Style Guides

How to Buy a Shadbelly: Size, Fit, and Style Guide

How to Buy a Shadbelly: Size, Fit, and Style Guide

As an equestrian, you understand the importance of presenting yourself with grace, poise, and impeccable style in the arena. When it comes to formal equestrian events, few pieces of attire embody elegance and tradition quite like a shadbelly coat. With its distinctive longtails and refined design, the shadbelly coat has become synonymous with dressage competitions and prestigious hunter events.

If you’re considering investing in a shadbelly coat or upgrading your existing one, read on. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know to make an informed purchase. From understanding the key features and styles to determining the right fit and materials, we’ll provide you with the essential knowledge to find the perfect shadbelly coat that seamlessly blends comfort, functionality, and timeless sophistication.

What is a Shadbelly?

A shadbelly is a type of formal riding coat traditionally worn in equestrian disciplines such as dressage, hunter-jumper events, and certain fox hunting events. Shadbellies are characterized by their unique design, which includes long, fitted tails that extend below the rider’s waistline. These tails are intended to lay across the back of the hose while the rider is mounted. The front of the coat is typically shorter, ending around the waist or slightly below it.

Shadbellies are made from high-quality fabrics such as wool, wool blends, Italian jersey, or even mesh and are designed to be both functional and elegant. They often feature a double-breasted design with decorative buttons, a shawl collar, and weighted tails to ensure they hang properly. The coat is tailored to fit closely to the rider’s body, creating a streamlined and polished appearance.

Why is it Called a Shadbelly?

The term “shadbelly” doesn’t have a definitive origin, though there are a few theories circulating in the equestrian world.

For some, the term “shadbelly” is believed to have originated from the similarity of the coat’s long, flared tails to the shape of a shad fish. The shad fish is a type of herring-like fish that has a distinctively long and tapering body with a distinct tail. The resemblance between the coat’s tails and the fish’s shape likely inspired the name “shadbelly.”

Other theories suggest that the name referred to the individuals who wore shadbellies, particularly American Quakers who adopted the coat style from the English. Particularly heavy-set Quakers were thought to resemble the shad fish when wearing this riding coat and were themselves referred to as “shadbellies” on occasion.

When to Wear a Shadbelly

Shadbelly coats are primarily worn during dressage as well as formal hunter-jumper and fox hunting events.

In dressage competitions, riders are often required to wear formal attire, and the shadbelly coat is the traditional and customary choice for higher-level events. The elegant and formal appearance of the shadbelly adds to the overall presentation and aesthetics of dressage and marks more distinguished riders. In hunter-jumper and fox hunting events, shadbellies tend to be worn more for special hunter events, such as a Hunter Derby.

How Should a Shadbelly Fit

A shadbelly coat should fit snugly while allowing for ease of movement and a polished appearance. Here are some guidelines for the proper fit of a shadbelly.


The shadbelly should have a close fit across your shoulders and upper arms without restricting your movement. The seams at the shoulders should align with your natural shoulder line.

Waist and Torso

The coat should taper in at your waist to create a fitted silhouette. It should follow the natural contours of your body without extreme stretching or bunching. The front of the shadbelly should end right around your beltline. It’s common to see the bottom of your vest sticking out from underneath the coat, or shadbelly points may be worn, which should extend past the top of your belt.

Sleeve Length

The sleeves should reach just past your wristbone when your arms are relaxed at your sides. About ¼”-½” of your show shirt sleeve should be showing.


The tails of the shadbelly should extend well below your waistline, with the tails brushing the back of your knees. The tails of dressage shadbellies tend to be weighted to ensure they hang properly and do not flap or ride up during movement, while the tails of hunter shadbellies tend to be made of fabric only so they catch the wind while riding.


When buttoned, the coat should lie smoothly across your front without any pulling or bunching. The buttons should be fastened securely, but not excessively tight.

It’s important to note that the fit of a shadbelly coat may vary slightly depending on personal preference and individual body proportions. Professional tailoring or fitting services can assist in achieving the most flattering and comfortable fit for your specific measurements and body shape.

How to Measure Yourself for a Shadbelly

When shopping for a shadbelly, you’ll want to take precise measurements so you know generally what size to look for. Here’s how to take your measurements for a shadbelly coat.

