What to wear at the races: Your comprehensive style guide

There’s nothing quite like a day at the races. Whether it’s the thrill of the chase or the heady atmosphere of the occasion as a whole, it’s no wonder that the races remain such a firm favourite among millions of people.

But first and foremost, you need to make sure that your outfit is up to par (okay, this might be a golfing metaphor, but ignore that for now). It can certainly be a little confusing at first knowing just what to wear to the races, particularly as different courses have different dress codes – and some, formally at least, have none at all.

Then there’s those informal dress codes to consider – these might not be set down in stone, but rest assured, if you fall foul of them you’ll probably soon be made aware of it. So what should style-conscious men wear when going to the races? Here are our top tips.

What to wear to Cheltenham races

Cheltenham Festival in March always kicks off the racing calendar in fine style, and despite the considerable prestige of the event and the astonishing wealth of racing talent on display, this is actually one of the most laid-back events of the year.

This is reflected in the laissez-faire dress code at Cheltenham – which is to say, there basically isn’t one. More or less anything goes (weather permitting) on the course itself, though suits and other such smart attire are advisable if you’re heading into the club enclosure and restaurants.

What’s the Grand National dress code?

For most punters, the Grand National in April is the highlight of the racing year. Every year, around 150,000 people descend on Aintree to take in the thrills of the Grand National weekend – with hundreds of millions of pounds bet on the outcome.

As you might expect from such a high-profile and prestigious event, the emphasis at Aintree is very much on smart attire – although no official Grand National dress code is stipulated, smart outfits are “preferable” and fancy dress, for the would-be jokers among us is a definite no-no.

Nevertheless, the lack of any official dress code beyond this guidance means you have plenty of leeway to express your own distinctive style. If you’re heading to the Grand National, make the right impression with a smart jacket and tie. This should help you stay suitably stylish without being overdressed.

What to wear to Ascot races?

If you’re planning a trip to Royal Ascot in June, you really will need to be dressed for the occasion. As the name indicates, Royal Ascot is very much the upper crust of the annual racing calendar, so much so, in fact, that it even has its own style guide.

Royal Ascot prides itself on its reputation for “sartorial elegance”, so you need to make sure your outfit makes the grade. The exact dress requirements vary depending on which enclosure you’re in, but two rules which are constant for men are that jeans are not permitted at all and also that ankle-covering socks must be worn (this latter rule came into force from 2018)

The Royal Enclosure

The Royal Enclosure, as you might have guessed, is where the most prescriptive rules are in force. After all, you never know which aristocrat your dress sense might otherwise offend while you’re there. To avoid any such embarrassment, here you’re mandated to wear only grey or black morning suits – including waistcoat and tie (cravats and bow ties are not acceptable) – with a grey or black top hat. These must be paired with black shoes worn with socks.

Queen Anne and Village enclosures?

Elsewhere the requirements aren’t quite so stringent, but are nevertheless firm enough. In the Queen Anne and Village enclosures, colourful outfits are fine – but even so, men “are required to wear a full-length trouser suit with collared shirt and tie”, as well as ensuring that their jacket and trousers are of matching colour and pattern.

Dressing for York and Chester races

While York and Chester races are much more relaxed affairs than Royal Ascot, you’ll nevertheless need to be on top of your sartorial game here as well.

York doesn’t have a formal dress code except in the County Stand, where men are required to wear a jacket with collared shirt and tie, though similarly smart dress also tends to be the norm in the Grandstand and Paddock (fancy dress is permissible here, but firmly “within the bounds of decency”). The Clock Tower Enclosure is much more relaxed, however.

At Chester, the dress codes vary from enclosure to enclosure. In the hospitality areas of the course and certain other areas including the winning post, “well-tailored” suits or blazer jackets with smart trousers are required, along with a collared shirt and tie.

York doesn’t have a formal dress code except in the County Stand, where men are required to wear a jacket with collared shirt and tie, though similarly smart dress also tends to be the norm in the Grandstand and Paddock (fancy dress is permissible here, but firmly “within the bounds of decency”). The Clock Tower Enclosure is much more relaxed, however.

In the Tattersalls Enclosure a more smart-casual dress code is in place, with requirements including a collared shirt (though here polo shirts are also acceptable) with smart jeans, trousers or chinos. Elsewhere on the course there is no particular dress code in force.