The ‘amazing’ horse costumes of South Ronaldsay inspire the catwalk collection

Image Copyright
Doug Houghton Orkney / Alamy Stock Photo


The girls have participated in the Horse Festival since the 1950s.

An island tradition where girls dress like horses in elaborate costumes has inspired the latest collection of an emerging fashion designer.

Charles Jeffrey has taken elements of the sets that are used in South Ronaldsay, Orkney, and translated them for the catwalk.

He said he was immediately inspired when a friend showed him photos of children dressed for the South Ronaldsay Festival of the Horse and Boys’ Plowing Match.

During the event, the children of the island compete with miniature plows.

They are judged to plow straight and even furrows on a piece of beach at Sands o ‘Wright.

Costume of the Horse Festival and design by Charles JeffreyImage Copyright
Alamy / Charles Jeffrey


Orkney sets inspired the latest designs by Charles Jeffrey

Meanwhile, the girls parade in costumes inspired by the decorations used by heavy horses in the ring.

Some of their outfits are spectacular, with decorations of neck, hat, belt and feet. A tail can be attached to the jacket and sew pom poms or fringes on the cuffs.

Charles Jeffrey, the designer behind the Loverboy label, said he remembered vividly the first time he saw images of the suits.

“I thought: ‘This is literally incredible. I can’t believe it’s Scottish. It seems almost African. Or Norwegian.”

Design by Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOYImage Copyright
Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY

Charles Jeffrey designImage Copyright
Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY


The clothing was shown as part of the Fall 2020 collection by Charles Jeffrey at the beginning of the year

He told BBC Radio Orkney that he investigated the event because he wanted to incorporate as many elements of Scottish culture as possible into his latest collection.

He was presented in London earlier this month, and some critics described him as his “most accomplished” work so far.

Charles, originally from Cumbernauld, moved to London as a teenager to study at Central Saint Martins College. His Loverboy label emerged from the city club scene, and his work has seen comparisons with Alexander McQueen.

Charles said the costumes worn during the festival in South Ronaldsay were “visually rich.”

Horse Festival CostumesImage Copyright
Doug Houghton / Alamy Stock Photo

Blank presentation

He added: “That inspired me immediately, and then I began to think about how they could translate into pieces that we could put on a catwalk.

“I was very attracted to the idea of ​​replicating the embroidery, but trying to use it in a way that works for us.

“I am also an illustrator, so I made some of my own motives and then presented them in the same aspects you would find in the costumes of the Horse Festival.”

He said that the main inspiration for his collection was the theme of giving back to nature and honoring the agricultural tradition.

The history of the South Ronaldsay Festival of the Horse and Boys’ Plowing Match dates back at least two centuries ago.

Plowing matchImage Copyright
Horse festival


Children are judged by straight grooves in the sand

Girls have been able to participate since the 1950s and wear handmade costumes that have been transmitted from previous generations.

Moira Budge, from South Ronaldsay, is on the committee that runs the event.

She said she could clearly see elements of traditional designs incorporated into the cutting-edge collection of the label.

“In one of his designs he has a hoodie and he put ears on it, which is like some of the outfits that have small ears for horses,” he said.

“He has had feathers on some of the shoes. Braid and chains, obviously, because the horse has a bridle.

“And the dress with a big heart in the front, because the horse wore a pretty elaborate decoration on his breastplate.”

The horse and children plow festival is held every August.

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