  1. Measure your shoulders. Measure across your shoulders, from the end of one shoulder bone to the other.
  2. Measure your chest/bust. Using a tape measure, measure around the fullest part of your chest while wearing your show shirt and anything else that you plan to wear with the shadbelly. Make sure that the tape measure is snug but not tight–account for your breathing when taking this measurement.
  3. Measure your waist. Measure around the narrowest part of your waist. When you bend to the side, the deepest wrinkle is your natural waistline.
  4. Measure your hips. Measure around the fullest part of your hips, typically around your hip bone.
  5. Measure your sleeve length. Start at the shoulder seam and measure down to the end of your wrist, passing over the point of your elbow. This will give you your sleeve length.
  6. Measure your back. Measure from the base of your neck down to the backs of your knees where the shadbelly tails should end.

Shadbelly Size Charts

You can reference these size charts when shopping for a shadbelly coat. 

Women's Coats
US Coat Size Canadian Size Bust (inches) Waist (inches)
00 6 30-31 24 ½ – 25 ½
0 8 32-33 26-27
2 10 34-35 28-29
4 12 35-36 28-29
6 14 36-37 29-30
8 16 37-38 30-32
10 18 38-39 32-33
12 20 39-40 33-34
14 22 40-41 34-35
16 24 42-43 35-36
Length Height
Short Under 5’4”
Regular 5’4” to 5’7”
Long 5’7” and above

 *Variances between lengths are approximately 1/2" in the sleeves & 1" in overall length

Girls' Coats
Coat Size Chest (inches) Waist (inches)
2 20 ½ 20
4 22  ½ 21
6 24 ½ 22
8 27 23
10 28 ½ 24
12 30 25
14 31 ½ 26
16 33 27
18 34  ½ 28
20 (Women’s S) 36 29

  *Variances between lengths are approximately 1/2" in the sleeves & 1" in overall length 

What to Look for in a Shadbelly

A shadbelly is typically worn at distinguished competitions, which is why you should keep an eye out for certain performance features when shopping for one.

Thermal Regulation

Whether competing in the middle of spring, the height of summer, or late autumn, keeping your body temperature at optimum levels is key to giving it your all. Look for shadbelly coats that are designed with thermoregulation technology that aims to keep your body temperature balanced for peak athletic performance.

Shop Bailey 37.5 Grey Label Shadbelly →

Premium Materials

High-quality materials look good and feel good–and they’re also designed to last a long time without showing wear and tear. Italian Jersey, for example, is a fantastic shadbelly material because it is resistant to pilling and wrinkling, making it the perfect material when traveling long distances for competitions. Premium materials also stretch with you and allow for a comfortable unstructured silhouette.

Shop Oakland Orange Label Shadbelly →

Sun Protection

Riders should always reach for the sunscreen when competing, but equestrian clothing with UPF protection can provide even more coverage from harmful UV rays. Though you can find show shirts with strong UPF protection, consider a shadbelly that has sun protection as well to keep you protected from sunburn.

Mesh Paneling

Riders wear a lot of layers with a shadbelly coat. In the warmer months, especially when jackets aren’t waived, things can heat up pretty quickly. Shadbelly coats with mesh paneling can be lifesavers in the arena, allowing for maximum airflow and breathability where a regular shadbelly wouldn’t. For the summer, consider wearing a shadbelly with mesh paneling to help keep you cool while you ride.

Shop Rhapsody Mesh Shadbelly →

What to Wear With a Shadbelly

Shadbellies are worn in formal settings where adherence to a specific dress code is mandatory. Here are some common articles of equestrian clothing worn with a shadbelly.

Show Shirt

Riders should wear a white show shirt underneath their shadbelly coat. The show shirt can be either long or short-sleeved depending on the weather but it must always be tucked into your breeches.

Vest or Shadbelly Points

A vest or shadbelly points should also be worn with a shadbelly. A canary yellow vest is the most formal option, though tattersall or plaid vests or points may be worn as well in certain situations. Shadbelly points mimic the bottom of a vest so that a full vest is not needed. Today, many shadbellies come with points already attached, but they can be swapped or removed depending on your personal style.

Stock Tie

Riders are also expected to wear white stock ties or choker-style stock ties when wearing a shadbelly. A tie pin should also be worn horizontally on the tie to hold it in place.

Learn more: How to Tie a Stock Tie (Step-by-step Guide and Video)


Tan or white breeches are standard to wear with a shadbelly. The light-colored breeches make the dramatic silhouette of the shadbelly that much more apparent.

Equestrian Elegance at Its Finest

With a shadbelly from R.J. Classics, you’re sure to make a statement in the show ring or competition arena. Our shadbellies are made of the finest materials and blend comfort and style to create a superior silhouette. No matter your discipline, you’ll ride with elegance and poise while wearing a shadbelly from R.J. Classics.

Shop shadbellies from R.J. Classics →


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