Dressed to the nines – style tips for the races

We may have already seen the first ladies day of the season at Cheltenham this month, but the stylish racing season is only just beginning. As the spring and summer months approach, more people start preparing for their annual trip to the races, whether it be for Ascot, the Derby or the Grand National. A trip to the races is an excuse to get dressed up in your best pieces, but beware, there are some style dos and don’t that you should remember:

The main outfit

If you’ve got a ticket for the races, you need to dress your best. Even if you have no interest in racing and are going for a birthday, stag or hen party you need to be aware of the rules and dress code.  For many race meets and in some enclosures, fancy dress or casual outfits are not allowed. Follow our handy tips below and always check the venue’s website for extra style advice — you don’t want to be refused entry when you arrive!


A safe bet for ladies is a dress with a hat or fascinator and women’s court shoes. At Cheltenham, you will see people wearing classic country colours and neutral shades with checks and tweed a favourite, the Grand National is completely opposite, with nothing safe or muted, instead expect a  “spectacle of colour”, bold and bright is definitely the order of the day at this festival.

Although shorter dresses, jumpsuits and trouser suits are acceptable at many events, some venues keep it formal and enforce a strict dress code. In the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot, dresses must fall just above the knee or longer and must have a strap of one inch or greater — so avoid strapless, off-the-shoulder and halter-neck dresses. In the Village Enclosure at Royal Ascot, midriffs are required to be covered no matter how beautiful the weather, and if you opt for a trouser suit, it should be full-length, or you might find that you’re not allowed in.

If you opt for a skirt and top, a Rixo skirt that sits below the knee and has a stand-out pattern perfect for the summer months.


If you think the ladies code is strict, wait for the men’s. The dress code can be even stricter when it comes to men.

As you can imagine, Sports clothing such as tracksuit bottoms and trainers are a definite no-no. .They are not permitted in the Club Stand at the Ayr Grand National or in the Winning Post, County and Tattersalls Enclosures at the Boodles Festival. But would you really want to turn up in your football top even though some venues might accept this sort of dress?

Other no no’s include ripped or torn jeans. Instead invest in suits and smart trousers that are recommended. The Queen Anne Enclosure at Royal Ascot insists on suits, saying jackets and trousers should be of matching colour and pattern. For footwear such as a brogue or men’s derby shoe in a subtle tone that pairs well with your look.

Styling your outerwear

With the unpredictable UK weather, adding an extra layer to your race day outfit is must, a real necessity— but what should you wear?


Longer coats or smart macs are a good choice for women on race days. These coats look chic and formal, while keeping your outfit dressy. Avoid any coat and jackets that could create a more casual tone, this is to be avoided on these elegant events.


A covert coat is a popular choice for race day, this is an overcoat that’s traditionally worn for hunting or horse-riding. The covert coat creates just the right tone for these types of events. Pair with a checked scarf on a cooler day and avoid short-length coats including suede or shearling designs to prevent looking less formal.

The final touches

The right accessories can make or break a look when it comes to the races. Co-ordination and unusual pieces are key to standing out on race day.


Most women attending a race day choose to add a hat to complete their look. This is useful not only as an accessory but also to protect from the cold, especially closer to the start of the racing season! Oversized hats and funky fascinators are a huge part of race days with many best dressed winners chosen for their weird and wonderful headpieces.

Avoid a fascinator if you are in the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot, they were famously banned a few years ago, but ‘substantial fascinators’ are encouraged at the Investec Ladies Day in May. At the Scottish Grand National in Ayr, ‘hats and fascinators are optional, but on display in abundance’, suggesting you might feel out of place without one.


When it comes to the final touches to your outfit, all you need is a tie, and maybe a hat if you’re feeling truly sartorial.  

Even though a tie isn’t compulsary at all meets, you might want to take one just in case. For the Ayr Scottish Grand National, a tie isn’t compulsory in the Hospitality Facilities,  however, in the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot, a tie must be worn and this must be a real tie, so maybe invest in a smart tie pin too. A black or grey top hat and black shoes are also necessities to enter this part of the venue. 

Wherever you’re heading for race day, follow our handy hints and tips to make sure you look the part.