What To Wear To A Horse Race

What To Wear To A Horse Race

A day at the races is thrilling. The crowd is lively, the vibe is energetic, and the day is filled with exhilarating races and fervent hopes for a win. But the day hasn’t started until you don the perfect outfit – after all, style and fashion play a crucial part in the event.

Some horse-racing attendees even have outfits designed and created specifically for these prestigious meetings. In fact, at some of these racing events, there are awards for the best-dressed racegoers.

So how do you decide what to wear to a horse race? Is there a specific dress code to follow? Do you put on your Sunday best, or can you put on just anything in your wardrobe for the racecourse? Let’s look at some factors that will determine your look for race day, especially for the more prestigious meetings.

Factors That Affect Outfit Choices For A Day At The Races

A day at the races promises thrills and excitement from the start to the finish line. But some factors could dampen the excitement, like choosing the perfect outfit that fits both your personal preference and the dress-up rules for the event.

The event and seating area

The type of event could affect your clothing choices. Derby days are usually dress-up days. Sometimes, there are also big meetings that require some formal attire as well. Local tracks might be more casual, allowing almost any type of decent attire. Public areas may allow less formal dress codes, while private boxes usually expect formal fashion.

Seasons and weather

The winter months will require something warmer, perhaps even an extra jacket (or two) if you are in colder areas. Secondary to this is wearing weather-appropriate clothing. It might be the middle of summer with scorching temperatures, and then a sudden downpour appears out of nowhere. If there is the possibility of wet conditions, then remember to pack an umbrella.

You will probably be in the sunshine for most of the day, so make provision for this possibility. A sunhat and UV protection are all good choices, especially in the summer.

Comfort and personal preference

Comfort needs to be part of your considerations when choosing your ensemble for a day at the races. It’s also a good idea to bring in a bit of your personal preference and style to make the day a little extra special. While your fashion choices are, to a large extent, determined by the dress code rules, make your outfit personal and unique.

Step Out In Style: Event-Specific Dress Codes

When you attend big meetings, you need to dress up and step out in style. Here are some of the big meetings and what to wear to the horse races.

The Royal Ascot

Location: Ascot, Berkshire, England

When: Five days in the middle of June

Anyone attending the Royal Ascot for race day should bear in mind that this is a highly auspicious occasion. The dress code calls for formal, modest attire.

For ladies, always wear a hat, fascinator, or headpiece. This should not be removed at any time. Strapless and off-the-shoulder tops and dresses, shorts, and sheer materials are not allowed. Skirts should sit modestly, at least just above the knee or lower.

For gents, unless you are in the Royal Enclosure or the Queen Anne Enclosure, you don’t have to wear a suit. However, even in the village enclosure, you do need to wear a jacket, tie, collared shirt, socks, and full-length trousers. Jeans and trainers are not permitted. In this enclosure, cravats are also allowed, although they aren’t allowed in all enclosures.

The Cheltenham Festival

Location: Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire, England

When: Over four days in March

At the Cheltenham Festival, there is no official dress code, but smart wear is preferred, and it’s recommended that you come dressed in your best outfits.

What you wear to the races may be, to an extent, determined by the British weather, which can be unpredictable. In the winter months, you may also want to wear a nice, warm coat. While something may be stylish, it may not be the warmest in the bitter cold, so keep this in mind.

Make sure that your outfit is not offensive or too revealing. Wear comfortable and smart shoes. Heels, while attractive, might not be quite suitable on grassy patches. You may spend time walking on grass, so ensure your shoes are practical as well.

The Kentucky Derby

Location: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

When: First Saturday in May

While the Kentucky Derby is not as strict on attire as the Royal Ascot, you still want to pull out all the stops when choosing what to wear for the day. And depending on which part of Churchill Downs you are in, it may determine how fancy your outfit will be.

Kentucky seems to have a mind of its own when it comes to outfits. What you wear is mostly based on your personal preference. There are no particular rules of fashion at the Kentucky Derby, but you should still wear weather-appropriate clothing – and don’t forget your Derby hat!

Gents should consider wearing a collared shirt and tie or bowtie. You can complete the outfit with a jacket and flat hat. Wear shoes that are comfortable and that make a statement. Remember, you will be in them all day at the races, and you may be doing a lot of walking!

