If you’re planning a day at the races this year, you might have already asked yourself what you’re going to wear. For years, the races have been a wonderful occasion to dress up. Women don their best fascinators and high heels and men dig out their sharpest suits.
This guide will give you some style inspiration for your next day at the races and help you out with some specific racecourse dress codes too.
What to wear to the races
You should always wear a two- or three-piece suit for the races, unless you’re attending a family day. Your suit can be any colour, style or pattern you want unless otherwise specified in the official dress code. There’s more information below that states which racecourses require a black or grey suit. For the warmer summer months, you might prefer to wear a lightweight material such as linen.
What to wear with a tweed jacket
You’ll see an increase in the number of tweed jackets worn during the winter races because they’re made from thicker wool fibres than standard suits. But some people aren’t sure how to style this material.
A misconception with this type of fabric is that it’s always green. Modern tweed jackets also come in brown or grey so there are more variations available than there were in the past.
A tweed jacket can be worn with a pair of suit trousers and brogues. For example, you could match brown tweed with navy blue suit trousers and brown brogues. For grey tweed, you could wear grey suit trousers and black shoes. You can wear tweed trousers with a tweed jacket but it can be difficult to make this look work.
To finish the look, why not add a pocket watch and a pocket square to your outfit?
How to wear a waistcoat
Three-piece suits are as popular as ever thanks to the likes of Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. It’s a smart look that is so versatile and ideal for lots of occasions. But how do you wear a waistcoat?
On most waistcoats, there’s an adjustable strap at the back. Make sure this is as loose as possible when you first put on the waistcoat and then tighten the strap once you’ve done the front buttons up. Tighten the strap without making the fit too snug. There shouldn’t be wrinkles around the buttons as this suggests you’ve tightened the strap too much.
Do the first two buttons of your waistcoat up and leave the third undone as this allows more room for movement. If you’re wearing a jacket with a waistcoat, always leave the jacket undone.
You can wear a tie, cravat or bow tie with your waistcoat. Also, make sure your pocket square matches the whole ensemble.
Race day shirts
Although your suit and sports jacket may be the main focus of your race day outfit, selecting an appropriate dress shirt is also important. As a rule, no matter whether you’re opting for a monochrome suit or something a bit more colourful, you should wear a shirt with a more neutral colour and style to tie the entire colour palette together. This will help to ensure you still look distinctive without overdoing it.
We would recommend selecting a crisp white, blue or grey shirt which allows the rest of your outfit to pop. After all, a bright white shirt will go with almost any suit and lets you be a bit more adventurous when it comes to your choice of tie. You can’t go wrong with a traditional dress shirt or a classic Oxford shirt with a button-down collar.
Race day shoes
When it comes to selecting the perfect footwear for a day at the races, it’s best to keep it as formal as possible. Trainers (even smart ones) are a big no-no, as are sandals, espadrilles and canvas slip-ons. However, just because you need to stick to smart shoes, this doesn't mean your footwear selection has to be boring. With a number of styles and colours to choose from, rule number one is simply picking a pair that best complement the rest of your outfit.
If you are wearing a formal suit and waistcoat, a pair of plain black or brown leather Oxford shoes or the appropriately named Derbies are always a good choice. Alternatively, if you are opting for a more colourful look made up of, for example chinos and a sports jacket, a pair of suede desert boots or leather brogues may be just what you are looking for to complete your outfit.
Race day accessories
Looking your very best comes down to getting the little details right. With this in mind, a suit isn’t complete without the various accessories that you can pair with it. The options include:
Just because race days can be formal events, this doesn’t mean you have to wear a plain or boring tie. In fact, along with pocket squares, picking a bold and colourful tie offers you the freedom to really express yourself. While your tie should still be a colour that complements your shirt and jacket, patterns like stripes and hoops are a great way to add more of an edge to your outfit. You could also select a knitted tie or skinny option if you are wearing a more fitted suit.
● Pocket squares
As with ties, pocket squares allow you to get a little creative. While the colour should always complement your tie, express yourself with the fold you choose. Opt for a sleek square fold, a vintage Cagney fold or an understated nexus fold to complete your look.
If you are wearing a dress shirt with open French cuffs, cufflinks are essential. However, the type of cufflinks you select comes down to personal preference. From classic metal ‘whaleback’ and ‘bullet-back’ cufflinks to chain link and silk knot options, there are plenty of different styles of cufflinks that not only serve a practical purpose, but also act as an additional stylish race day accessory.
● Dress watch
Typically one of the only pieces of jewellery commonly worn by men, a stylish dress watch can add the final touch to any race day outfit. However, while some believe this can only be achieved with the purchase of an expensive luxury timepiece, the truth is that a nice minimalist watch with a leather strap is sometimes all it takes.
If you are attending a race day during summer, sunglasses are not only a stylish accessory but also a functional essential. We would suggest opting for classic styles of glasses, such as thick frame wayfarers or clubmasters, or even large frame aviators. It’s best to choose a maximum of three items from this list; too many accessories could be excessive.
Can corduroy be worn in summer?Corduroy can be worn in summer, however, like tweed, it’s a thicker material so is better suited for cooler summer days. There are many variations of corduroy with different numbers of ridges. The number of ridges per inch is known as the ‘wale’. So the wider the ridges, the lower the wale and vice versa.
Needle cords made from a lightweight fabric with a high wale (lots of ridges) are a better option for warm days. It’s also the more formal type of corduroy.
If you choose to wear corduroy, you should stick to one item. For example, you could wear a corduroy jacket with suit trousers or corduroy trousers with a shirt and suit jacket. Corduroy is a more casual style of clothing so it could be worn for the National Hunt (otherwise known as Jump Season). Flat racing tends to be more formal.
Dress code for the Epsom Derby
Guests in the Queen’s Stand must be at their smartest. Racegoers should wear a morning suit in either black or grey with a top hat, service dress or full national costume. Service dress could be worn by those in the British Army. A full national costume could include a kilt if you’re from Scotland.
Dress code for Cheltenham Races
Most race days at Cheltenham take place during winter. They advise that you dress accordingly for the weather, particularly as their public car parks are grassy. Gentlemen usually wear a suit.
Dress code for the Grand National
The Grand National takes place at Aintree every year. It’s one of the more casual horse racing events. There is no official dress code but smart is the preferred choice and is adopted by most people. Sports clothes and fancy dress are prohibited.
Dress code for Ascot
For the flat season, gentlemen are required to wear a jacket, shirt and tie. During particularly hot weather, the dress code may be relaxed slightly, but you’ll be made aware of any dress code changes on the day. Tailored shorts are permitted but trainers are not. Ascot may be stricter than other racecourses and can refuse entry if you aren’t dressed appropriately.
The Jump Season takes place over winter. The dress code will be the same as above but you may want to consider a tweed jacket to keep you warm.
Royal Ascot has a much stricter dress code so don’t get the two mixed up. You should wear a grey or black morning suit complete with a waistcoat and tie and a top hat if you’re going to this race meeting.
If you’re attending the races this year, check the relevant racecourse’s website to find out about the appropriate dress code. Each racecourse will give a detailed breakdown of what should be worn in each enclosure.