Are you off to the races? You’re in for a treat but unless you’re a regular racegoer, what to wear to the races can be quite a challenge. We’ve unravelled some of the mysteries of horse racing etiquette in this short guide, to help you look the part on race day.
Race day dress code
We’ve all heard of Ascot, Cheltenham and Aintree, but Wolverhampton? There are many local racing venues, each with its own character and you’ll need to dress accordingly.
Every race meeting has its own instructions for what to wear, which may vary according to the season and the type of admission or enclosure. Do check the race course’s published fixture list and accompanying dress code before you go.
Dress for the season
As the racing season changes, so might the guidelines concerning dress. The more formal flat racing season runs from the end of April to around mid-October, and the rather more casual jump season from the end of November to the beginning of April.
Do note though that despite the relaxing of the rules during the jump season, many courses still encourage smart casual dress, forbidding replica sports shirts, ripped jeans, vests and bare chests.
The dress code in the enclosures
Entrance into one of the premier enclosures demands that you look your best. Debretts has just this to say:
“A day at the races is a special occasion and you should dress smartly. Men should wear a suit, or jacket, in both cases with a tie.”
The dress code in the stands
The stands usually require a smart casual dress code, and in fact some courses even go so far as to allow smart shorts during the summer months.
But we can’t emphasise this enough: check the dress code for the meeting you’ll be attending. While Ascot is prepared to accept jeans in the Grandstand, Goodwood won’t allow them under any circumstances.
Our advice is always to dress up rather than down. And with this in mind, here are our top race day recommendations.
What to wear to the races
You’ll need a full morning suit for the Ascot Royal Enclosure, but for most other meetings, a quality wool lounge suit is plenty smart enough for VIP hospitality suites and premier enclosures.
For summer race meetings, you’ll need a lightweight wool or linen suit. Add a bright silk tie and pocket square to inject a touch of race day flamboyance. Go for a crisp cotton shirt with cufflinks for subtle sophistication. The aim here is to look like the classic gent that you are.
Jackets and blazers
Outside the formal enclosures, a smart jacket or blazer is more than acceptable. It’s here you’ll have greater opportunity to express your personality through your choice of threads. Country tweeds look great at rural race meetings, especially when paired with a tattersall shirt and a wool tie. If there’s a chance of rain, take along a waxed coat to look every inch the gentleman farmer.
For summer race meetings, choose a plain navy blue blazer with brass buttons, it’s a classic look that never dates. Wear with or without a tie depending on the season and dress code, and pair with smartly pressed chinos.
For a more contemporary look try a twill jacket in a pale colour. If you’re feeling bold, pair with some coloured trousers, matching tie and a crisp white shirt.
If you’re bound for one of the more exclusive enclosures, go with a pair of traditional Oxford shoes to match your suit. If you feel like pushing the boundaries a little, brogues might fit the bill but, as always, we say it’s safer to dress smarter.
Heading for the grandstand? More relaxed smart casual dress codes mean you can choose shoes that’ll add character to your ensemble. Wear brogues or country boots to mingle with the rural set, or alternatively, a pair of natty suede Derbys will compliment a summer jacket or blazer perfectly.
In the Summer sun you can’t go wrong with a Panama. Wear it low over your brow with a slight tilt. It’s good manners to hold it by the crown and raise it a few inches from your head when greeting a lady.
Will you be in full country gent mode for your trip to the races? If so, a wool flat cap is the ideal accessory, and the perfect match for your brogues and tweed jacket. Alternatively, a waxed drifter hat will look great with a waxed coat – and if it rains you’ll be glad of the protection!
Dress well in comfortable classic clothes and you can be sure of looking the part on race day. And while we can’t guarantee you’ll be lucky, at least if you do have a flutter on the gee-gees, you’ll look good, win or lose.