What to wear to the races – all occasions covered

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  • If you’re wondering what to wear to the races, this guide will help you work out what’s a good option and what to avoid, whether you’re attending The Derby at Epsom or a jumps meeting at Cheltenham.

    Last year, The Jockey Club announced that formal dress codes will no longer be in place at any of its 15 racecourses in order to make racing more accessible and inclusive, but many racegoers will still choose to dress up for a day at the races, especially if they’re heading to one of the big meetings. Even if it’s not mandatory, getting dressed up is part the day for most attendees. Not every outing requires you to dress up as if you’re heading to Royal Ascot, but there are several things to consider when choosing what to wear to the races.

    What to wear to the races: the considerations

    • Weather – much of the excitement at a fixture is outside, whether it’s heading down to the parade ring to check out the runners, placing a bet at the bookmakers in front of the grandstand or standing at the rail to watch your horse come in, so it’s important you’re dressed for the weather.
    • Time of year – all-weather racecourses mean that racing can go on year round, but traditionally the Flat season runs from the Newmarket 2000 Guineas meeting at the start of May until Champions Day at Ascot in mid-October, while the bigger meetings in the National Hunt season run from the end of October to the end of April.
    • Enclosure – generally, the more expensive an enclosure is to access, the smarter people tend to dress. Some enclosures will have dress codes you’ll need to adhere to, but these vary so it’s best to check on the racecourse’s website.
    • Time of day – most meetings are held in the daytime, but some racecourses, such as Windsor, are known for their evening meetings, while many all-weather tracks also hold evening meetings under lights throughout the winter. Some jumps meetings also take place in the evening during the summer months. If you’re heading to an evening meeting, it’s definitely worth taking a jacket or something to cover your shoulders.

    What men should wear to the races

    Although not compulsory in all enclosures or at all racecourses, men usually dress smart. Trainers and shorts are widely regarded as unacceptable, although not always forbidden.

    For Flat racing, men usually wear a collared shirt with trousers and smart shoes. Some choose to finish the look with a tie and blazer, but this is personal preference and not essential – and to some extent determined by the weather.

    At jumps meetings, men tend to adopt a “dress for the weather” approach as most of the big meetings take place during the winter months. Many traditionalists wear tweed, but again this is personal preference. If you’re a corporate guest at a big meeting, such as the Cheltenham Festival, a suit is more appropriate.

    What ladies should wear to the races

    Many ladies attending Flat racing meetings in the summer use it as a chance to get dressed up, although this is not always compulsory. Some of the more prestigious meetings, such as Royal Ascot, and the increasing number of ladies’ specific days put the spotlight on fashion. Some meetings also offer competitions for the best-dressed racegoers to enter.

    As with the gentlemen, it is a case of wearing weather-appropriate clothing in the winter, with heels not advisable in the likely wet conditions.

    What to wear in the winter

    Keeping warm is key to enjoying a day at the races in the autumn and winter, but you don’t need to sacrifice style for warmth and comfort. Warm coats, jackets, capes and ponchos are all good layering options, as are hats, scarves and gloves. Heels are seen much less in the winter and many ladies opt for a pair of stylish boots instead. Here are some ideas…

    Fairfax & Favor Regina boots
    Available in a range of beautiful colours, these boots are perfect for the races. Also available with a small heel and in a range of widths.

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    Dubarry Blackthorn Tweed Jacket
    Available in a range of colours, this three-quarter length classic tweed jacket is really smart and is made of Teflon-coated wool, which will keep you warm and dry.

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    Hicks & Brown Suffolk Fedora
    Available in a range of colours, this classic fedora will complement any winter race look.

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    John Lewis Oaklee Ankle Boots
    These suede ankle boots are available in black or navy, and have a block heel, which is ideal for a jumps meet.

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    Holland Cooper Chiltern Cape
    Available in a range of colours with a shearling collar, contrast detailing and hip pockets, this cape will be sure to keep you warm.

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    What to wear to Cheltenham

    Known as the home of jump racing, Cheltenham holds a number of race days and meetings throughout the year, the biggest of which is the Cheltenham Festival. If you’re heading to Cheltenham, follow our tips for what to wear to the races in the winter or check out Cheltenham fashion partner Holland Cooper’s Cheltenham edit for ladies and Cheltenham edit for men to get an idea of which looks are popular.

    Holland Cooper Houndstooth Look
    This look makes a great outfit for ladies’ day at a National Hunt festival.

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    Holland Cooper Camel Look
    This look is a classic – a warm jumper but dressed up to impress.

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    Holland Cooper Men’s Tawny Look
    Choose between a waistcoat, blazer and coat to pair with a cap for this classic look.

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    What to wear to Royal Ascot

    The dress code and expectations at Royal Ascot are different to almost all other race meetings in the UK. There is a strict Royal Ascot dress code and in some Ascot enclosures you’ll be required to wear an appropriate hat or fascinator. We’ve picked out a selection of suitable hats for Royal Ascot to help give you some inspiration.

    Occasion hats and fascinators | John Lewis 
    Find a wide range of hats and fascinators that are ideal for Royal Ascot at John Lewis, starting at just £35.

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    What to wear if you want to go casual

    For some race meetings, casual dress is more than acceptable and smart casual racing outfits are very popular on weekday meetings.

    Casual looks include smart jeans or chinos for men – you can also wear smart, clean trainers at many courses.

    For ladies, smart trousers and jeans are also popular with jumpers or blouses depending on the weather. Casual dresses are also a great option.

    Things to take to the races

    Depending on the time of year and type of meet you’re heading to, there are a few things you shouldn’t be without.

    Holland Cooper Umbrella
    Of course, any umbrella will do, but this one will complete a polished look.

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    Hontry Binoculars | Amazon
    These lightweight, compact and fog-proof binoculars will make sure you don’t miss the action.

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    Picnic Basket | Amazon
    Many racegoers like to bring a picnic and this basket has everything you need, including a waterproof picnic blanket.

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