You’re off to the races! Congratulations – you’re going to have an amazing time!
But before you head out, you ned to make sure you’re wearing the right gear. Whether you want to blend in with other racegoers or stand out from the crowd, the proper kit is essential.
But if you’re not sure what to wear to a horse race, don’t worry – you’ve come to the right place! We’re going to list all the items you could possibly need. And we’ll cover all the bases for both men and women.
So if you’re ready, let’s get started!
What to Wear to a Horse Race For Men
1. Collared Shirt
Smart dress is a key part of attendance at most races. And in some enclosures there are strict rules about what can and can’t be worn. So wherever you’re going, it’s a good idea to check out the website of the venue beforehand. That will give you detailed guidance on any dress code that applies.
If you’re a gentleman heading to the races, though, one thing that will be required is a collared shirt. By that, we mean a traditional shirt, with collar and cuffs – the kind you’d wear with a suit.
Beyond that, the precise style will depend on what you’re wearing it with. While there are no rules about cuff style, for example, there may be expectations depending on the requirements for a suit. So let’s see what these might be …
2. Lounge Suit…
For many flat races, you may not actually require a suit at all. A collared shirt and smart pair of trousers may be sufficient.
But beware! This is very much a case of – pardon the pun – horses for courses. Different racecourses will have different rules. And in many instances, these will also vary depending on which enclosure you’ll be in.
In all but the most elite events, a lounge suit is a safe choice. Tweed fabric was the traditional choice for jump events – but whether you stick with that is entirely down to personal preference. And if you’re heading to the races in warmer weather, it can be uncomfortably heavy.
For summer events, a lighter fabric and shade can work very well. Some racegoers swear by seersucker as a lightweight and breathable option to stay cool and comfortable all day.
Linen is also a good option for style and comfort, but it does crease. A linen blend is more likely to stay looking smart as you move around.
3. … Or Morning Suit
If you’re heading to Ascot and have tickets to the Royal Enclosure, a very specific dress code applies. The races at Ascot are at least as much about fashion and being seen as they are about the racing. And the whole event is steeped (some might say “mired”) in tradition.
That means that unless you have one already, you’ll need to invest in a morning suit. For the uninitiated, these are the kind more often seen at weddings, with a jacket with tails. It will need to be gray, black or navy, and the jacket and trousers must have a matching color and pattern.
You’ll also be expected to wear a waistcoat, tie and top hat. Note that no novelty items will be permitted. And that top hat must stay on your head at all times.
Morning suits can be hired if you don’t want to go to the expense of buying one. Consider how often you’re likely to wear it before shelling out. A top hat alone can be a considerable investment.
As with other aspects of menswear for racegoers, the question of what to wear around your neck may be determined by racecourse rules.
For most flat races, whether or not you choose to wear a tie is up to you. As long as you’re wearing a shirt with a collar, you’ll be fine. Many racegoers do add a tie and blazer to look a little smarter, but that’s a personal choice.
Jump races tend to be slightly less formal, as they often take place in the winter months. Then the colder weather means that sartorial elegance takes second place to staying warm. Again, some racegoers will choose to wear a tie, while others won’t.
And if you’re wrapped up in a scarf and overcoat, chances are no-one will see it anyway!
But for summer events, particularly at prestigious racecourses, a tie may be required. And if you’re in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, a standard tie is essential – neither bow ties nor cravats are permitted.
5. Pocket Square
While definitely not essential, suit-wearing racegoers will look extra smart with a pocket square.
The choice of color and fold is yours. A classic option is to match the color and pattern to your tie. But coordinated yet unmatching pocket squares can look good too.
Consider how the color and fabric will work with your suit and shirt. If you’ve chosen more somber shades (or had them chosen for you by racecourse rules) a pocket square can inject some color.
But don’t overdo it. At formal events, you want to keep the look smart. Steer clear of cartoon prints or slogans. And remember, some racecourses will refuse you admission to elite areas if you’re wearing a novelty item.
You might think that it goes without saying, but some racecourses have recently had to update their dress codes to note that socks are essential!
This isn’t just about complying with racecourse rules (though you won’t be seeing the races if you don’t). We’ll come on to shoes in a moment – but for now, let’s assume you’ll be wearing formal footwear.
And if you’re wearing leather shoes without socks, you can expect blisters by the end of the day.
Remember too that any rules about novelty items will apply just as much to socks as to any other garment. So if you’re heading to Ascot’s Royal Enclosure, leave your Star Wars themed socks at home.
The chances are you’ll be spending a lot of the day on your feet, so glimpses of your socks will be rare. But the smartly dressed racegoer will still ensure that his socks match his suit. That means no black socks if you’re wearing a light seersucker suit. And no bright red wool with your gray pinstripe.
