Best in show: the rise of the dog jumper and inside the world of canine fashion

Groodles Bernard and Rupert with their owner Kenrick Nolan. Picture: Keegan Carroll
Groodles Bernard and Rupert with their owner Kenrick Nolan. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Rupert and Bernard are both partial to a knitted sweater.

When winter hits the capital, the two brothers from Flynn will wear similar style knits in contrasting colours. Sometimes they will even coordinate with their bow ties to add a pop of pattern to their winter look.

It is here that it should be noted that Rupert and Bernard are, in fact, dogs. Groodles - a golden retriever and poodle mix - to be precise.

And they aren't the only Canberra dogs to show off their fashion in the winter months.

Just like Canberrans (the human kind, that is) don the winter woollies and puffer jackets as soon as the temperature starts struggling to reach double digits, so do our four-legged friends.

If you pick the right day, the Kingston Foreshore might as well be a catwalk for dog fashion, as their owners brace them for a chilly walk - and usually, brunch - by the water.

Wind back the clock a couple of decades, however, and you would struggle to find even one dog decked out in its winter wear.

The rise of the dog jumper

It was almost 23 years ago when Simone Kingston's dog received a bad haircut. What may seem like an unfortunate event, was the beginning of what would become Australia's first dog boutique, Dogue.

Simone Kingston - the woman behind Australia's first dog boutique, Dogue. Picture: Supplied

Simone Kingston - the woman behind Australia's first dog boutique, Dogue. Picture: Supplied

"He was freezing and so I went looking for a jumper for him. But 23 years ago that wasn't an option," she says.

"There wasn't much out there to buy and what was out there was pretty crappy. So I went and bought some beautiful wool and between my mother and we knitted this very cool little jumper.

"And as he started strutting around the streets, lots of people came up to me going, 'Oh my god, where did you get that jumper?'."

Kingston had stumbled upon a gap in the market and about eight weeks later the brand was launched, complete with its own original designs.

In a lot of ways, Dogue emerged at the right moment. The moment where dogs started to have their own wardrobes.

"It's definitely changed a lot over the years. It's more acceptable for dogs to wear clothing than it was 10/15 years ago," Kingston says.

The rise of the dog jumper ran simultaneously with - and arguably as a result of - the rise of the "dog parent".

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A 2019 Animal Medicines Australia report found that there were almost 29 million pets in Australia - more than the 25 million people that call the country home - giving us a higher pet ownership rate than most other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

The report also found that 37 per cent of pet owners referred to themselves as "pet parents" and 36 per cent gave their pets gifts for special occasions.

And it's worth noting that since this report was released there has been a surge in pet ownership due to the pandemic. Dog ownership has spiked with 63 per cent of people saying they know someone who got a new dog during restrictions, and 18 per cent knowing five or more people who took the plunge.

And more dogs mean more dog items being purchased. eBay, for example, reportedly saw a 45 per cent increase in searches for pet clothing in 2020.

It is a trend that is also reflected in the world of social media. The newest breed of dog - in a manner of speaking - is the social influencer. Take Doug the Pug, for example, who has regularly appeared in different outfits since his first Instagram post in 2013.

Not only has it helped bring him notoriety and an online fan base of 3.9 million followers, but it's given him the chance to meet multiple celebrities including John Legend and Justin Bieber, make appearances in various music videos, become a New York Times best-selling author - along with owner Leslie Mosier - and become the first dog to be credited as a voice actor for The Mitchells vs. The Machines on Netflix.

The design process

The pet business is an interesting one to be in, particularly when it comes to fashion. Because as much as these are products for pets, they are also catering to the owner.

Take the Dogue jumpers for example.

"People have definite opinions of what colours their dogs like and what styles they like, and 'my dog will only ever wear red', or 'my dog only wears blue', which is very funny," Kingston says.

But when creating these garments, Kingston says it first comes down to the fit - and rightly so.

Dogue's designs follow the same basic design. Picture: Supplied

Dogue's designs follow the same basic design. Picture: Supplied

"The dog needs to be pretty free to do what dogs do. They need to be able to walk freely, they need to be able to pee - all of that," she says.

"As you can imagine and appreciate, there are so many different sizes with dogs and so many different breeds now and crossbreeds, so you have to try and simplify it as much as you can. And in doing that, unfortunately, you do have a lot of sizes."

Kingston always opts for the same base design - a garment that is tight around the body, doesn't have any arms and nothing that restricts the back legs.

From there the garments are "dressed up" with different buttons, colours and other design elements. But even then, Kingston says less is more.

"It's just about them being comfortable in them - something that doesn't limit their mobility is the important part of it," she says.

"A lot of things look quite fancy, but then they've got too many bits and pieces to them and the dogs just won't walk in them or move in them.

"The fabrics are always important, whether it's wool and whatever it is so that it's not scratchy, and it's comfortable and it washes well and all of that stuff."