When you go to watch the horse racing, you’ll probably see a lot of floral prints, which seem to be back in fashion. Otherwise, chic and elegant are the call of the day.

Epsom Downs

Location: Epsom Downs, Epsom, Surrey, England

When: First Saturday of June

When it is race day at Epsom Downs, there is one rule: dress to feel your best. That is, unless it is Derby Day. There is a specific dress code for this special occasion, especially if you are in the Queen Elizabeth II stand.

The dress code for Derby Day is simple: formal wear. Black or grey formal wear or full national costumes are obligatory. A tailored suit and collared shirt with a suitable tie would be appropriate. Also, a top hat is required for the men and a formal hat or fascinator for the ladies. Bear in mind that while you can wear almost anything to the races, your outfit should not be vulgar or offensive.

For normal races, you can come dressed comfortably in jeans and a pair of clean trainers. However, on certain days, for specific events, there may be a specific dress code, so it’s always best to check with the event organisers or on the website for any dress code requirements.

Australian Derby

Location: Royal Randwick Racecourse, Australia

When: The first Saturday of April

The Australian Derby is not as formal as the Royal Ascot. However, the dress code does call for a balance between smart-casual and formal wear. In some enclosures, formal dress codes apply. Here, you can think of elegant dresses and fancy hats. Men can wear a tailored suit with a button-down shirt and polished shoes.

To be safe, ensure your clothes are in good order and modest. Don’t wear something on race day that displays your midriff. Wear smart shoes. Avoid slippers, trainers and other sports shoes, gumboots, and broken shoes. Wear smart, tailored pants. Avoid jeans and denim, shorts, leggings, and playsuits.

The Durban July

Location: Greyville, Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa

When: First Saturday in July

The Durban July is a celebration where international visitors gather to celebrate both the horse races and fashion. It’s quite a fashion extravaganza, and it’s widely regarded as one of the most important annual sporting events in South Africa. This is probably why designers create outfits for the Durban July months in advance.

Flamboyant dresses and fancy formal suits are the order of the day. And when it comes to hats, the bigger, the better. There are no set rules for the dress code except to dress stylishly and fashionably – in other words, dress to impress. When choosing what to wear to the races, consider trends, fashion, and statements.

The Durban July is as much about fashion as it is about horse racing. And there are awards for the best-dressed racegoers. So dress up and flaunt your style and flair!

Quick Styling Tips

  • Visit the appropriate website for information on the dress code for a particular event.
  • Always wear a hat, and if you’re sitting in the sun, sunscreen wouldn’t be a bad idea too.
  • Check the weather and wear weather-appropriate clothing, but take a jacket with you, just in case.
  • Wear appropriate, comfortable, but smart shoes and clothing.
  • In likely wet conditions, it’s also advisable not to wear high heels or shoes that could be dangerous. Safety should always come first.
  • Wear minimal, but complementary, jewellery.
  • Wide-brimmed hats will help protect your head from the sun, and sunglasses will help keep the sun’s glare at bay while looking stylish.
  • Ladies, wearing long sleeves in summer is not unheard of, as some materials are cooling and breathable, which can also act as sun protection.


What if I am not sure what to wear to the races?

First, check your tickets. They may advise on what to wear. Or, visit the website for information. If you still cannot find your answers, contact the racecourse and organisers for further advice.

What kind of shoes should I choose for race day?

Choose practical, clean, and smart shoes. Heels are not advised, nor are sports shoes. But do make sure they are comfortable, as it’s a long day at the races.

What clothing should I avoid for the races?

Avoid dirty, torn, revealing, or offensive clothing. Don’t wear anything vulgar or obscene. Avoid long scarves or hemlines, as these could pose a tripping hazard.

Final Thoughts

While it’s not necessary to have a new outfit designed every time you go watch the horse races, it’s still a special occasion. Therefore, the golden rule when deciding what to wear to the races is to dress your best. For many people, wearing business casual attire works well. Many ladies like to use these events to make a statement, but they also wear what is comfortable.

The biggest deciding factors are the establishment and event, the weather, comfort, and your budget. Whatever you decide to wear, make sure that you enjoy your ensemble as much as everyone else is impressed. When it comes to a day at the races, the best finish line is the one where you feel fabulous.

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