captain C. F. Knight's Hints on Driving (considered to be the "Bible" of the British Driving Society) there, again, are no hints. Going to the methodical Germans, we find hints in the German National Equestrian Federation Handbook as follows:

"The apron protects the driver's legs down to just below the knee from being soiled by the greased reins. It also prevents the ends of the reins from falling between the driver's legs. The apron may consist of a small woolen blanket, or it may be made of thick drill or linen and be tailored to fit. In sporting driving and competitions, the colour should tone in with that of the vehicle and seat cushions."

Going to older works, Frances Underhill states that the apron should "strap around the waist and come to about the ankle when standing". C. W. Kellogg, in Driving the Horse in Harness, says that they should be for

"summer (of) cotton or linen check with matching binding . . . (in) winter, a heavier material lined with wool . . . the apron is made to buckle around the waist and cut long enough to almost reach the feet and wide enough to tuck in well when seated."

Ah ha - ! Now we're getting somewhere!

Moving on to Carriage Turnout and Appointments edited by Tom Ryder for the CAA (Carriage Association of America), a distinction is made between the summer apron's fit and that of a cold weather apron. The summer apron fits "from a little below the waist to just above the ankles"; while the winter one is "usually cut to fit higher on the body". Both are cut wide enough to be tucked under the legs on both sides. Fabrics for summer are listed as "light materials, such as tan colored 'covert' (Editor's note: "a smooth, twilled, lightweight cloth, usually of wool, used for suits and topcoats") cloth for use with more formal carriages" or "of some more colorful and lighter weight material, such as linen of a Newmarket check pattern, for use with carriages of less formal type". Those of heavier weight material are to be bound around the edges. Ryder makes the following comment: "Driving aprons were seldom used by people who drove on their everyday affairs. Robes or knee rugs were the general thing".

Aprons for personal driving in competition or pleasure can therefore now be deciphered! Personal experience and observation has shown that most people make their own aprons or have them made locally, even though some purveyors exist. Commercially made aprons can be somewhat costly, especially for the beginning competitor. At least three styles of cut have been seen (see drawings). If the aprons are made to fit only one person, any of the styles can be fitted with leather straps with buckles (roller type are preferred), two "D" rings and straps of webbing or leather, "quick release" type fasteners, or "latch and hook" closures. If using "latch and hook" type closures, you will have to sew some type of strapping, or make the apron width to overlap in the back around the waist and sew it differently to the apron itself. If the apron is to be worn by several different people (of different sizes), webbing or woven tape ties of 36" length each can be attached. They are crossed in the back and tied in the front. This sort of "generic fit" apron is handy to have around when someone forgets one of their own.

When making one, or having one made for you, use your actual waist measurement or waist measurement minus two inches for a good tuck under width for styles 1 and 2, for style 3 the measurement should come just around the curve of the waist. Over your clothing, this should fit just fine. Length is probably best around mid-calf. (editor's note: "At least in New England, most aprons are cut to hit the top of the driver's shoes while seated.")

Now to fabrics and colors! I have found that washable wool blends drape nicely, as do acrylic/wool or acrylics in suiting or skirting weights. Some upholstery fabrics are also suitable, especially since many are already stain resistance treated and may be water repellent (important on some days!). Lighter weight fabrics can be lined. Muted patterns (checks and plaids included) may be lined with a solid fabric in such a way as to make the apron fully reversible, if "latch and hook" type closures are used or a reversible webbing or leather strap. As to colors, solids to coordinate with your entire turnout are appropriate, as are small patterns. Colors and patterns should not overpower your suit or dress. A monogram may be applied to a solid colored apron at about knee level on the right side or center of the apron, as desired. If in doubt about color, "fawn" is always a traditional color.

I hope these comments can be of some use to novice and more advanced drivers alike on the question of the ubiquitous "driving apron".

Style 1

Style 2

Style 3



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