On Westminster’s purple runway, dog handlers dress to impress


(Reuters) – With thousands of pampered pooches showing off silky coats and perky tails at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this week, some of their handlers are flaunting their own high fashion, hoping to give an edge to their dogs in the alpha contest of pedigree breeds.

For male and female handlers alike, comfort is paramount when they prepare to run around the ring with their coiffed dogs, but they say it is also important that they look their best and complement their dogs’ image.

“You want your judge to see your dog. If they remember an outfit, they’ll focus on your dog hopefully,” said Jacqueline Royce, who owns and handles a bull mastiff named Anna Banana.

She was wearing a custom-designed black skirt suit with rhinestones on Tuesday while awaiting the crowning of “Best of Show” at New York’s Madison Square Garden later in the evening.

Custom-designed suits are common at Westminster, as is attire from St. John, a label popular for its knit fabric suits that enable female handlers to run and kneel on Westminster’s purple runway without worrying about a wardrobe malfunction.

“I picked this suit also because it complements my dog’s color. When I’m behind him, it helps his silhouette stand out,” said Katie Cecilio, who was dressed in a sparkly royal blue St. John suit to show her gray Bedlington terrier Westley.

Handlers at Westminster tend to pull out their top-pick suits from a wardrobe of several outfits they wear at weekly dog shows throughout the year. Each of them costs from several hundred to a couple thousand dollars.

“I’ve got a special closet just for my show clothes,” Royce said.

Now in its 144th year, the Westminster show bills itself as the second-oldest sporting event in the country, behind only the Kentucky Derby horse race.

Seven finalists, including a Havanese, a standard poodle, a Shetland sheepdog and a whippet, will vie for the top prize of “Best in Show” in Tuesday’s grand finale.

“This is an old sport and it’s still very formal,” said Holly Maxwell, a chihuahua owner who runs a personal shopping business called “The Winning Look” for handlers. “We try to get a little bit of sparkle here and there, a little bit of stretch, no splitting at the seams. Everything elegant and classy.”

(The story has been refiled to correct brand name in paragraphs 5 and 6 to St. John from St. John’s)

Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Mark Porter