Question of the Week
Margaret P. Kotin
Appearing in a dog-show ring is similar to going to work – I would expect that exhibitors not show up in the clothes in which they clean their kennels or run their dogs around the neighborhood. It is an exhibition above all else. If I want my dogs to look the best they can, then I should at least look as nice as I can.
San Antonio, Texas
I think it is more than appropriate to relax dress codes during this time. A mask on your face and a tourniquet around your neck is nothing more than foolhardy.
I think this trend is wonderful. All other registries are casual compared to AKC. Let’s hope it catches on.
Moon Township, Pennsylvania
I am a professional. I was a professional handler even back in the day when AKC and Mr. Brumby were in charge. Judges and professional handlers must consider that dog shows are their offices, and it is an honor to respect our wonderful way of life and dress accordingly. It is not the grocery store.
Pike Road, Alabama
I am traditional. An occasional announced “casual attire” day is OK, and I don’t expect men to wear coats and ties in very hot weather, but I see no reason for us to go “all casual” because of COVID and wearing masks. Dressing nicely doesn’t make the dogs any better, but it does honor our sport.
Whittier, North Carolina
Exhibitors should dress as well as the judges. In days of yore when it was 100 degrees in the shade, men handlers NEVER took off their jackets until the judge did.
Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts
The trend to more casual attire is a partial reaction to the COVID restrictions. People are going less to dry cleaners, not buying newclothes – and since many that show are “on the line” for even longer days than previously – with more restrictions and LESS help (in the case of pro handlers). Even owners who might have assisted with transporting (within the grounds) or holding dogs are no longer available. I do not want to see a degradation to jeans or shorts, but a little relaxation is not necessarily a bad thing. I think of it as business casual.
As for foot attire, safety is paramount. If sneakers keep one safe, so be it. Almost everyone has seen a handler go SPLAT in the ring. The risk to life and limb must be a priority – and the days of heels and gloves is long past. I do, however, draw the line at flip-flops – that is disrespectful and lazy, and adds to the danger of a disaster waiting to happen. Entering my ninth year of showing – and a senior citizen – so my perspective does not include the more formal times of a prior century.
Quite frankly, I'm glad to see it. As most of you know, I've been a proponent of a turtleneck and sport coat for the past 20-plus years. Stay safe!
Being more casual when there are no spectators is probably to be expected. However, throwing out the showiness of a SHOW is a different matter. The judge can see so much more than ringside spectators; he does not need the atmosphere as he is concentrating. The audience needs the formality/pageantry/solemnity of presentation. The attire of the exhibitor will project or destroy this. When dog shows come back fully, this should be emphasized, or the whole experience will be diminished. We are not there only for the two minutes when our own dog is being judged.
Staten Island, New York
I feel that we should bring our dogs into the show ring looking their best. Therefore we should also achieve that same look. In extreme hot weather I can understand men not wearing jackets and ties. However, women need to be aware of the length of their skirts; judges and spectators want to look at the dogs – enough said on that. I myself feel showing is a long tradition; that being the case, not a fan of women wearing pants. However, a pantsuit or a pair of slacks with a coordinated top can look appropriate. To see a woman or a man go in the ring dressed as though they had just come from a baseball game in my opinion spoils the overall appearance of what they are proudly presenting. The only comparison I can give is, you invite special friends for a dinner: Do you toss the food on a platter in a pile, or arrange it to be an inviting presentation of what you have prepared?
Acworth, New Hampshire
Well, I’m still trying to adjust to folks not wearing ties at typical business meetings or while on the floor at the state house … somehow a jacket (and a tie) is an essential. Besides, bait pouches or similar attire are a distraction – better left for a jacket pocket?
I think it's a good thing. Especially with large or fast-gaiting dogs, you can kill yourself without sneakers. The point of a dog show is the dog, not the handler. Europe is casual and their dogs don't suffer. UKC shows are casual and dogs shine. Also, as owner-handlers age, we need to dress for what time is doing to our bodies, not to impress the judge. The only exception I would make is Westminster and other "status" evening shows. Otherwise, it should be the dog the judge is focused on, not what the handler is wearing. If people want to dress up, that's their business, but don't penalize my dog in the ring if I just got off the coursing field with it, had no time to change, and am wearing jeans and low-top field boots.
