What to Wear to the Races: Do You Need to Polish Up Your Smart Shoes for the Big Meetings in 2019?


What to wear to the races

Spring is on the horizon (believe it or not!) and we can finally start to think about how we will make the most of that sweet, sweet daylight.

In our opinion, there are few better ways to spend your downtime than a day at the races. Whether you’re a horse racing debutant or a seasoned punter, the atmosphere at a big meeting is hard to beat.

But, what should you wear?

With 60 racecourses in Britain, it stands to reason that dress codes will differ wildly from course to course.

As we’ve discussed in the past, making the wrong clothing and footwear choices can not only ruin your own night, but it can scupper the plans of your entire group. This guide takes a look at 10 of the most popular horse racing festivals in Spring and Summer 2019, and gives you clear advice on how to comply with their respective dress codes.

Is it time to polish up those smart shoes, or can you get away with a more casual ensemble? We’ve got you covered with some hot tips (fashion ones, of course!) on how to nail your races outfit.

  1. FEATURED EVENT – Cheltenham Festival: March 12th – 15th

How to dress for the Cheltenham Festival

 Image: Carine06

For many, the Cheltenham Festival is the pinnacle of the racing calendar. Despite showcasing the very best horses, it’s undoubtedly one of the most inclusive and welcoming meetings going.

With more than a quarter of a million people entering the Gloucestershire course over the four days, you can bet that there’s plenty of entertainment on offer (besides the horses out on the track).

While we’d never tell anybody not to get dressed up for a day at the races, the fact is that unless you’re in the Club Enclosure or hospitality facilities (where you will need to be suited and booted), pretty much anything goes at the Festival.

You can see the official dress code here.

Hot tip: If you’re in the Best Mate Enclosure or the Guinness Village, a classic pair of adidas Originals will do the trick

  1. FEATURED EVENT – Randox Health Grand National Festival: April 4th – 6th

How to dress for the Grand National

 Image: Paul

Arguably the most famous race in the world, the first Grand National was held in 1839.

Now staged over three days, Aintree usually welcomes some 150,000 punters during the festival. The dress code is fairly relaxed, though not quite as loose as Cheltenham.

While casual attire is permitted in most enclosures, sports clothes and fancy dress are not allowed, so it’s best to leave your Power Rangers costume at home for now (though, with hats optional, you might get away with a Peaky Blinders look).

Aintree’s dress code can be found here.

Hot tip: Desert boots are the epitome of smart casual – ideal for a day at the Grand National and a night out in Liverpool afterwards

  1. Scottish Grand National: April 12th & 13th

Ayr Racecourse is a pretty relaxed affair, but the dress code does stipulate that ripped/torn denim won’t be tolerated in the Club Stand. Football colours are also off the table.

The dress code guidelines for Ayr can be found here.

  1. QIPCO Guineas Festival – Newmarket: May 4th & 5th

Imagine you are going to a smart wedding is our tip.” Straight from the horse’s mouth (so to speak).

This is the key takeaway from Newmarket’s dress code guidelines for the Premier Enclosure. If you insist on wearing jeans, make sure they’re dark.

Jeans, t-shirts and fancy dress are all welcomed in the Grandstand and Paddock.

Here’s the dress code for Newmarket Racecourse. 

  1. FEATURED EVENT – The Derby: 31st May – 1st June

How to dress for The Derby

Image: David Jones

Billed as “The Greatest Flat Race in the World”, the Derby has a rich history. The first race took place in 1780!

With such a grandiose reputation to uphold, it’s no surprise that the dress code at the modern-day Derby is a lot more rigid than most other events. Again, a lot depends on the area of the course you are in, but even in the general-admission Grandstand Enclosure, there’s no sportswear, trainers or frayed jeans allowed.

This is your opportunity to dress to impress.

Hot tip: Formal shoes are the order of the day for men, while tasteful heels are the footwear of choice for women at the Derby

  1. Royal Ascot: June 18th – 22nd

How to dress for Royal Ascot

 Image: Troxx

You know it’s a lavish affair when a racecourse publishes its own style guide.

If you happen to find yourself in the Royal Enclosure, you’d better make sure you’re up to speed on the super-specific dress code.

Regardless of where you are on the course (there’s no formal dress code in the Queen Anne Enclosure), replica sports shirts and fancy dress are not permitted.

In general, the dress code is more relaxed during the jumps season (October to April) than in the flat racing months, but it’s still wise to go smart.

Hot tip: Top hat and tails for this one. It’s time to polish up your occasion shoes!

  1. Northumberland Plate Festival – Newcastle: June 29th 

The richest two-mile handicap race in Europe is treated by many racegoers as the North-East’s version of Royal Ascot, meaning dressing to impress is seen as essential, especially on feature race days.

The dress code isn’t as formal as Ascot though and the overall atmosphere around the event is much more informal. Sportswear, fancy dress and trainers are definitely not permitted in the Premier Enclosure, although smart jeans and tailored shorts are approved.

In the Grandstand, however, fancy dress is allowed provided that it’s of good taste.

The etiquette guide for the festival can be found here.

  1. Qatar Goodwood Festival – Goodwood: July 30th – August 3rd

Described by King Edward VII as “a garden party with racing tacked on”, organisers of the Goodwood Festival encourage visitors to the course to dress smartly and to “take the joy of fashion and run with it.”

Women are encouraged to dress to impress with summer wedding outfits a popular style choice, while men should wear jackets and ties.

With a number of different dress codes to follow depending on which enclosure you’re in, it’s important to give your look plenty of forethought. Fancy dress is not permitted anywhere but if you’d prefer to be more relaxed the Lennox Enclosure has the most informal regulations.

Take a look at the full Goodwood Festival style guide here. 

  1. FEATURED EVENT – Yorkshire Ebor Festival – York: August 21st – 24th

How to dress for York Races

Image: Source

The Yorkshire Ebor Festival is the oldest, richest, fastest and most famous event held at this particular course each year and runs over a period of four days with a Family Sunday featuring seven races and activities for everyone to enjoy.

With plenty of chance to see great racing, and to dress up for the occasion, racegoers at York tend to dress formally but there are no specific requirements to do so – although trainers are very rarely seen at the course.

If your idea of dressing smartly is to team a jacket and shirt with smart jeans and formal shoes then you’re allowed to do so here; while women are also allowed to dress in a smart casual manner.

You can read the full list of recommendations for what to wear here.

Hot tip: Check out this recent post to see how you can imitate some of the styles seen at London and New York Fashion Weeks for a fraction of the price!

  1. The William Hill St Leger Festival – Doncaster: September 11th – 14th

The St Leger Festival at Doncaster is the final highlight of the racing calendar (in our opinion). The dress code here is quite relaxed but organisers still like to maintain the traditions of horse racing etiquette and attire.

While there are no strict dress code rules, there are no jeans, sportswear or trainers allowed in the Premier or County Enclosures, or the private boxes and restaurants. There are no dress codes for the Grandstand and Family Enclosures, but it is still wise to go fairly smart.

You can see the dress code for Doncaster Racecourse here.


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