Men’s Style: How to Dress for the Races

Spring is just around the corner, which means that the horse racing season is well and truly upon us, with Cheltenham coming up in mid-March. Style, tradition, excess, pomp, and refinement. These are the words that best describe this exciting period of competition and revelry.

For elite members of society, the horse racing period is a vital cornerstone of the social calendar, a time to mingle with old acquaintances and, of course, try to one-up each other in the style department. For everyone else, it’s an opportunity to dress to the absolute nines, quaff dangerous levels of champagne, and try our very best to impress the ladies with our sense of style and the size of our bets.

The major horse racing events of the season are steeped in generations of tradition, meaning that there is a rigid style etiquette all men must follow if they wish to avoid a humiliating rejection from the racing grounds.

Officially, the dress codes are rather lax these days, but it is expected that all men who are attending dress to impress. And you’ll want to make the most of this day anyway. Here’s how to dress for the races this year.

The Essentials

The most important thing to bear in mind is that you’ll need to dress like a true gent. Smart, formal, and classy clothing is absolutely essential, which means you’re going to have to get fitted for a suit. The atmosphere of the biggest race days is a curious mixture of ostentation and refinement, which means opting for a look that is in equal parts suave and swagger.

Of course, the weather will also affect your choices. The Cheltenham Festival takes place over four days every March, and you don’t need us to tell you how temperatures and rain can be in March. This particular event’s second day is called Ladies Day, but it’s all about fashion for everyone, with stylish hats and tweed jackets recommended although there’s no official dress code. However, it goes without saying that cheap, relaxed clothing is a big no-no.

You’ll need a fitted suit with a sharp cut, ideally one made of wool, cotton, or linen. Silk, satin, and nylon are genuine no-go areas, and people will notice if your suit looks cheap. A timeless suit is absolutely key.

A Splash of Color is Encouraged

While some of the more formal races such as the Royal Ascot require what is called “matching” clothing in all areas, meaning that the suit blazer and trousers must be matching in both color and style, this is not the rule or even the norm everywhere else.

The races are a festive, outdoors occasion. As such, you should consider adding a touch of color to your look in order to give off the kind of flair that your fellow racegoers will be striving for. This doesn’t mean going all out with a rainbow polka dot suit.

Instead, consider understated yet summery colors such as light green, baby blue, soft pink and light yellows. A cravat or tie is also a prime opportunity to give some manly personality to your look.

Accessorizing 101

At any race day, your accessories will be scrutinized by all in attendance. Your accessories should complement your overall style while also adding a dash of individuality. The key is not going overboard, making the most out of one or two small accessories.

Sunglasses and pocket handkerchiefs are non-negotiable. Classic eyewear such as Ray-Ban Wayfarers or Aviators are generally accepted, whilst tortoiseshell frames are preferred. Your pocket handkerchief should complement the color of your suit and feature a simple pattern such as polka dots or stripes.

Don’t forget to choose a leather belt which matches your suit trousers. A watch is also an important accessory, but remember to avoid at all costs any wristwear that could be considered blingy or ostentatious. A small, elegant timepiece should do the trick, whilst pocket watches are also becoming increasingly popular.

Formal Footwear

Never forget the footwear, as this is arguably as important as your suit. Naturally, sports shoes of any kind are expressly forbidden and you may be refused entry to the racing grounds if you rock up in your Nike Air Max.

Solid leather formal shoes are all you need – Oxfords and Brogues are de regueur and should be your first choice of footwear. Whilst black shoes are fine, a dark brown color is the ideal, as these are more associated with leisure as opposed to work.

Once you’ve followed every element of this style guide to a T, then you’re ready to hit the races! Just try not to spill any champagne on your shirt and you’ll be all good.

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