I don’t have a problem with sneakers. Running around the ring and being on your feet all day requires supportive, safe footwear. However, appropriate dress attire should be maintained. Respect for the sport.
New London, New Hampshire
If this means that it will be more acceptable for women to wear pants when handling, I say this is LONG overdue. Pantsuits for office wear were popular in the 1970s. Updating the dress code to reflect what was acceptable half a century ago doesn’t seem like a radical notion.
Columbus, North Carolina
The Brits have always shown dogs in casual attire, some even at Crufts. Maybe the dog is more important than attire!
I think it is a good thing generally. Any attire needs to be appropriate, so a show at a fairgrounds in heat and humidity doesn’t need the flair of Westminster or a specialty.
I am all for more casual dress: It allows people without a lot of money to feel included. I have a friend who has very little money and she spends it on her dog, not her clothing, but I feel judges look down on her because of it. If we want to get more young people and owners into the dog-show world, clothing should not be an obstacle.
Men should still wear a coat and tie. The only exception should be extremely hot weather.
Las Vegas, Nevada
I prefer a more casual look for shows, but do not like to see ragged jeans, shorts and skirts that are too short to cover the body appropriately, and dirty tennis shoes. For women, a nice pair of slacks and a nice top or jacket is good enough. I don't wear nylons as they bother my skin, and I have ruined too many pairs over the years. It would not matter to me if women stopped wearing this type of hosiery.
I have seen judges become more casual as well, and that is fine with me. Men don't need to be in suits and ties, either. Nice slacks and a nice shirt, sport coat or vest looks good. Once again, a pair of decent but comfortable shoes is best.
Everyone really likes shows that have more casual attire listed in the premium lists, like Western and Hawaiian clothes. For shows that are "elite" like Westminster perhaps more dressy attire might be preferred since they are usually televised. I think the show committees and kennel clubs should start to suggest more casual but respectful attire more often. Why not? The workplace has become more casual over the years and now a lot more people work from home, so no need to get dressed up.
Roger S. Frey
Alden, New York
I hope that the "new normal" doesn't affect our sport more than it has to. I think that we should show respect to our judges, each other and our dogs. We expect our entries to be looking their best; so should the exhibitors.
When COVID is gone, will we go back to expecting more respectable ring attire? I fear not. Remember when teachers used to dress respectfully? Remember when you could tell nurses and doctors from the aides or janitorial staff?
We've already dumb-downed our obedience regulations. We now have some AKC titles earned by video submissions. These are slippery slopes.
I think a more casual dress is fine. Too much emphasis was put on the outfit of the handler, especially the female handler with fancy sequined suits and such. So long as it doesn't descend to ripped jeans, crop tops and spaghetti straps, casual is fine. AKC needs to help inject some fun into its shows.
Clinton Corners, New York
“Casual “ does not mean “grungy” – comfortable, neat, clean and appropriate!
Long Neck, Delaware
Some may call me "old fashioned," but I enjoy getting dressed up occasionally. I feel going casual at our dog shows will lead to joining the "slippery slope" of dress code that now seems to prevail at restaurants, concert halls, etc.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Within reason, I see nothing wrong with “business casual” attire for exhibitors and judges, particularly outdoors in hot, humid venues, and now with the expectation that masks will be worn. Golf shirts, open-necked dress shirts, blazers and khakis for men can look neat, professional and completely appropriate for a sporting event.
“Collarless” shirts suggest T-shirts and the like, which is too casual a look. And wearing nice dress shoes to judge on a dusty, dirt floor at a fairground makes me feel overdressed. Loafers or deck shoes would make more sense. I would hope people can use common sense when choosing their dog-show wardrobe, and find that happy medium, achieving a look that is comfortable and practical, yet always professional and respectful.
I prefer business casual for a majority of shows, and those that showcase dogs – specialties, Westminster – to be a bit more formal. I am not in favor of jeans and T-shirts in the ring by judges or exhibitors, unless it is for a special occasion, such as "Western" dress or "Halloween" costumes at specific shows. I like to keep our shows with some dignity and class.
I would NOT like to see more casual dress when showing in the conformation ring. Granted, there can be circumstances when gentlemen could/should loosen their ties and take off their jackets due to the heat.
Women should continue to wear skirts, dresses or dress pantsuits.
As for shoes, there are many comfortable shoes for men and women these days other than sneakers.
