Groomed to Perfection

Being a cat show judge puts you in the spotlight, so you had better be dressed to impress. CAT FANCY shares judges secrets on how to look your best.

By Mary Lou Simms

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Veteran Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) allbreed judge Walter Hutzler of New York City doesn't mind a dusting of cat fur on his Armani jacket.

"The clerks will start brushing it off," he says, "but I just whisk them away."

Finding remnants of claws or cat hair on your clothes is part of being a cat show judge, a profession that calls for handling as many as 300 felines in a single weekend.

Over two days, judges inspect individual cats, evaluating them on looks, personality and breed perfection. That means getting up close and personal as they stretch out an ebony mackerel tabby Oriental to see how long and slinky it is, or sink their hands into the thick, luxurious coat of a solid lilac Persian to assess its body structure.

And these aren't just any cats. These are the nation's top pedigrees, the cat de la creme of more than 40 breeds, the grand champions of the tabby universe. It makes sense that judges would dress to match the elegance of the glamorous creatures temporarily in their care.

Dressed to Impress
"I love cat shows, and dressing up for them is my way of showing it," says Hutzler, a former makeup artist, hair colorist and opera singer. "That's not to say that judges can't be casual, but if I expect the cats to look good, then I should look good."

A CFA judge for 35 years, Hutzler loves formal, Italian-looking, tailored clothes. And while he always tries to wear a jacket to shows, he will skip the tie if the occasion is informal enough without it. He also prefers American show standards of dress.

"In Europe, people dress down at shows," he says. "It's more like a veterinarian's thing. Some judges come in jeans. But [in the United States] judges dress up because it's a display of the cat."

Like Hutzler, many judges care about the image they project at shows, which are scheduled almost every weekend throughout the country and sometimes the world.
And that's as it should be, says Carol Krzanowski, associate director of the CFA.

"Judges are our ambassadors, and we expect them to look professional," Krzanowski says.

That doesn't mean, however, that the judges can't be creative with their attire. Judges frequently bring on the glamour themselves with glittery wraps or diamond pins for more formal shows like the annual CFA Madison Square Garden show in New York City, where the nation's highest-scoring cats compete for the gold.

Kitty Angell, current CFA vice president and an allbreed judge for 18 years, describes wearing a long black dress with white, boa-like feathers while judging for best of breed finals at the CFA International Cat Show in Houston in 2004.

"We're told to wear black formal wear for the top shows," she says. "I sometimes feel like a black widow; I have so much [black] in my closet."

While the clothing may be fancy, it sometimes tends to be short-term.

"Between the snags and the claws, my clothes don't last very long," Angell says. "The fur's not a problem, but if claws have not been correctly clipped, they can hit the edge of your sleeve, causing a snag."

Persians, she says, are the hardest to judge while looking nice because of all their fur.

"We ask judges to dress professionally," she says. "That doesn't mean you have to wear a suit, but clothes should be a cut above average and nothing suggestive or unseemly."

Some judges also like to wear cat-inspired jewelry, especially if it reflects their breed.

"There's a beautiful Oriental [cat] pin that's out now," says Angell, of The Woodlands, Texas.

The CFA also awards its judges pins in the shape of a rosette, adding a diamond every five years.

"I tend to wear mine a lot ... maybe for one day of a show [rather than the entire weekend]," says Angell, who will soon earn her fourth diamond.

Still, jewelry is kept to a minimum because bangles and beads might interfere with judging a cat.

As Occasion Calls
"Comfort is the main thing," says Richard Bailey of Jackson, Miss., who has been an allbreed judge for The International Cat Association (TICA) for about 10 years. "And comfortable shoes because you have to stand all day."

Themes also come into play for holidays and other occasions.

"I don't normally wear beads," says Bailey, referring to several layers of green jewelry he wore around his neck at one show. "But it was a St. Patrick's Day show, and dressing a little outside the norm was part of the fun."
Bailey, who was named a TICA regional best-dressed judge last year, plans his wardrobes according to location and whether a show is regional or national.

"I try to dress professional," he says, "but not 'corporate' professional — 'casual' professional."

He also has no aversion to black.

"It's my favorite color," he says. "So I don't worry about cat hair."

Mary Lou Simms is an award-winning freelance writer from Helena, Ala.  She owns a rescued Oriental Shorthair named Ziggy.

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Reader Comments

Sharon Mc Grath    Fontana, CA

5/15/2008 7:35:46 PM

I took my male Champion to two cat shows in southern Calif trying to get points towards his Grand and yes he is 10 yrs old but every judge couldn't believe he was that old as he didn't look it(what is he suppose to look like; old and unhealthy). I'm a Manx breeder for 19 yrs now and I was told that the reason he wasn't called back was because he had no competition in other words no other manx to compete with. Interesting as the last two show there was a man showing a Japanese bobtail and that cat was called back just about every time and there were not another Japanese bobtail for him to compete with. So what is the deal??? I feel that there is no judge out there that is confident enough to really pick up a Manx and stretch there body to show the long back legs and short from and bone structure of the male and the roundness of a strong male manx face. What are they afraid of or do they just have their favorites. I would very much like to be a judge as I would never have favorites of anyone and I would definitely show the crowd what a manx is all about.

Nicola    Santa Cruz, CA

3/2/2007 10:26:03 AM

Thank you for the article!!!

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