Two-thirds of Miller's business is mailorder. "That's why we keep so much stock on hand," said Elfant. He walked over to a box of gleaming white helmets and picked one up. "This is a plastic helmet we developed that's mandatory for exercise boys. It's in the morning at the tracks that most accidents happen—when the boys are working the horses. We also make a variation, a helmet that's covered with velvet, for fox hunting." (A Warrenton, Va. huntswoman who survived a bad spill testifies to the helmet's worth in Miller's catalog. "The horse left the print of her shoe on the velvet," the satisfied customer writes, "but the hat was not even dented.")
Elfant held up two saddles. "See, one has a flat seat for riding saddle-bred horses, the other a deep seat for polo." He gestured toward a box of seat sticks. "The country squire can take his leisure while watching the races." Elfant picked up a combination walking and measuring stick. "The country squire uses it as a cane, and when he wants to know how fast one of his colts is growing he pulls out the measure. One side for centimeters, the other for hands." An old, dusty horse collar was lying in the corner. "Someone will want it," said Elfant, "and we'll dust it off." He unfolded a rectangular piece of hide. "We even have blacksmiths' aprons." Near by was a bent piece of wood that resembled a backscratcher. "It's a sweat-scraper," Elfant explained.
For years, Miller's has found Army surplus extremely profitable. Fifteen years ago, when the U.S. Cavalry was being disbanded, the store began buying enormous quantities of equipment. Elfant motioned toward a saddlebag. "We bought 6,000 of them. Everyone thought we were crazy. Now we've sold them all, except for a dozen or so we keep as mementoes." He put his hand on a saddle. "This is known as a McClellan saddle. We must have bought 20,000, and sold each of them for $15. Now we've run out." (The original Army saddlebags and saddles are gone, but their popularity is such that Miller's sells modern-day copies. Unfortunately, their prices are also modern-day: they're three times as high.)
Miller's riding-apparel department is run by Jack Miller—Joe's brother. A careful craftsman, Jack sports both a mustache and a beard, and he has definite ideas about riding clothes. "Most people think the looser the better," he says. "That's wrong. Riding clothes must be tight." He put aside his tape measure. "The old English breeches makers used to say, 'If you can get them on, they're too big.' That's not too exaggerated. Tight breeches protect against chafing." Moreover, says Miller, riding apparel must be heavy. "It takes quite a beating. The best breeches, for instance, are made of 34-ounce fabric, as compared to the 12-ounce fabric in an ordinary pair of trousers."
The cost of riding clothes, Jack Miller emphasized, is steadily going down. "A pair of custom-made breeches may sell for $150," he said, "but a pair of ready-mades may cost as little as $10." A riding jacket, he added, sold 12 years ago for $75; now, with improved production methods and increased demand, it sells for as little as $30. And a child's hunt cap, which sold for $35, now costs only $13.50. Nonetheless, readymade clothing is not ill-fitting clothing. "Our ready-made breeches," he said, "come in sizes that vary for each inch of waistline. Moreover, they have five inseam lengths."
Basically, Jack Miller explained, there are three types of English riding apparel. One is worn for saddle seat (e.g., horse shows), the second for jumping or hunting, and the third for hacking or park riding. "For saddle seat," said Miller, "you wear a coat and trousers that match or contrast. For informal jumping or hunting, you wear a tweed coat and breeches; for formal jumping or hunting, a black coat and yellow breeches, or the hunting pink. For hacking, you may wear cuff-bottom jodhpurs with a contrasting coat or sweater, and jodhpur shoes." There are, of course, many variations within this framework. "The saddle-seat jodhpur, for instance, has its flair at the bottom, around the ankles. Hunting breeches have their flair at the sides, around the thighs." This is a matter of practicality, as hunting riders use a shorter stirrup than the saddle-seat rider and need more freedom. Hats are equally practical. In saddle seat, an ordinary felt hat can be worn—a porkpie, a fedora, a roller. In hunting, since the rider is in some danger, he wears a hunt cap—a helmet of unbreakable plastic that's covered with velvet—or a hunt derby. Even the stock tie's origin was utilitarian. In an emergency, it could be used as a bandage and fastened with its long gold pin.
It was nearly noon, and Miller's began to crowd with customers. The merits of saddles and blankets and jodhpurs were discussed in quiet, earnest tones. It brought to mind an anecdote Joe Miller had related earlier. One of his favorite customers was a white-haired dowager who visited the store every spring in a chauffeur-driven limousine—with a horse trailer hitched behind. The woman would lead the horse into the store, and he would be fitted for a new outfit. "She was a wonderful person," Miller said. "She always brought me fresh milk and butter from her farm." Only one thing had upset him. A newsman had elaborated on the story a bit, reporting that the woman had ridden the horse in. "Naturally," Miller said, "she wouldn't have done that. There's all the difference, you see, between leading a horse into a store and riding one in."