I believe we need to keep the "sophistication" of our sport in the conformation ring. It distinguishes this sport from others and says, "It's special!"
Interesting question. I think it is fine for more casual footwear, as sometimes the handlers are on wet grass or rough surfaces, and footwear that is comfortable and safe is very important. Personally I like to see a man in a sports coat and shirt with a collar. This is a slippery slope, as dress is more casual everywhere. The women look good in dresses and pantsuits, but sometimes the suits are too heavy for the weather, so a nice skirt and looser top is just fine. I think the dress should be comfortable, a couple of levels above what the spectators/groomers are wearing … to me, this shows respect. There is a type of dress that I call church dressing … up from errands and daily casual, what one would wear to lunch at a very nice restaurant, but the overly done two-piece suits are not needed. Think St. John …
Richard L. Reynolds
Tenafly, New Jersey
Both as a judge and as an exhibitor I wear, at the minimum, a sport jacket and tie. For judging I prefer a suit. It’s not that I like to dress up; rather it’s a sign of my respect for the venue and most of all for the exhibitors who have trusted me to evaluate their dogs. Sure, I’d like to go casual, but that would diminish my respect for the sport. Yesterday someone called me “old school.” I like that.
Castro Valley, California
As long as people are clean and neat, I don’t see a problem. It makes the show scene more accessible to more people of all income levels, which may be one way to revive the sport in the post-COVID era. There will always be “dress to impress” shows, but why not let people have a more friendly and relaxed atmosphere?
London, Ontario, Canada
I am not a big fan of casual. I think it looks much more professional when people dress smartly. Nice pantsuit with blazer for some women skirt/dress for those that are comfortable. Men: nice khakis with shirt and blazer or suit.
There are many nice shoes out there that look dressier than trainers.
Clarks are my favorite. Men should have nice polished shoes.
I was all for ditching pantyhose in the heat of our outdoor summer shows, and after an embarrassing incident wearing a wrap skirt on a breezy day, I thought a nice pants outfit made sense! COVID has cancelled all but one of my shows so far, and exhibitors were dressed appropriately there. Maybe this is a regional thing? Or people are just coming out of their pajama hibernation?
Sandy Hook, Connecticut
My thought is the more casual we get, the less serious we are. I know I am from the old school, but when I look into a ring I would like to be able to distinguish a judge from an exhibitor. A judge should be attired so as to present themselves as the official in the ring. Just saying.
In the late ’90s I was at a show where I was showing one dog in agility and one in conformation. I had hired a handler to show my conformation entry. Right before ring time, the dog balked and wanted nothing to do with the handler. So I either had to show the dog dressed as I was in sweatpants and a T-shirt or not. His number was picked up and they were calling Best of Breed into the ring. So with seconds to decide, I went in the ring.
Surprisingly, I won the breed in a nice entry of specials. When the judge was giving me the ribbon I apologized profusely for my attire. I still remember her comment; “Honey, if I was looking at what you were wearing and let it bother me, then I wouldn’t be doing a very good job, would I? You had the best dog.”
I think her comment kind of says it all. I still wouldn’t ever dress that casually on purpose, but dog shows are supposed to be about evaluating breeding stock. So in theory who is showing the dog, how they are dressed and how extensively groomed the dog is shouldn’t make a difference. With people working more out of their vehicles or outdoors now and probably feeling more comfortable doing so for the foreseeable future due to COVID, I think the trend will probably continue.
Part of the overture to our conformation shows is provided by the handlers painting the picture with our sublime dogs while "dressed to the nines." Many spectators and upcoming juniors are attracted to our support by the beauty ... the beautiful dogs and our fashionably dressed handlers. That said, appropriate shoes are needed to properly gait our dogs, but sneakers in the ring? I would think that should only occur in the rare occurrence where their dress shoes cannot be located and you aren't missing your ring time. Let's keep it classy!
Rancho Cucamonga, California
Casual attire does not mean athleisure wear. For example, casual Friday greatly promotes inclusiveness and culture in a workplace. So shifting to casual attire at shows should net in the same results. I would not think less of anyone dressed casually versus in a tuxedo or sequined suit, especially at outdoor or barn-like venues.
John C. Ramirez
Times are changing and so should the dress codes. Summer months in hot, humid weather can be miserable, especially in the Midwest and on the East Coast, especially for men. Stringent guidelines for judges and handlers should be set to what is appropriate and enforced. The sun will never set on slacks, a collared shirts or dress shoes. No denim or “Ts.
