Designer Diaries – Spanish Ronda Rider Suits

Thank you to Baguette Iselen for this fascinating insight into an ensemble we’ve often seen but many of us knew nothing about!

This is Victoria Federica, daughter of infanta Elena, visiting the April’s Fair in Seville yesterday. The pictures were taken by Jesús Isnard, famous fashion photographer in Spain.

She’s wearing the Ronda rider suit with “calañés” hat. I know it means nothing to you but Spaniards understand them well. There are several types of riding suits for men and women in our country but all of them are similar and called “short costume” because, whether you wear trousers or culottes (divided skirt), they’re ankle length to make it easier to ride a horse. There was a time when showing your ankles was a bold movement for women and these costumes were their opportunity to show off their calves a little. Boots are always from Valverde del Camino, like the ones the Duchess of Cambridge has. 

Victoria Frederica

The jacket is always short, not as short as a bolero though, with a matching vest and white shirt. Victoria’s is made of burgundy velvet with an embellishment of black sequins. Less fancy costumes are made with black velvet trim. The sash around the waist matches and is used to protect the rider’s lower back because riding a horse for a long time makes your kidneys hurt. 

These suits are very common, worn every day, they’re not for special occasions. Riders in Spain only wear those white breeches and black jackets you all know when they attend competitions like Olympic Games. But if they’re training, or they’re landowners or live in a farm, or go hunting or whatever, they’d wear these short costumes that everybody has worn since the 18th century.

Victoria Frederica

The fanciest “over the top” version of the short costume is the bullfighter costume because this is the origin of all traditional costumes in Spain. While women wear the “Goyesca dress”, their male partners wear short costume.

I told you Goyesca suit is not for fancy dress parties, it’s a real traditional dress in Spain like a Norwegian bunad. It’s common and we all wear it at least once or twice in our lives. This is why Letizia chose it for her bridesmaids and Infanta Elena chose it to attend the 2010 Swedish wedding. It’s related to bullfighters’ costume because all these suits have the same origin.  (Hofdame Note: We truly appreciate Elena’s appearance at that wedding!)

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Below is Queen Victoria Eugenia visiting the April’s Fair the 1st of April 1923, Her great-granddaughter is doing the same 99 years later. It’s not exclusively a royal thing, everybody going to the fair wears a traditional costume, but it was a funny coincidence and Spanish media are thrilled with this news. However, Ena is wearing the Cordobés short costume or Campero costume (suitable to go to the countryside, “campo” in Spanish), not the Ronda one, the hat is different and it has less passementerie but the cut is similar and always in dark colors: grey, brown, burgundy.

Queen Ena 1923, Victoria Frederica 2022

The Countess of Barcelona, Juan Carlos’ mother, was one of the best horse riders in Spain. I’ve found two pictures taken in Portugal in 1946 and 1947. She’s not wearing the short costume because she wasn’t in Spain, but she used to wear it. Seville City wanted to pay homage to the late Countess who adored the city. They commissioned a statue of the lady riding a horse and wearing the Campero short costume. 

Here is another picture of Queen Ena riding a horse in 1930 and a picture from 24th April 1920. The Queen was invited by Miura family to their country house in Seville. She’s wearing white, the lady with the umbrella next to her is the Duchess of Santoña. The guy with a hat standing between them is wearing a short costume because he was riding a horse that day. He is William Marconi, the wireless telegraph inventor and winner of the Noble Prize in Physics in 1909. The lady riding the horse is Madame Miura, and you can’t see her but 94 years old Empress Eugenie of France was there too, escorted by the Duke of Alba. 

While we are talking about the Empress, the portrait of the woman riding a horse is Eugenie of Montijo in 1849. She’s wearing the same ronda costume Victoria was wearing yesterday, only the skirt wasn’t short. I guess the lady didn’t want to show her ankles, but the hat, shirt, sash, and short jacket are the same. 

Below the Duchess of Alba is shown wearing the same Ronda costume plus the leather “zahones”. You call them chaps in English. They protect the trouser when there’s mud on the road. And yes, the lady wearing a short costume with a red jacket is Jackie Kennedy Onassis in 1966. She was friends with the late duchess. 

I hope you enjoyed learning about the ronda!