I once walked into Cabela’s and asked for a tweed jacket and a pair of breeks. The salesperson gave me a puzzled look. They had neither. Instead, they had rows and rows of camouflage, racks of mass-manufactured guns and a man standing in front of me with one hand holding up a fishing rod and the other down the back of his trousers searching for what I can only assume was gold.
While most men in the U.S. think of hunting as a sport for hooligans driving oversized pickup trucks and drinking cheap beer, few remember it was once a gentlemanly sport and in the British countryside, remains that way today.
Despite what you may have heard, camo is not a prerequisite of hunting. Will it increase your chances of successfully nabbing your prey? Possibly. But let’s not forget that for the thousands of men who don tweed coats and a tie with their gundog beside them, finishing a successful hunt has been a longstanding tradition in country attire. And today, much of it remains the tradition for the most dapper shooters visiting Britain’s vast and exquisite countryside estates.
History of Recreational Hunting
Traditionally, the benefit of owning property meant the right to hunt and rather than living on someone else’s land, the noblest of men would seek out their own estates. Hunting has, for the most part, been a recreational sport since Assyrian kings hunted lions from their chariots. As Royals, they believed any land within their kingdom was their entitled property, and so hunting was also a way for the nobility to demonstrate dominance over their people. As the game moved away from inhabited lands, forests became known as hunting reserves, and Royals would mount their steeds and with a hound beside them, tread into the reserve. As the 12th century came about, gamekeepers were charged with monitoring the big game population in the forests and smaller game in the warrens. Despite hunting being a sport enjoyed by all demographics, England decided to regulate it due to the dwindling numbers of wildlife and those without a status of nobility were no longer hunting, but poaching and, therefore, subject to severe punishment by the courts. It became a stylized pastime of the aristocracy and an arena for fellowship as well as military training. Hunting was no longer a right, but a privilege and measurement of one’s class.
Fast forward a few centuries and just as formalwear dwindled from white tie to black, so did the legislation regarding who could hunt. No longer was it reserved for men of nobility, but now, hunting was open to everyone, yet still a sport respected by and participated in by the noble class.
Today, hunting is enjoyed by men and women from all backgrounds. While there are certainly some connotations of social structure within groups of hunters, it is a pastime treasured by many and one that is growing in popularity around the world.
A Change in Attire
During the Edwardian and Victorian eras, country clothing was the attire of choice for those living in and visiting the British countryside. Today, in much of Britain it remains the same. However, trends have sparked in North America where most hunters have adopted a far more casual wardrobe comprised of camouflage and war paint.
It began simply because experts believed that by disguising yourself into the environment, you would be less likely to spook your prey and, therefore, enjoy a far more successful hunt. Adopting patterns and colors from various military units, men began painting their faces with war paint and donning ghillie suits to blend in with their surroundings. As years passed most men living in North America started to associate this attire as a uniform of sorts and for the few gentlemen left who enjoy dressing for the shoot, it’s become difficult to find proper shooting attire and even harder to convince fellow enthusiasts that you’re going hunting and not attending a wedding.
I am often shocked by how many people I meet who don’t believe me when I tell them that a tweed jacket, a tie and a pair of breeks are traditional hunting apparel. In fact, to prove this, I stood outside a local hunting store and asked men and women how they would react if a friend showed up in a jacket and tie to go hunting. The answers ranged from laughter to shock and surprise that men actually dressed like that. One woman, however, remembered seeing similar apparel in an episode of Downton Abbey. I won’t repeat what her husband said.
Unfortunately for the dapper gentleman, shooting apparel has dwindled in the same sense that men stopped wearing slacks and blazers in the 50s and 60s and reverted to sweatpants and hoodies as being the socially acceptable attire for a day out. However, there is a contingent of us still who enjoy dressing for the event, and there’s no reason we can’t wear traditional country attire for a day of shooting. Any man who claims you won’t have a successful hunt should be reminded that camo has been used for just a few decades whereas men have been successfully hunting in elegant attire since the Romans.
Standard Country Dress
The most important thing to remember when dressing for a day of shooting is to layer based on the weather and the season. Wearing bulky coats is a hindrance, but a proper outfit for hunting will be easy to move in, comfortable to shoot with and will keep you warm and toasty in even the most inclement weather.
Long Shooting Stockings
Most shooting socks are long, come in various attractive patterns and a multitude of colors. They are usually made of wool with a little nylon for reinforcement. To prevent them from falling, it is highly recommended that you wear garters with your socks to help keep the seam between them and your breeks weathertight. Click here to get a pair of basic shooting socks.
