As far as I know the shadbellies are still only allowed at FEI, but the hats are fair game.
I thought the fashion "rule" was that top hats go with shadbellies, period. Hunt caps/helmets go with the normal jacket, and technically CAN be worn all the way up the levels, while shadbellies are reserved.
So wearing a normal dressage coat and a top hat, fashion-wise, is like wearing one brown shoe and one black shoe. Sure both feet are covered, but the pair doesn't really go together.
Obviously, as a fashion rule, it's about as meaningful as a wet noodle, but if you're trying to present yourself properly and follow the traditions of the sport, then wearing a top hat with anything other than a shadbelly is not the way to go about it.
Things have changed. It used to be that if you showed up to compete wearing a short coat and top hat...well...no one would do such a thing, because it would just be the wierdest thing in the world to do....like showing up with Olympic medals bought in a garage sale.
The top hat thing, I believe changed the most when the USEF (then AHSA) made a rule change on clothing - that anyone could wear whatever hat they wanted to wear, ostensibly because this would save people money and they didn't have to buy a lot of different hats, especially to switch from Hunt Seat to dressage.
The other thing of course is that those little squishy top hats came over from Europe, and despite the fact that they make most people look like a sort of demented fishmonger, everyone went nuts over them.
The other driving factor of course is that over here, we didn't really have the tradition of wearing a bowler at the lower levels, where as in Europe it always used to be quite the done thing, and older pictures show riders at anything below the FEI in a bowler.
And here, most people seem to regard wearing a bowler as tatamount to being a 90 year old wearing a spandex gary glitter costume at a funeral. So what are people going to wear if they want to look cool? A tophat.
To allow the top hat at lower levels, when 99% of people are at the lower levels and can show in a hunt cap in dressage, the rule change made absolutely no sense at least per its justification, and I think the pressure came from people who wanted to wear top hats at lower levels, which I think stinks, but nobody asked me.
IMHO (and it is just my opinion) top hats look inappropriate on someone whose riding does not do them justice whether it is Training Level or 4th Level. If you're going to wear a top hat, you should be good. I actually saw someone with a top hat on in a schooling show. Roll Eyes! Again, just my opinion.
Add me to the group of people that think you need to earn it.
I will say I know people that show multiple horses and different levels and they don't change their topper, just their coats. Which falls into the above mentioned catagory of people that have earned it.
You will not see me wearing mine until PSG...even then I might still wear my helmet, now that I have the option.
Waaalll, my personal opinion is that a top hat with a short coat is the fashion equivalent of a tiara with a business suit. Mixing full-on black-tie formal with less formal is just silly. But no-one ever asks my opinion on these terribly important matters, so I guess we'll just have folks going around dressage shows looking silly.
I think people that get into a wad re what hat someone wears - and frighteningly, you do see it too often - must have an otherwise worry-free life. I mean, they'd have to, wouldn't they? To worry about something as trivial and random as what hat someone else wears, a hat which has eff all to do with their own life? Sweet bejayzus, it's a hat. It's not world peace.
I agree with Coreene. I mean really, who give a flying one about what someone else is wearing? You all sound like a bunch of stuffy old colonels in an English gentleman's club. I thought the USA was supposed to be more relaxed about stuff like that.