For many, even when attending a familiar meeting every year, the biggest worry before heading off to the races is about what to wear.
Is there a dress code? Are all courses, meetings and enclosures the same? What about the weather? Will things change regarding racing fashion, culture and codes change in the future?
We’ve got you covered.
Typical Racecourse Dress Codes
The short answer to whether or not there is a dress code at the races is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, yes.
There are differences depending on where you go. Some racecourse owners are stricter than others and of course there is the recognised difference between summer and winter racing.
Racecourses also tend to have different enclosures, each with a different policy. The typical ‘premier’ enclosure will have a harsher dress policy, while general admission tickets may come with a looser policy even allowing for fancy dress and the likes.
Generally speaking, smart dress is the way to go. For more clarity, here are some typical points from a racecourse dress policy:
- Collared shirts for men – no t-shirts
- Jackets and ties for men (tie not always necessary)
- No jeans
- No trainers
- No sportswear
- No fancy dress
- Short-sleeved shirts accepted
- Bow ties and cravats accepted
- No formal dress for ladies, but smart “wedding-style” attire suggested
Each course and each enclosure is different. Your specific dress code is listed as a condition of entry.
The above, general codes are of course different at meetings such as Derby Day at Epsom or in the Royal Enclosure at the Royal Ascot meeting.
There, morning coats and top hats are the order of the day for men, even the trainers of the runners.
Racing Fashion ‘Identity’
Identity differs from ‘dress code’. A code is often more about what you can’t wear than what you can. Joining in and having fun with what you wear is not mandatory, but is fun for some.
At Glorious Goodwood for example Panama hats and linen suits are a common sight. At Cheltenham, feathers in the ladies’ hats are another trend we see regularly.
Things tend to be more casual overseas. There is a very casual dress code at the Melbourne Cup in some enclosures, while the Kentucky Derby has its own colourful style.
In the USA in general, it is seen (correctly) as being as much about the sport as it is about the occasion. There, you are likely to see top trainers such as Brad Cox and Chad Brown wearing a baseball cap. To saddle horses at a sporting event? We’ve got no problem with that.
You could argue some of the ‘trends’ or identities need to be shaken up. If you’re on the outside of it, you can feel a little ostracised and left out.
Lots of trainers, leading to media people and then even racegoers, wear tweed. Those attending or commentating on the races would not wear such attire any other time, so why at the racecourse?
Do not feel as though you have so ‘fit it’ at the races. Wear whatever fits your own identity within the rules of what is allowed in your enclosure.
Controversy and Criticism
There is a strange crossover in the current era for people criticising those dressing up too much, and those perceived to be dressing down.
Each time there is a story of a brawl, drug involvement or anything else unsavoury, then the “sockless brigade” is often blamed!
We also read the story in the racing press of a woman who was denied entrance to a racecourse while wearing a dress. The trouble was, she was wearing trainers with it.
This led to a ton of criticism and bickering online. There appeared to be no in between. Some regular racegoers said they wanted rules relaxed, others are simply disgusted at the sport perhaps dropping its standards.
Racing doesn’t need to completely disregard its own traditions and standards, but is there some wiggle room? Photos have appeared on social media of groups of ladies entering nightclubs dressed exactly like this – dresses with trainers. If this is now accepted fashion in an environment that famously never allowed trainers, how would they know without reading the (very) small print that they can’t do that at the races?
In fairness, time moves on. Maybe, to an extent, racing has to do so as well.
The flip side to that coin is racing being careful about exactly who it wants at the track. Crowds on ladies’ days are there for the social element and will dress for that, others come to see the band after racing.
This brings in money, but not real racing crowds. Those not there for the horses may drink more, but they may not come back. Keeping the standards racing people expect may help bring more true racing fans through the doors who will bet more and be likely to return.
Does Racing Want or Need No Punters Dressed ‘Differently’?
At an administrative level, horse racing in Britain shoots itself in the foot on the regular. Some of that leads to a horrible lack of income.
With that in mind, do we want people who wish to dress down to attend the races?
If they have money to spend and will spread the word, then we would say yes.
As a sport known to be ‘stuffy’ and ‘elitist’, golf had to change its ways some time ago. It worked. That is an age-old sport which fits perfectly into the modern world. Racing can do the same.
So, What Should You Actually Wear?
Wearing a collared shirt, trousers rather than jeans and no trainers is something many choose to do anyway. A birthday meal, a visit to the theatre or even just on a big Saturday night out.
People dress up by choice, so there’s no way horse racing should become entirely casual. We’d still recommend you follow what has been a fairly easy to grasp dress policy for many years.
In terms of colour and style, do what suits you. Nobody here is suggesting males should turn up in dark suits and ties. Funk it up by all means, please – but do dress up. It’s a proper social occasion and a day out.
There arguably should be some meeting in the middle. Casual watchers tuning in for Royal Ascot or the Derby see no colour. Not where the men are concerned.
They see morning coats, top hats and clothing misery. Although the Jockey Club has been the first to change its dress policy and make it casual, this does not change what happens at the aforementioned meetings.
Yes, it’s traditional, but you can bet your life the people being interviewed on television are by and large in the enclosures in which this dress is required and so that’s what people see; outdated, dreary attire. This will not encourage them to come to the races.
This is about eras. The times. We look back now to the early 20th century and laugh and what people had to wear to be classed as acceptable. Especially what they wore to go swimming…
There is surely no need at all for morning suits and top hats and the fact that even trainers have to wear them when saddling horses is maddening.
Time moves on.
We’ll stop short of instructing men to get a suit on. It’s not necessary in many enclosures, especially in the summer. But the socks? Yeah, please wear some socks chaps.
As for the ladies, you have even more leeway. Dresses especially can be worn in so many wonderful ways, especially paired with hats and fascinators.
Go online. Check out Northumberland Plate Day (not Ladies’ Day) at Newcastle. Check out the Ebor at York. Look at Glorious Goodwood. You will no doubt take some major inspiration from these photos which will stand you in good stead at any race meeting.