What to wear to the races

Last Updated 22 Apr 2020 | Commercial content | 18+

The great thing about having a day at the races is that, nine times out of ten, it can be whatever you want it to be. Even on the most middling Saturday card at Thirsk in summer, there will be a group treating their day out like it is Royal Ascot.

Talking of Royal Ascot, the Windsor enclosure (silver ring) at that meeting is a world away from the outlandish outfits made famous in television pictures from the Royal enclosure. To look around, you might as well be at any meeting in the country.

cheltenham st patrick's day

Many race courses have two or three enclosures: the premium area, which goes by various names; a tattersalls or grandstand enclosure, usually the middle area; and a silver or family enclosure. Sometimes the last two groups merge, and some smaller tracks have just one enclosure.

The good news is that, for most race meetings and most enclosures, you can wear what you like, within reason. Some courses do not allow fancy dress or team colours in certain enclosures, while if you are attending on-course hospitality (such as in a box or the racecourse restaurant) most courses request at least smart-casual wear.

Some courses are more particular than others. York still employs a stricter dress code than most, requiring men to wear jackets and ties unless the weather is sufficiently hot that the course itself decides to relax its rules. Always check the racecourse you are travelling to for specific details, but in more cases than it is not, everyday dress is acceptable.

Almost all courses will, at some point in the year, stage a ladies’ day fixture. Normally among the best-attended fixtures at any course and sometimes a significant social occasion in the local area, they are generally seen as a chance to dress up formally and there tend to be awards given out to the best-dressed lady (and increasingly best-dressed man, too). Early booking is advised for ladies’ day at any course.

Many courses also have a family day, which are generally less formal and include off-course entertainment and educational experiences for younger racegoers.

How to dress at Royal Ascot

You are probably thinking of top hat and tails for men and ostentatious headwear for ladies. In truth, that is only the Royal enclosure. Anyone lucky enough to be in the Royal enclosure should check Royal Ascot’s website for full stipulations on dress code. The most common misconception refers to fascinators, which are not permitted.

The Queen Anne enclosure at Ascot still requires formal wear, as does the Village enclosure, but as would befit a wedding rather than an occasion for high society. Royal Ascot’s site has full details. As previously mentioned, the Windsor enclosure has no formal dress code, although many still choose to dress formally.

How to dress for Goodwood Festival

The only other meeting with a synonymous dress code is ‘Glorious Goodwood’. Even then, it does not extend far beyond men wearing Panama hats. The official dress code stipulates collar, tie and jacket for men in the most formal (Richmond) enclosure, but makes only recommendations besides.

National Hunt Dress Code

Cheltenham and Aintree’s meetings in the spring are the biggest in the British jumps calendar. There are no special requirements in terms of dress code, although the Friday of Aintree’s meeting is ladies’ day and it is a day when racegoers tend to make a particular effort to dress up. Befitting the feel of Liverpool as a city, the atmosphere is still more relaxed than at, say, Royal Ascot.

FAQ

Can you wear jeans to the races?

To just about any midweek meeting, yes. The exception would be if you are in a private box or other hospitality. For weekend fixtures, please check your enclosure. If you are in the premier enclosure, there is a good chance that jeans will be at least discouraged and possibly forbidden.

What do you wear to the races in winter?

The most formal meetings do not take place in the depths of winter. Many choose to dress in a style befitting well-heeled countryside residents, the likes of tweed and flat caps, but this is a folk tradition rather than a formal requirement.

What should I wear to the races in October?

Depending on your enclosure, what you would normally wear to a social occasion at that time of year. October is a time of year when it is often hard to judge between a suit jacket and winter coat. Some of the courses with strict dress codes, such as York and Ascot, are still racing in October. Besides those considerations, the individual best knows their own tolerance to a British autumn.

Can ladies wear pants to the races?

Even at Royal Ascot, women are permitted to wear trouser suits, with certain stipulations. At most meetings, trouser suits and even jumpsuits are treated much the same as dresses.

Can you wear black to the races?

Yes, you can wear black to any race meeting. It is required in certain areas during Royal Ascot. While linen is de rigeur at meetings like Glorious Goodwood, black is still acceptable.

How casual can you dress at the races?

In most cases, as casually as you like. It is generally only in the premier enclosure that dress codes are a requirement, rather than a recommendation. But no two racecourses are the same, so please check the relevant course’s website for your enclosure.

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