7. Derby Shoes
We promised we would come onto footwear – and here we are!
Smart clothing is considered appropriate at virtually all racing events. That means that pretty much anywhere you go, trainers will be a no-no. The same goes for open toed sandals.
Formal footwear such as Oxford or Derby shoes are the right choice, and lace-ups are the safest bet.
There may be additional rules for some racecourses. At Ascot, for example, men attending the Royal Enclosure must wear black shoes. In other enclosures, however, brown shoes are acceptable.
If you’re heading to a race in the winter months, you’ll want to make sure you stay warm. It’s for this reason that the dress code for jump racing, generally a winter sport, tends to be less formal.
But that doesn’t mean anything goes. A puffer jacket over a smart suit will look ridiculous. And at smarter venues, you may be turned away.
Instead, choose a tailored overcoat that will work with your suit or trousers. Wool is a good choice – it looks formal and will keep you warm without being bulky. And remember to think about color. If your suit is navy, a navy or tan coat will work much better than a black one.
If it’s particularly cold, consider a scarf too – it can get very windy on a racecourse, even in the stands. Plain colors will look smart, and wool is a good choice here too.
What to Wear to a Horse Race For Women
1. Dress …
For women, the choice of what to wear is generally more open than it is for men. That gives female racegoers more room to express their personality in their choice of outfit. But it also means there are more ways to get it not-quite-right!
For summer races, a dress is a good choice. Paler colors and lighter fabrics will keep you cool and fresh throughout the day.
Note that some racecourses may have rules about hemline length, so check that out before you choose your outfit. At Ascot, hemlines for most enclosures are required to be “modest”. That means they should finish just above the knee or lower.
Midriffs must be covered, and there may also be rules about shoulder coverings. Strapless, halter neck or off-the-shoulder dresses aren’t allowed at Ascot, and straps must be at least one inch wide. Sheer straps and sleeves are not permitted either.
2. …Or Skirt or Trouser Suit
Skirts or trouser suits are a good alternative to dresses. Any rules about hemlines and shoulder coverings will also, of course, apply to skirts and jackets.
At Ascot, trouser suits must be full length, and the trousers and jacket must be the same color. Jumpsuits can be worn too, and there you’ll have more leeway in relation to length. They should fall below the knee, but needn’t be full length.
The same rules about covering up your midriff apply here too.
Other racecourses are generally less restrictive. But it’s still sensible to check out the rules before you put together your outfit.
Along with weddings, a day at the races is one of the few hat-wearing occasions in modern life. At some racecourses, a hat is considered essential for women. But even if it isn’t, why not take the opportunity to indulge in some head-turning millinery?
An increasing number of racecourses have “ladies’ days”, where the focus is on women’s fashion. If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket for ladies’ day, a hat is a wonderful way to add something special to your outfit.
As ever, some racecourses have rules about the kind of headgear that’s acceptable. In Ascot’s premier enclosures, it’s “proper” hats all the way – in other words, items that properly cover the head. You can get away with a pillbox hat pinned in place, but only if it has a diameter of at least 4 inches.
Fascinators – clips with feathers or other embellishments attached to them – can be a good alternative. They’re less bulky than hats.
But again, check racecourse rules. Fascinators aren’t permitted in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. If you’re in the Village Enclosure, though, a fascinator is positively recommended to avoid obscuring the views of other spectators.
4. Shoes with Practical Heels
The choice of footwear will depend on the racecourse – and in particular, the area from which you’ll be viewing the races.
If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket for one of Ascot’s elite enclosures, stiletto heels are standard. But the Village enclosure at the same racecourse is a grassed standing area. If you want to avoid gradually sinking into the earth, wedges or block heels are a much better bet.
5. Pashminas and Gloves
For summer races, light and fashion forward clothing is the focus. But if you’re heading to the races on a colder day, you’ll want to ensure you stay warm.
A pashmina is a good way of adding an extra layer without creating excessive bulk. And even Ascot is happy for racegoers to wear them.
You can also take a tip from the Queen, and wear a smart pair of gloves. A pair of cotton gloves will add vintage glamour to a summer outfit. And in winter, leather gloves are both warm and formal.
Ready for your day at the races?
We hope you’ve enjoyed our round-up of what to wear to a horse race!
The expectations can vary according to the time of year and the venue. The golden rule is to check with the racecourse you’re attending well in advance, so you know whether a dress code applies.
And make sure you’re specific about which part of the grounds your ticket is for. In some cases, rules can vary dramatically.
At Ascot for example, there are stringent regulations about acceptable clothing in the Royal Enclosure. But if you’re in the Windsor enclosure, there’s no formal dress code at all (although there are still “recommendations”).
Whatever you wear, make it something you feel comfortable in. And enjoy your day at the races!