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27 Mar

Dress Codes: Do You Know Your Grand National From Your Royal Ascot?

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Racing season is upon us, and although you may have not received your tickets yet, you might be working on your wardrobe. Racegoers who attend many different meets will have their outfits worked out well in advance and for some courses, they may wear something similar every year. At some races such as Ascot, it is important to abide by the dress code if you want to spend the day in a certain enclosure, and other courses such as Cheltenham hold dress codes which are socially apparent, but you may not see any guidance on the website. Here, you’ll find dress codes for some of the biggest races in the country, learn the best times to don a fascinator and the perfect moment to put on the wellies.

Cheltenham Festival

As Cheltenham Festival happens early in the season in mid-March, the ground is still soft and the weather is entirely unpredictable. Whilst there is no formal dress code at Cheltenham, there is definitely an unspoken uniform of tweed, tweed and more tweed. Cheltenham attracts a farming crowd who love their boots and sports jackets. Save a few unfortunate racegoers who may not have received the memo, you’ll rarely see a heel in sight. Cheltenham is about Harris Tweed and Barbour jackets. Discreet elegance is the order of the day and you’ll want to protect yourself from the mud and inevitable rain. Many women will still wear hats, but these are often a practical affair rather than the showy pieces that you might see at Ascot, and if you truly wanted to wear something a little bit more dressy, ensure you stick to earthy tones. If you’re planning to attend in fancy dress, be warned that it is not accepted in the club enclosure.

Style Inspiration: if you’re looking for rural inspiration, look no further than the Duchess of Cambridge who works the neutral hues of the festival every year. Channel the Duchess by wearing a fedora or beret. Although hats aren’t mandatory at the festival, you can still evoke understated race style by adding a functional yet stylish hat. The Duchess also knows how to wear a coat. If, like the Duchess, you are a brunette, deep green tones in a coat will both complement your skin tone and keep you warm.

The Grand National


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Much like Cheltenham Festival, the Grand National at Aintree does not impose a dress code, but ladies, this is Liverpool. The uniform is bold and  Nothing is done by halves at the Grand National, it is one of the most highly anticipated races of the year. This year is no different, and last year’s winner Tiger Roll has been tipped to win for a second time. It isn’t just the racing that is bigger at The Grand National, fashion is a huge part of the package. If you’re lost for what to wear for ladies day, Aintree have devised a style code inspired by legendary fashion empress Coco Chanel. ‘“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman” they suggest, aiming to inspire racegoers to dress for their personality, and not to hold back on showing their personal style. 

Style Inspiration: Since Coco Chanel is the inspiration for Aintree’s style guide, it is only appropriate that she is the style inspiration for the Grand National. Chanel’s affiliation with Liverpool goes beyond the quote in the guide, however. Chanel is credited with liberating women from restricting corsets and giving them the chance to experience simple tailored design. Although this simple elegance may not reflect the outlandish style of many Grand National racegoers, it is a great place from which to start to create your individual look.

Royal Ascot


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Royal Ascot is the jewel in the crown of racing season. It is studded with celebrities and adorned with royalty. Just like the Grand National, Royal Ascot racegoers are encouraged to dress with style. However, unlike the Grand National, racegoers are provided with a dress code to which they must strictly adhere. This code was relaxed slightly in 2016 when the organisers at Ascot allowed women to wear smart jumpsuits in order to keep up with worldwide fashion trends. Within the Queen Anne Enclosure, a hat, headpiece or fascinator must be worn at all times and in the Royal Enclosure, this hat must have a base of at least four centimetres, which often allows for some rather fantastic and elaborate creations. This year will see one of the biggest changes to the Ascot dress code in recent years, as women will be able to dress like men and vice versa, so long as they adhere to the dress code. It may see some exciting fashion pieces and makes dressing for the occasion a much more exciting prospect. 

Style Inspiration: With the announcement that the dress code will be radically different this year, we’re bound to see some incredible androgynous styling. Follow in the footsteps of Cara Delevingne’s red carpet style and make a bold statement in a morning suit and top hat. For extra style points, pair it with patent brogues and wet look hair.

Once you have perused the different dress codes or style guides for each raceday, you’ll want to start adding personal touches of style. Comfort wins when you’re spending a day on your feet cheering on the horses, and as Coco Chanel famously said, “fashion changes, style remains”.

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