A person spends years training and apprenticing to become a full fledged jockey and earn his silks. The outfit that a jockey wears has deep meaning and is much more than just an assortment of shirts and pants. It's his protection and his crest, letting the crowd know who he is and colors of the owner he represents.
The jockey's uniform is commonly called his silks. Silk's flexibility and airiness made it the perfect choice for the uniform and inspired its nickname. Materials such as Lycra, that provide the same airiness and flexibility along with durability, replaced silk as the preferred materials, but the uniform kept the name.
A jockey's uniform is made up of tight fitting breeches and a shirt, along with a cap. Tailors fit each uniform to its owner and it acts as his protection as well. For example, a jockey's helmet is supposed to protect his head if he falls. The uniform also includes a protective vest that goes under the shirt, boots and a cravat. The uniform style has changed little since the early days of the sport.
The colors and designs that make up an important part of the jockey costume are actually associated with the owner of the horse. The jockey uniform is blank. When chosen to ride a horse, the jockey dons the colors and designs of that particular owner. If the jockey changes horse owners, then he changes the color and design of his shirt as well.
The Road To Silks
The journey to a jockey uniform begins during youth. A prospective jockey begins riding and training horses for a specific owner. Once he turns 16 years old, the prospective jockey apprentices with a full-fledged jockey to learn the ropes of riding a racehorse. He also begins riding a horse in races, but with weight limits. He eventually becomes a journeyman jockey and finally a full-fledged jockey.