The clubs should have the option and have it printed in their premium lists and judges advised.
Large corporations adopted such guidelines, and casual dress can be as upscale and dressy foregoing the tie, suit and sport coat. Again, dictated by the clubs based on climate and not on the whims of judges, exhibitors or handlers.
Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Collars should stay! Sneakers are OK. Casual is not. Everyone should dress in professional business attire. Please don't lose the professionalism of dog showing! Keep the history! The formality! It’s kind of like going to a banquet in jeans – don't allow it to happen!
New Castle, Pennsylvania
I would be pleased if the focus became more about the dog and less about the handler’s attire.
Keep the old-school dress code. When we have the breakdown of morality and civility in everyday interactions, such as people yelling at each other in grocery stores, eliminating or eroding norms such as dress codes signals the degradation of society as we know it.
In addition, there is a loss of basic good sportsmanship in and out of the ring. We need something to separate us from the animals! Suits, stockings and ties!
P.S. A dark or solid black tie shoe or sneaker is acceptable for those with foot problems.
Dog shows are one of the last places where youth may learn about how and why to "dress up." I think it is important to distinguish that there ARE some occasions where respect and the dignity of the occasion make dressing up required.
Some clubs offer a "casual day," or a Western-attire day, as a part of their show, and I think that is fine as a fun, special event. But I do not want to see dog shows in general go casual. If we truly believe that what we are doing in our attempts to breed better dogs is important, we need to demonstrate that not only by what we say, but by what we do, such as dressing up as a gesture of respect to our sport.
Agua Dulce, California
Within reason I think a more casual attire is a good thing. After all, the judge should be looking at the dog, not the handler. That being said, there is no excuse to appear sloppy, as that is disrespectful to the judge.
Judi Hartell, PHA
Smith Point, Texas
I grew up in an era when dog shows were conducted in an atmosphere compared to dressage in horses – at Morris and Essex, ladies wore hats and gloves. Until I was in my late 30s, I was horrified to see ladies wear pants, finally giving in to the convenience of not having to worry about bending over and showing something I shouldn't!
Dog shows should, in my opinion, retain the distinction of a "dressy" sport. One should dress for success, groom your dog to perfection and present your dog so that the spotlight reflects that effort toward perfection. It is not a casual sport such as earth dog or field trials. It is a beauty contest of dogs, and I am very uncomfortable with the idea of "dressing down."
Pointe-aux-Roches, Ontario, Canada
All for it. The essence should be the dogs. As long as the attire is clean, it should not make a difference what a person wears as long as they are masked up (with nose covered), and feel safe and comfortable. Let’s be the like the rest of the world.
The prevalence of casual attire in the show ring is not a product of COVID. It has been trending in that direction for quite some time in all areas of life. There was a time when people would "dress up" to go out to dinner, parties, when traveling, and for dog shows. This has been replaced with casual, comfortable attire. In addition, many corporations began implementing "casual Friday" and "business casual" protocols for employees, which also caused it be more mainstream.
I love seeing old photos of men in suits and ladies in dresses and pearls showing dogs, but realistically this will be seen at only a few events in our fancy. However, casual is not an excuse for sloppy or shoddy. Casual attire can still look smart and stylish. You should not enter a dog-show ring looking like you just left the gym.
I’m neutral – to a point. I’m fine with what is known as business casual, but I hope it doesn’t degenerate to tank tops and ripped jeans.
Carol Ann Klein
Miami Shores, Florida
I totally do not like the new “casual” trend and think we should continue with suits, shirts, ties and nice shoes for men and a nice dress/pantsuit for the ladies. If a dress or skirt, it should not be too short because we ladies have to bend over quite frequently. As a judge once told me, the dogs we judge are works of art, and you should dress for a work of art.
The one exception is when judging outside in the cold, rain, wind or snow. Then, rubber boots, etc., are OK, as are raincoats, car coats and whatever else will keep judges warm, dry and comfortable.
I think the days of suits and ties are and should be over. Khakis and polos are fine. If you show Sporting dogs like we do, sneakers are almost a must. Nothing wrong with dressing down a little. Now, jeans and a T- shirt are not good.
