Prince Edward was something of a dandy with an obsession for clothes. He insisted on the correct dress for a shoot, which in Victorian times meant robust tweed clothes that were designed to look good, be comfortable, perform as sporting garments and keep out the worst of the British weather.
Today there is still a huge following for the traditional tweedy look, although the cloth is often much lighter and less scratchy than in Victorian days. It can also be enhanced with modern technology, such as breathable Gore-Tex linings.
The British countrywear specialist Barbour, famous for its oiled coats, has a Sporting range specially designed for field sports, which is high on technical innovation. The Italian gun maker Beretta has a predictably stylish collection of sporting clothes built around a layering system to suit every climatic condition. From Germany, Schöeffel is another technical brand that is highly regarded by serious countrymen and women.
There are, of course, different kinds of shooting, from relatively comfortable clay pigeon shoots, to static game shoots out in the field, to rough or walked-up shooting, which involves tramping over the countryside in pursuit of the quarry. Then there is also the changeable British climate to consider. As American humourist Woody Allen famously remarked: ‘I love the British weather. You can enjoy all four seasons in one day.’
For inexperienced shooting party guests, the best option is to seek expert opinion. Gun makers such as Holland & Holland and Purdey offer a complete range of sporting clothes and accessories for both sexes.
William Asprey, owner of luxury goods business William & Son, is an enthusiast for shooting and country sports generally and the company offers items ranging from a matching tweed suit of jacket, breeks (trousers that are cropped to below the knee) and/or conventional trousers to a more simple tweed field coat, which is a large, roomy jacket, coupled with canvas breeks.
A shoot is an excellent excuse for women to dress up, adds Mark Blundell from William & Son: ‘One of our pieces is a double-breasted tweed suit, perfect for a lady who likes to shoot or would like to only accompany her husband in the field. This is an outfit encompassing the practical and comfort aspects, with a slim, fashionable silhouette. In addition, we do offer a variety of matching tweeds, in jackets, field coats, breeks and skirts.’
At St James’s gunmakers William Evans, Eddy Tyrwhitt-Drake points out that, apart from skirts, popular outfits for men and women are rather similar. ‘Wearing a jacket or field coat with breeks and long socks is a very unisex look,’ he says.
‘The primary consideration is to keep warm and dry. If the weather is going to be changeable, you need to be dressed in layers that you can put on and take off as the weather demands. This is why knitwear – with or without sleeves – and waistcoats are so popular for shooting outfits. There are many options to consider, but one obvious thing to avoid is turning up for a shoot in a regular sports jacket. They are not meant for shooting.’
On the shoot you do not want to be seen by your quarry, so bright colours and white shirts are out. Shirts should be in shades such as green or fawn, plain or on country checks, and worn with a neat wool tie. Muted colours of the countryside are preferred – sporting clothes are, in fact, stylish examples of camouflage. A flat cap is a must; not only does it keep the head warm and dry, it also hides your face from the birds you might be trying to shoot and shields it from the falling debris of a clay pigeon.
For anyone bitten by the shooting bug, having a bespoke outfit tailored is an option and the tailors of Savile Row have great experience in the peculiarities of sporting clothes.
Fred Nieddu, cutter at Meyer & Mortimer in Sackville Street, has several recommendations for a shooting jacket. ‘We would suggest using an 18oz tweed. The jacket should have an “action back”, with a centre back pleat or, better still, pleats on each shoulder. We find these work best as they allow for more movement when pulling your gun during the shoot.
‘Inside the jacket’s construction you could have a Phitwell back, which involves attaching each side of the lining to the shoulder pleats and connecting them with elasticated cord, which ties up much like a shoe lace. This method of lining allows the back pleats to return to the exact position intended after your pull and allows for more movement across the back and shoulders. We would advocate including storm cuffs, which are elasticated panels sewn into the bottom end of the sleeve to keep the wind out, and a storm collar to keep out the chills.
‘Roomy bellows pockets are another popular addition with a button above so they can be left open to allow easy access to the cartridges. And, to carry off the kill, we would suggest adding one or two hare interior pockets, or a ‘skirt pocket’ that runs right round the interior of the jacket. We would line both in Ventile, a British waterproof cotton cloth.’
Norton & Sons on Savile Row was founded in 1821 and made its reputation as sporting tailors. King Juan Carlos of Spain, the Duke of Edinburgh and George Bush Senior and Junior are all recent clients of the firm.
Director Patrick Grant says it is not unknown for keen shots to order a seven-piece outfit in matching tweed. ‘Three-piece suits of a jacket, waistcoat and breeks are standard for shoots, but you can also add a shooting vest, which is a jacket-length sleeveless gilet that can be worn instead of the jacket and waistcoat. Then there’s the field coat to wear over the suit. A cap in the same tweed looks smart and clients are increasingly ordering long trousers as well as breeks so they can wear their suit after the shoot. One school of thought doesn’t like all the tweeds to match, but I think it looks smarter.’
As well as gloves or mittens to keep your hands as warm and dry as possible, essential to the shooting-party outfit look are chunky knitted stockings or socks, secured with garters. These allow a flash of colour at the leg and are often produced by specialist makers such as Wendy Keith or House of Cheviot.
The most reliable footwear choice is good old wellingtons, with Hunter, Le Chameau and Aigle all popular brands. If the going is not too wet, stout country brogues or hiking boots from specialists such as Meindl are ideal, but please note they should be brown, not black. Even footwear must blend in.
One handy hint from keen shot Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson, owner of bespoke footwear maker Foster & Co on Jermyn Street, is to have a pair of good brogues ready to change into when you get back from the shoot for lunch or drinks. Your wellingtons or boots should be left at the door.