Also known as Plus Two’s and Plus Four’s, breeks – or breeches as they are sometimes called in the US – are trousers cut with either two or four inches of fabric beneath the knee. A proper pair of breeks will be made from weather resistant and warm British tweed and will either match your waistcoat and jacket or be stark in contrast. They are usually adjustable at the side and calfs and can be used in all sorts of outdoor activities such as a hike, a game of golf or a leisurely stroll with loved ones. Click here to get a set of Musto breeks.
There are many different shooting shirts available, but most come in a check pattern such as a tattersall or a gingham. Although they look identical to most dress shirts, it’s important to wear proper shoot shirts as they are thinner, longer and are made to allow free movement when shooting. A traditional dress shirt will limit your range of motion, and you may also find that it comes repeatedly untucked as you draw. Often made from a blend of cotton and wool, these shirts are warmer and slightly heartier than most dress shirts.
The standard method of keeping one’s trousers up when hunting is to wear a pair of braces (or suspenders). The ones sold by proper shooting purveyors are typically made from box cloth and are far sturdier than other braces you might own. Despite their heft, they are still far more elegant than the contemporary hunting suspenders worn by most today.
The neck tie is a standard accessory worn by gentleman during a hunt. Held down by the waistcoat and often pushed up with a collar pin, they are usually made of wool rather than silk to withstand the weather and often come in bright colors or with hunting-related prints such as running hares, birds, or hounds. Click here to find the perfect Fort Belvedere necktie for shooting.
The second layer of clothing is always worn in addition to the base layer, regardless of weather.
Wellington Boots or Brogues
Wellington boots are the standard while hunting, but recently men have begun to wear brogues as well. The benefit of the boots is that they are made to withstand water and mud. Even if you hunt while mounted on a horse or from a dry hunting reserve, the risk of having to trudge through wetlands is all-too-normal in the world of hunting. Like a Boy Scout, it’s best to be properly prepared, and a good pair of wellies will get you where you want to go and back again. Save the brogues for the lodge. Click here to buy a pair of traditional Wellington boots from Hunter.
Today, unless you’re a member of the royal family, odds are you’ll load your own ammunition and not have a loader assigned to you during the shoot. The best waistcoats to wear for a warm-weather shoot are actual shooting waistcoats with large, baggy pockets for cartridges and built-in shoulder pads to protect the fabric from wearing out and your shoulder from the butt of the gun. In cooler weather, a warm wool waistcoat that’s sleeveless is ideal. The lack of sleeves is to allow a far greater range of motion, so your sleeves don’t bulk up as you draw, aim and fire. Since you’ll be wearing a jacket or coat, you won’t have to stop and pull your sleeves down after each shot.
Tweed Jacket or Field Coat
In warmer weather, classic country attire calls for a three-button, single breasted jacket made from tweed. In most cases it will feature a notch lapel. However, some men have opted to wear peak lapels as a bold sign that their jacket is bespoke. Unfortunately, some experts argue that the larger peak lapel can impact the quality of the shoot if it interferes with the butt of the gun. For colder weather, a proper coat is ideal. There are many different ones to choose from such as the quintessential covert coat, the Norfolk jacket and the hacking jacket featuring larger pockets that are ideal for carrying ammunition.
A gentleman’s hat is a traditional accessory in Britain. Historically, men would never leave home without one, and the hat worn often identified a man by his class. This is no more apparent than in the hit television show Downton Abbey. If you’re a fan, you’ll notice that the nobility will wear a homburg or top hat with formal wear whereas the staff will usually wear a bowler instead. Just as these hats were worn in society, caps were worn by men during a hunt.
The most common cap was the flat cap which should be snug and worn front facing to protect your eyes from the sun. Another option that became quite popular in the 1920s and onward is the fedora and even the trilby. However, the classic choice is always the flat cap which is usually made of tweed. Click here to get a tweed cap.
There are a few basic accessories many men choose to wear during a shoot:
From a style standpoint, a gentleman should never wear a coat without a scarf. Adding a scarf is what finishes the outfit, and while it’s certainly not a requirement, it is another way to add some sprezzatura to what can sometimes be considered a rather bland outfit. Not only will a scarf keep you warm, but it adds an element of sophistication and allows you to showcase your flair for style. Click here to find the perfect scarf for a day of shooting.
