On the day before the 1985 Preakness at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, trainer Butch Lenzini found he had left horse owner Brian J. Hurst's racing colors back in Kentucky. Needing a new set of silks, Lenzini phoned Chlo� Vaughan with a last-minute order. By eight the next morning she had a silver and black jacket ready for publicity photographs. And at 5:42 that afternoon Hurst's Eternal Prince came in third in the Preakness—quite literally in flying colors.
Vaughan makes jockeys' racing silks. At 4'11�" and 90 pounds, 31-year-old Vaughan could be mistaken for a jockey. When she stands in the colors room at Laurel (Md.) Race Course trading good-natured insults with trainers and track custodians while searching the racks of silks for sets she made herself, Vaughan looks as though she was born on the backstretch.
The business of Stitches by Chlo� is conducted wherever Vaughan runs into someone who needs a set of colors or a blinker hood or a girth cover. Though this happens as often in the parking lot as in the racing secretary's office, her official office and showroom is a 26-foot trailer stationed at Pimlico. Another trailer, at Laurel, serves as a workshop and warehouse for Vaughan. Whereas horse owners once had to send out to more distant seamstresses for a rush order on a new set of colors, now Vaughan and her 22 part-time helpers can stitch them up overnight in the Laurel trailer.
Chlo� Vaughan has been around horses all her life. She grew up on a 250-acre farm in Columbia, Tenn., 40 miles outside Nashville, where the Vaughans grew alfalfa and raised horses.
For three years she exercised horses at half a dozen East Coast tracks, including Saratoga. In 1978 she went to England and worked for William Hastings-Bass, a trainer for the Queen. The following year, back in the States, she married one of her Hastings-Bass co-workers, British jockey Stewart Young. A respected jockeys' agent, who had seen Vaughan ride, told her she could probably pull in $150,000 her first year as an apprentice jockey. As a child Vaughan had dreamed of being a jockey and was flattered by the agent's faith in her, but one jockey in the family seemed enough. Besides, Vaughan wanted something all her own.
Her silks business just sort of evolved. "As an exercise rider my day started at 5:30 a.m.," Vaughan says, "but I was done by 10, so I had plenty of time for other things." She began stitching up saddlecloths and colors, first for friends and then for customers. After four years of part-time work, she bought a trailer and hung out a shingle. Before long, Vaughan had more work than she could easily handle.
Vaughan is reluctant to reveal her annual volume of business ("I just want people to know I work hard; there are already enough inflated ideas around here about what I make"), but she does admit to having a file of more than 2,800 patterns for individual sets of colors. And at $75 to $165 per jacket, plus $16 for a helmet cover, it adds up.
In the early days of horse racing, colors were made of real silk and fastened in the front with fancy buttons. But with silk $40 a yard wholesale, today's silks are made out of nylon—inexpensive, lightweight and fast drying—and are fastened with Velcro strips.
Rules about jockeys' dress, usually laid down by state racing commissions, differ somewhat across the country, but every state with racing has some rules and a lot of conventions: For example, the fact that colors are inheritable is a convention, not a rule. In New York, where The Jockey Club holds sway, there are more rules than you can shake a crop at. While four different colors, for instance—none of them can be navy blue, which is easily confused with black—are permitted on any one garment, only two are allowed on the bodice and two more on the sleeves. New York regulations also specify what symbols—stars, diamonds, lightning bolts, chevrons, etc.—are allowed and how wide stripes can be.
But almost anything goes in Maryland, as long as it doesn't duplicate colors already registered. Vaughan's customers can order all sorts of silks, from all silverlam� to a set featuring a big red heart with a monogram in the center and small red hearts sprinkled over the sleeves.