One of Dogue's winter looks in one of this season's colours, dusty pink. Picture: Supplied

One of Dogue's winter looks in one of this season's colours, dusty pink. Picture: Supplied

Of course, the only thing that matters to the dog is that it's comfortable.

Even Kingston admits that the dog won't care if they're in an ugly brown jumper. The owners are the ones who want the jumper to be cute, as well as comfortable. If it's in this season's colours, that's just a bonus.

Dog fashion follows the trends just as human clothing (and anything design-based) does.

It means the jumper that you get from the Dogue website will not just be a cable knit sweater but it will be a cable knit sweater in the trendiest colours - which, at the moment, are dusty pink, forest green, navy blue and mustard yellow.

And the items that are on the website now - and are still to come out before the end of the season - were decided upon last winter. What Kingston is working on now is next winter's items.

On average it takes six months from the initial idea to become something ready to be rolled out in stores. It's a process that involves multiple samples to make sure both the design and fit are correct.

"Even when you're using the same sizes that you've used before, you still need to try them and make sure they fit properly," Kingston says.

"When you're using different fabrics that can change things a little bit."

But a dog has fur

It's a debate that has been around as long as dog coats themselves. For every person who comments on how cute a dog's coat is, there will be another who asks why they need it in the first place.

There is a practical side to dog fashion, however. Petstock's resident vet Natalia Li says pet owners need to keep their four-legged friends in mind during the cooler months.

Breeds with thicker coats such as huskies, Saint Bernards, or golden retrievers are built to withstand cooler climates. But French bulldogs, dachshunds or greyhounds are less protected due to their thin coat and are more likely to become hypothermic.

Some dog breeds are less protected from the cold due to their thin coat and are more likely to become hypothermic. Picture: Supplied

Some dog breeds are less protected from the cold due to their thin coat and are more likely to become hypothermic. Picture: Supplied

"Ensuring your pet has the correct bedding, coat and general care will keep them comfortable throughout winter and reduce their risk of suffering from winter-related illnesses, injuries or diseases," Dr Li says.

If you're camping or hiking, Dr Li says to pack the winter essentials including a portable water bowl, a spare waterproof coat, a first aid kit and a towel.

Those heading on a snow adventure should monitor their dog for signs of frostbite and pack a sweater or coat, even if their pet is a fluffy breed, as years of domestication may reduce their resilience to the elements. It's also essential to fit them for snow or regular boots before heading to the snow as their paw pads can be incredibly sensitive to freezing grounds.

Just like humans, dogs are more prone to sicknesses in the cooler months. Canine infectious tracheobronchitis, more commonly known as kennel cough, is a highly infectious respiratory disease that is often spread through areas where dogs are exposed to one another.

Street style

Lulu the labrador doesn't like thunderstorms.

Every time one hits the capital, she becomes anxious, pacing around her Higgins home, panting.

That was until her owners - Claire and Oliver Tester - did some research and found the thundershirt.

Similar to a weighted blanket for humans or swaddling an infant, the thundershirt applies gentle, constant pressure to help calm a dog during times of anxiety, fear, and over-excitement.

Labrador Lulu in her thundershirt with owner Claire Tester. Picture: Karleen Minney

Labrador Lulu in her thundershirt with owner Claire Tester. Picture: Karleen Minney

"It works really well for her. It helps to calm her down a little bit and helps with her anxiety with the thunderstorms," Claire Tester says.

"We think she has anxiety because before we adopted her she was in a puppy farm. She was probably kept outside in a shed and it wouldn't have been very nice and when the thunder came it was probably extra loud. So she wouldn't have had that comfort that everything was fine."

Lulu had another special outfit for when the Testers got married earlier this year. While playing the important role of ring bearer she wore a pink "dress" made by the groom's mother, in the same pink that the bridesmaids wore.

"It was partly because it was a special day but was also because she had had recently had surgery and because of that she had a few shaved patches," Tester says.

"So my mother-in-law thought it would be a nice idea that she had a little dress to help cover up her bald patches so she looked her best on a special day."

Because, really, as long as the dog is happy and healthy, is it such a bad thing to want your dog to look their best?

Every day, Jasper, a five-month-old miniature dachshund, takes a walk around Lake Burley Griffin with his owner Carol Rolfe and sister, eight-year-old Australian silkie-chihuahua-cross, Millie. And every day - in winter at least - he wears one of his jumpers.

"I like the cable knits and the ocean colours - the blues and greens - for him. I think that it goes really nicely with his red dapple look," Rolfe says.

"Millie's got a cream cable jumper that looks particularly nice on her. But she only wears it if it's a wet day. Or a cold, icy day. She doesn't like wearing it very much.

"If I buy a jumper or a coat for them, it has to be a proper function of keeping warm. I like to go to places like the markets to seek out some nice-looking patterns."

Last Saturday, Jasper was in was his "merman" jumper, decorated with blue and green "scales" made out of warm, flannelette-type material.

Even while he posed for a photo, passersby were taking a moment to smile at his outfit. There was no denying that he looked cute - and warm - in his outfit.

This story Best in show: inside the world of dog fashion first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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