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The style code: What to wear to the most glamorous horse racing events

By LLM Reporters  |  August 26, 2021
horse racing
Image Credit: Stefanholm/

Heading to a horse racing event this summer? From the adrenaline of the on-track action to the glamour of the VIP experience, it’s little wonder that for many, it’s a highlight of the annual sporting calendar – and even more so after a year of cancellations and disappointments across the board in the wake of the ongoing global pandemic.

One of the biggest dilemmas many spectators face when preparing for a day at the races – apart from working out which horses to have a sizable flutter on, of course – is deciding what to wear. Whilst horse racing is an outdoor event, it’s traditional to dress for the occasion, but what exactly is the etiquette?

smartly dressed woman
It’s always wise to check the dress code for the occasion. Classy and sophisticated will always win, as will pared back accessories

Check the event guidelines

Horse racing events differ when it comes to dress code, so it’s wise to check a UK horse racing guide and look over guidelines for the specific event you’ll be attending to determine what an appropriate ensemble would be. While some might require formal attire, others might be more laid-back – although if you want to go all-out then the effort will no doubt be welcomed.

Royal Ascot is a good example or where an expected dress code might come into play. On Ladies’ Day, female attendees traditionally take the opportunity to get dressed up to the nines, sporting designer glad rags, killer heels and a selection of glamorous hats, fascinators and headpieces. Throughout the rest of the event, however, spectators take a more relaxed approach to dressing – that is, unless they are heading to a VIP box. In the premium hospitality sections of most racing events, guests can be seen donning smart, classy and all-round sophisticated attire for the occasion, in a noticeable difference to those watching from the side lines of the course.

If you’re travelling further afield for a racing event, then be sure to do your research beforehand. Festivals like the Dubai World Cup are an opulent affair, just as you’d expect – while America’s Kentucky Derby is a relaxed event where smart-casual attire is the order of the day.

ascot entrance
Royal Ascot is a good example or where an expected dress code might come into play. Image credit: Kurt Pacaud/

Know your lengths

While choosing between a dress and heels or jeans and a linen shirt might be fairly easy once you know the general guidelines, the devil is in the detail – and understanding the specific skirt and dress lengths that are deemed appropriate can make the difference between a fashion fail and a roaring sartorial success.

For those in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, ‘smart and sophisticated’ simply won’t cut it – in fact, it’s compulsory for women to wear dresses of ‘modest length’, which is defined as falling just above the knee or longer. Dresses and tops are expected to feature straps that are no narrower than one inch, while strapless and Bardot styles are entirely banned.

While men have it relatively easy, and can comfortably wear a pair of smart suit trousers and a shirt, it’s clear that women have a few more hoops to jump through, but the good news is that there’s plenty of room for whimsical floral maxi dresses and this season’s beautiful midi-skirts – as well as stylish fitted and palazzo-style jumpsuits. As a general rule of thumb, showing minimal flesh and remaining classy and sophisticated will see you through, and you’ll get to enjoy the day looking like a million dollars, even if you don’t win such a substantial amount.

Hats off

ladies day races
Hats are an essential accessory for guests attending racing events, especially for women attending on Ladies’ Day. Image credit: Pixinoo/

Or should we say, hats on? Hats are an essential accessory for guests attending racing events, especially for women attending on Ladies’ Day. Hats and fine millinery have always been synonymous with events like Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival, and remain compulsory until today. But if you’re heading to the Royal Enclosure, then beware, as there are some strict headwear rules to abide by.

For starters, fascinators are not permitted – no matter how beautiful they happen to be. Instead, you’ll be expected to don a traditional hat or a head covering with a solid base of at least four inches in diameter.

Accessorise, accessorise, accessorise

Or in this case, simply accessorise, and leave it there. It is an unspoken rule in the fashion world that less is always more, and never is this truer than at a formal racing event where you’ll be spectating from a VIP area.

If the weather isn’t on your side, then opt for a jacket in a traditional fabric such as tweed or gingham, and finish with one or two subtle pieces of jewellery. If you’re intent on wearing a statement necklace, then keep the rest of your attire simple and refrain from adding any other pieces of jewellery to avoid overkill.