Champions' Day

16
Oct
2010
Newmarket Racecourse presents everything the serious racing fan needs.

Looking Good

It is, of course, common practice that athletes and sportsmen and -women wear special outfits when competing or demonstrating their skill. Their uniforms may represent the team they belong to, represent their country's colours, or declare their loyalty to their corporate sponsor. However, there are very few sports which require the spectators to wear special clothing. Horse racing, in fact a number of equine sport events (such as Polo and Show Jumping), is one of the sporting events that impose a dress code not only on contenders but on the audience.

Obviously racecourses today do not impose stringent dress codes at all events, or in all enclosures. The principle is that the more expensive your enclosure, the better dressed you have to be. The Premier/Members/or Club enclosure used to be reserved for aristocracy back in the day when the 'sport of kings' involved a strict division of the classes. It was there that the lords and ladies flaunted the newest international fashion, competing just as hard for attention up in their private boxes as the horses were striving for the win on the track. The 'commoners' although not in the same enclosure as the upper class, naturally did not want to be outdone and dressed up within their means. The races quickly became a place to be seen - and be seen looking one's very best.

As the racecourse was such a marketplace for showing off new fashions, it naturally became influential on the fashion scene of the day. Goodwood Racecourse for example is the self-proclaimed home of English summer fashion. It was at this racecourse in 1906 that King Edward VII decided that the formal morning dress of royalty and aristocrats was no longer appropriate for a leisurely day at the races. Instead of the more constricting formal attire, Edward VII wore a linen suit and a panama hat - which immediately was adopted as classical racing fashion. To this day the British royalty has a say when it comes to racecourse fashion; the Queen, for example, has the last word when it comes to the dress code to gain admission to the Royal Ascot Festival.

As for the ladies: the hat - or the smaller more ornate fascinator - has become synonymous with horse racing. In fact the papers now spend just as many lines reporting on the new, most outrageous or most elegant hats worn at an event, as on the event itself. The ladies hats have long been a status symbol. On one hand they demonstrate the affluence of the lady (or her family), as the intricate creations are not the cheapest head-wear on the market. On the other hand, the hats and fascinators are very much operating in a peacock-effect fashion; they enhance the attention a lady is getting and make a statement about her personality, as it is unlikely that any two hats at the races are the same.

If you want to join in the British tradition of looking your very best at the races, be prepared. The dress codes for events are to be found on the racecourse's website - you might even receive them in a brochure when you pick up your tickets. You don't have to be the best (or most outlandish) dressed person on the track, but you can flaunt what you got without any feelings of shame. And a little self-indulgent showing off has never hurt anyone.

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