If you have ever watched a dog show on TV and have any sort of fashion sense, I’m sure you have asked yourself why all the female handlers look so dowdy in their ill fitting skirt suits.

I had the same reaction, until I started showing my dog and realized that the perfect outfit for me to wear in the ring would be (drum roll) a navy skirt suit. To really understand why, you need to understand the constraints handlers are working under.

Constraints

  1. You need to look professional. This is a serious business for breeders and professional handlers, and you need to respect that. You need to be wearing something that you could wear to the office.
  2. You need to not outshine your dog. The goal in the ring is to have the judge look at your dog for as long as possible. You have about two minutes of their attention at the most – you want them to spend that time looking not at your dog, not at you. The best handlers, like the best user interfaces, disappear.
  3. You need to compliment your dog’s traits with your clothing. For example, my Australian Shepherd has a merle, or patterned, coat. If I wear a patterned outfit, it could result in a visual mess for the judge. I try to wear a solid outfit in a color that contrasts her markings.
  4. Your dog’s size affects your hemline choices. In general, a larger dog allows your to wear fuller skirts or pants. Again, you want the judge looking at the dog and its movement, not your flowy skirt as you run around the ring. And of course, you can’t go too short, because you will be bending over and often crouching or kneeling in the ring to show your dog.
  5. You need to wear comfortable flats that you can run in. The feedback I get most often is that I need to run faster with Samba to better show off her gait. Wearing any kind of heel would be a good way for me to break an ankle.
  6. You need pockets. You have to take bait, or dog treats, into the ring with you to coax the dog into the posture and expression that the judges are looking for, and you need some way to carry it. A suit jacket has easily accessible pockets, and I suspect that this is the real reason they are so popular in the ring. Some women keep their bait tucked behind the number worn on their left arm, or in their bra. Neither of these is comfortable for me. It is possible to wear a bait bag pinned to your outfit in the ring, but this can be distracting and doesn’t look as clean. Some women add their own pockets to clothes the purchase that don’t have them, but it is obviously much easier to stick to outfits that come with pockets. It is surprisingly hard to find appropriate dresses with pockets.
  7. You are going to get dirty. You are showing a dog, after all. They have hair, may jump up on you, or drool. You will be carrying around stinky bait, such as chicken liver or beef lung. You may be kneeling on the floor or in the grass. It is pretty hard to justify paying hundreds of dollars for designer clothes that will be treated this way.

So, fashionistas of the world, here is your challenge: find me something appropriate and fashionable to wear in the ring. I think this would be an excellent challenge for Project Runway, by the way. They could hook up with handlers that go to Westminster, make them outfits for the ring, and have a combined dog/runway show. Not the making outfits for the dogs challenges they have done, but solving a real fashion challenge.