When it comes to occasion dressing, knowing what to wear to the races is perhaps the most challenging. Thanks to the strict dress codes and age-old formal traditions, it can be easy to not feel like yourself and end up buying something you would never ever wear again. Because really how practical is a fascinator that looks like a tropical bird? And, for that matter, how much do you even want to own one?
Races such as Goodwood are the chance to dress up and wear something you wouldn't usually, but there are some key things you need to bear in mind so you aren't that barefoot racegoer hobbling in the rain with a hat in your hand.
If you’re planning on attending any races this year, or simply want to apply the same logic to any other formal occasion, such as a wedding or garden party, scroll for our golden rules for dressing for the races.
1. Practical Shoes Are the Best Option
Style Notes: The golden rule of dressing for the races is to try avoiding high heels altogether because you will be on your feet all day. You'll likely also have to walk far from the station or car park to the stands. Chances are you’ll also be standing on grass at some point—to avoid any sinkage, you may also want to consider wearing a chunky heel. If you love a stiletto, take note from Eni and opt for a flare heel.
2. Play With Colour
3. When in Doubt, Channel Vivian Ward
Style Notes: In the film Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts wears a brown-and-white polka-dot dress to the polo, and it's a look that is timeless, as proved by stylist Hannah Lewis, who wore a black-and-white spotty halter-neck Rixo dress to a polo event earlier this summer.
4. Trousers Can Look Just as Chic as Dresses
Style Notes: Don't just think about dresses, as a pair of classic trousers can look just as elegant. If you want to look as expensive as possible, make them ivory.
5. This Is Your Chance to Wear the White Dress You Can't Wear to a Wedding
Style Notes: White is a strict no-no at weddings, meaning that formal day dresses can often be seen as an impractical purchase. (Not to mention the stain factor.) However, this is your chance to wear white, so why not take it?
6. Have Fun With Your Accessories
Style Notes: Certain races or enclosures have specific requirements when it comes to your hats, such as in the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot, where you must wear a headpiece that covers at least four inches in diameter. However, if you don't have to wear a hat, play with bows, headbands or clips. These will look far cooler and younger than a formal hat.
7. Look for Floral Dresses You Can Recycle at Weddings
Style Notes: We often find that floral day dresses look the most elegant at the races, and it pays to opt for dresses you can re-wear at your summer weddings, too.
8. Study the Dress Code
Style Notes: Racecourse dress codes can vastly vary depending on the races or the enclosure you're in, so make sure you do your research, as the Royal Ascot, in particular, is strict when it comes to adhering to these rules. For example, while you can wear jumpsuits and full suits, you need to make sure they're full-length and not cropped. Other races or polo events can have more relaxed rules, so a sleeveless floral maxi dress and basket bag like Alexa Chung at the Veuve Clicquot Polo is perfect. Karen Millen's yellow jumpsuit, however, ticks all the boxes, and feels a little different to your average floral frock.
9. Straw Summer Hats Can Work Too
Style Notes: If you aren't a hat person, opt for something that you will feel the most comfortable in and keep it simple. You don't have to wear a formal "races" hat, but you can wear a chic oversized straw summer hat like Lupita Nyong'o's (which you'll also love for beach holidays).
10. Stick to the Classics
Style Notes: If you want to go all-out and embrace the formality of the occasion, classic colour palettes tend to look the chicest. This is a races styling rule the Duchess of Cambridge swears by and the Duchess of Sussex has now adopted, too. Stick to all-white, monochromatic, cream or grey (think My Fair Lady vibes), and use this as your chance to wear the dreamy white dresses you can't wear to any summer weddings.