Shooting gloves are almost mandatory. Cold fingers can be dangerous to your health as well as impact the quality of the shoot. Traditionally, the gloves worn would be a relatively formal lined leather glove made from deerskin or capeskin, thin enough that one could still pull the trigger.
Cufflinks remain another way of showcasing some style in an otherwise restrained outfit. This is a perfect time to pull out your novelty cufflinks and put on the dog or horse-shaped ones. It’s great to be creative, but you also want to make sure it doesn’t come across as gaudy. Click here for a set of novelty sterling cufflinks.
For the record, we do not suggest consuming alcohol when handling firearms. However, for those who do enjoy a drink during the shoot, pulling out a flask is far more elegant than simply grabbing a bottle of beer. Whether it be a leather-wrapped flask or a metal one, you can find them on sale starting at just a few dollars and upwards of hundreds. Click here to get an inexpensive leather-wrapped flask.
Hunting Outfitters and Merchants
A few brands specialize in shooting attire and proper country wear, and we listed some of them below in random order.
Cordings of Piccadilly
“Without question Cordings is the complete outfitter, you have everything under one roof.” – Duke of Wellington, Customer.
Our top pick for country attire, Cordings is known as the preeminent purveyor for the discerning gentleman. They sell everything you could possibly need to outfit yourself for a shoot, minus the guns and ammunition.
A more contemporary version of the traditional country attire, Musto is another high-quality merchant supplying hunting apparel to the distinguished shooter. Click here for their website.
Hunter makes some of the finest Wellington boots on the market and is the only brand of boots recognized by Cordings of Piccadilly. If you’re looking for a top drawer boot that can take a beating, Hunter’s should be your top pick. Click here to buy a pair of classic Hunter welly boots or click here to visit their website.
Horse Country Carrot
Sometimes, for those in North America, the thought of spending thousands on British apparel and then having to pay duty at Customs is too much to bear. For those in the United States, there is this merchant in Virginia that sells tweed country clothing. You may not find everything you’re looking for, but you’ll certainly find some of it. Click here to visit their website.
Another traditional outfitter, Dubarry is an Irish merchant with a US presence online. With a more contemporary appeal, Dubarry carries clothing for the entire family and specializes in women’s apparel. Click here to visit their website.
Far more casual and modern, Härkila is perfect for those men who want to fit in with their friends who wear camo but still look better than the bunch. Rather than being the odd man out in tweed who never gets invited back, consider this brand a stepping stone if you’ll looking for a more elegant outfit. Click here to see their website.
Another very contemporary brand, the big selling point with this German merchant is that they are recognized by Cordings and even sold in their stores. It’s another ideal stepping stone into traditional British country attire. Click here to shop for their products.
House of Bruar
If Schöffel is casual wear and Cordings is business attire, the House of Bruar is business casual. A renowned retailer of countryside attire, Bruar is another top pick when you’re looking for something slightly more modern and yet still refined. Click here to find their website.
This Scottish boot maker is renowned for their leather Wellington boots. They offer a fairly wide range and are often considered a more formal boot than what’s produced by Hunter. Click here for their website.
Known as the first anti-fatigue Wellington style boot, Parcours makes their boots with comfort in mind. They claim that after a full day trudging through the forest, your feet won’t be tired or sore. We haven’t tested this, but they have developed a superb reputation. Click here to see their site.
The Belgium clothier is best known for their rainwear and casual shooting attire. They have developed a stellar reputation for shooting in wet conditions, so it’s wise to consider them if you’re in need of some extra rain gear. Click here for the official website.
Another top boot merchant from France, Le Chameau offers handmade, reinforced, water-resistant Wellington-style rain boots made for shooting. The best part is that they’re quite inexpensive. Click here to visit their website.
Woodcock & Snipe
Another classic sporting purveyor, Woodcock & Snipe manufacture the most traditional hunting attire for the British countryside. Offering a similar selection as Cordings, they are slightly less known which means they also tend to be a little less expensive. Click here for their website.
Don’t allow the clothing you wear to be dictated by trends and friends. If you allowed that in other parts of your life, you would be wearing sports jerseys and sunglasses at night. There is no reason one cannot dress elegantly for what was once considered the noblest of sports. Chances are if your hunting friends poke fun at you, they’ll stop quickly when their girlfriends and wives start complimenting your attire later that night.
What do you wear to go hunting? Would you like to see more articles on shooting in the future?