There is something about the races that makes normally chic people lose any sense of style and taste. The combined challenges of daywear, the great outdoors and proximity to horses and Champagne, traditionally results in an eye-searing mash-up of feathers, sequins, hiked up hemlines and daring cleavage coated in a generous shellac of fake tan. It’s enough to scare the horses.
I blame the 1980s.
During the decade of excess, the racetrack became a showground for men in fancy dress suits and women in hats that made Dame Edna Everage’s costumes seem a model of restraint. Despite recessions and the GFC (Global Frock Crisis), the over-the-top-approach has remained.
It’s time to bring sophistication back to the track.
The first thing we have to do is pay attention to the weather and time of day that horse racing takes place. This shouldn’t be too difficult, but every year women in clinging dresses that display more than they cover – which would be appropriate on a dance floor if the wearer was capable of moving – can be seen huddling for cover at the racetrack.
Lycra is not daywear. Masses of sequins are not daywear. Most items with a snap crotch are not daywear. If it is something you would consider wearing to a formal dinner, leave it on the clothes hanger. If it’s an outfit that could be considered for a sequel to Pretty Woman, it’s time to assess your life choices.
Tap into the 1970s trend that currently dominates fashion and, if the weather is warm, look to free-flowing, boho-style dresses with floral prints. The colourful design and soft silhouette will deliver feminine appeal, while long sleeves and below-the-knee hemlines will draw attention to your style rather than acres of exposed skin.
On a cooler day, you can anchor haute hippie dresses with a tough jacket and boots. A smart leather jacket without too many straps and buckles will keep your look edgy and chic, and more importantly, it will stop you from having to borrow a generous boy’s blazer, leaving him shivering in your wake. The boots are key. The solid heel will stop you from sinking in the turf and at the end of race day you will be able to outrun your competition to the taxi queue as they hobble along with blistered heels and sad stilettos in hand.
Sweet spring dresses that summon the spirit of the 1950s in overblown ginghams or bold graphic prints are another antidote to neon explosions in neoprene and binding bandage dresses. Keep the tailoring soft and unstructured to avoid looking like you’re off to a vintage fair, and enjoy the freedom of a light cotton fabric. A simple straw boater keeps the look fresh, simple and restrained. Resist any urges to bedazzle the trim. Your style goal here is Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, not Miley Cyrus on the red carpet.
Even trousers, along with a pussy-bow blouse or a sleek blazer, will keep you in the winner’s circle. The goal is to take the emphasis off the carnival part of a racing carnival, not look like a clown, and to hold onto your shirt – or at least wear one.
Words by Damien Woolnough
Photos by Richard Freeman and Paul Suesse.