Walnut Creek, California
I was reminded that many years ago (1980 or so) I traveled to Holland to explore, and went to a dog show. As I entered the building I was stunned to see people showing their dogs in barn clothes! I was taken aback and I swear the dogs did not show up as well against that backdrop. I've never forgotten that experience. As much as I like comfy clothes, I prefer to have win photos of both dog and handler looking their best. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.
Port Ludlow, Washington
I think dressing in our "Sunday Best" to show our dogs adds to the pride we have in our dogs. Some of the best-dressed handlers in the ring are the Juniors. When I judge I am honored by the privilege to do so and dress accordingly.
I do love the shows with special themes: Hawaiian, Western and the like. The Christmas shows are especially colorful and bright, and the ugly-sweater competition is a hoot.
But as a whole, with respect for AKC and the sport, I prefer us to dress for success.
I honestly don’t have an issue with a more casual attire. I think it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to be comfortable while wearing a mask, so if your attire can help with that, I’m all for it. As long as it’s not sweats or jeans, I feel men and women wearing a shirt and slacks is surely acceptable considering the seriousness of the current situation.
I do, however, find it alarming that some people in our sport don’t feel it is necessary to wear a mask once they walk out of the ring. I believe the rules set forth apply to everyone, and should not be relinquished for a photo op on social media. If these instances continue, it puts the likelihood of future shows in jeopardy ... and I, for one, would love to be able to go to shows again .
Plattsburgh, New York
I love my suits and sundresses! And all of my amazing dog jewelry! Never going totally casual here.
I think too casual attire is a mistake. I have seen exhibitors go into the ring with old sweatshirts. I think it is demeaning to the judges and the whole concept of dog shows to allow too casual dress. Shoes must be slip resistant; therefore some latitude should be given to footwear; however there are many styles with slip resistant soles. This may not allow fashionable footwear, but any exhibitor can dress well with reasonable shoes and look professional.
An aside, the professional handlers will not become too casual since their chosen profession depends on the total look of themselves and the dogs they handle. At every Westminster one of the things the commentators often say is "A great presentation of the dog." This has always included the handler as well. Therefore it does not do the owner-handler image any good to be dressed in a very casual manner such as jeans or other very casual wear.
I for one will not change my manner of dress when the shows start up again. I look forward to getting back into my show clothing as soon as possible.
It is quite elitist to expect people to need expensive suits to be accepted by the dog fancy. This is NOT a human fashion show. It is a DOG show. Focus on the dogs and judge them, not their handler’s attire.
As I was taught early on when I started showing dogs, how you are dressed is a direct reflection of how much you value your dog and the dog-show community. My breed is Bloodhounds; for many years our owners were famous (or infamous) for their sloppy attire, for having a slobber rag flapping as they ran around the ring. As a judge once said to me as he was awarding my dog BOB: "I didn't know Bloodhound owners ever bathed their dog."
Things have improved greatly over the years, and most of us who are specializing a Bloodhound will be dressed in the same manner as the professional handlers. That said, I don't think a coat/tie or suit is necessary, especially on a hot summer day; however, I think jeans and T-shirts give the wrong message to the judge about how you feel about your dog and dog shows.
I first started showing in March of 1968. Our judges dressed up, but dressed according to the weather because most were outside. Exhibitors dressed comfortably, wore comfortable shoes, had picnics ringside and had fun. And there were thousands more dogs being shown.
I respect looking nice in the ring, but the snobbery broadcast from So-and-So bragging about wearing their obscenely expensive St. John evening knit suit and Jimmy Choo shoes is a turn off, especially to young families coming to view our sport. Let's face it: Trickle-down economics has not trickled down to the masses. There just isn't the disposable income available that there was before. Anything that can be done to make our sport accessible, fun and less stressful is a plus.
Port St Lucie, Florida
The sport of purebred dogs has always boasted a certain etiquette. I used to conduct many dog-show tours, and I would bring my audience to the Juniors ring, where I would point out the dress code as well as the fact that they thanked the judge and congratulated each other. Dress influences behavior, and I feel that it is important that whenever possible, one should dress to show and to judge. If course, the venue and the weather may force one to make an exception occasionally.
If the fancy is interested, as it claims, in doing anything it can to attract younger people to the sport, I would suggest a "backslide" to a more casual ring wardrobe might be one small way we could stop looking so stuffy.
E. L. Beth Sanders
Do exhibitors not realize that THEY make the frame around the picture? Take a look at that next win photo, folks.