North American horseracing has been around since 1665 (Long Island, New York, boasts the title of first horse track in America) when fashionable men still wore tights and fashionable women wore dresses that covered practically every inch of skin. And yet, it seems Americans don’t dress up as much for horseracing season as our English or Australian friends.
I find this ironic since the United States is often seen as one of the world’s top fashion trendsetters (think New York and Los Angeles Fashion Weeks). To prove my point, search Royal Ascot or Melbourne Cup and you will see countless pictures of stylish women and men at the races. On this side of the pond, if you google Kentucky Derby fashion or Virginia Gold Cup fashion, you are more likely to find photos of people in tacky flower bedazzled hats, polyester psychedelic suits and ill-fitting strapless dresses from low-end retail stores.
I, for one, just don’t get it. I know the races are supposed to be fun to watch but why would you pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for tickets to one of the most trendy US races (commonly known as the Triple Crown: Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and Kentucky Derby) only to end up looking like the jester of the royal court rather than the queen/king of the racing fashion world? I know everyone wants their 15 seconds of fame but I want to earn mine by being a fashion do rather than a fashion don’t.
I say we up our racing fashion A game my fellow Americans! If you want to be seen as the jester (i.e. you want to be the clownish party guy/gal with the spinning bowtie or hat with plastic horses glued to it) I can’t help you. But if you want to be seen as the fashion queen/king that will likely get your photo posted on the race track’s “best dressed” list, read and heed the below advice.
• Comfortable fabrics (cotton, silk, linen, lightweight wool) that are breathable since you will be outdoors in the sun most of the time
• Conservative attire (this is not a nightclub so leave your mini-skirts and midriff bearing tops at home)
• Good shoes (walking around on the grassy areas is easier with a short, more clunky heeled shoe rather than stilettoes) that are dressy — no boots, athletic shoes, flip flops, clogs — and stylish
• A stylish hat – for three reasons: 1) because the races is one of the few places men and women can play dress up with hats and not get strange looks; 2) it keeps the sun out of your eyes and might help you avoid those squinting eye wrinkles and sun spotted skin in the future; and 3) it really will complete your fashion queen/king look. Guys, you will look totally awesome in a natural colored fedora or straw boater hat, trust me.
• A dress for ladies (no cut-outs, lace over nude fabric or backless please)
• A suit or nice trousers and jacket for men (button down shirts and ties will always look stylish)
Do not wear:
• Jeans or denim of any kind
• Golf or polo shirts
• Sports team attire (save your NFL jersey for football games)
• T-shirts, sweatsuits or gym clothes (we are watching the races, not running them ourselves so you don’t need to be that comfortable)
• Tube tops, tank tops or any other item of clothing that looks like it belongs at the Victoria’s Secret annual bra sale
While American racing fashion isn’t as strict as that at England’s Ascot (www.ascot.co.uk/dress-code, no halter or off-the-shoulder top, spaghetti strapped dress or short skirt and men must wear conservative suits while women must wear appropriate sized hats), there are still dress codes for most racing tracks.
Churchill Downs (Kentucky Derby, first Saturday of May), Louisville, Kentucky: www.churchilldowns.com/visit/info/dress-code
Pimlico Race Course (Preakness Stakes , third Saturday of May), Baltimore, Maryland: www.preakness.com/visitors-guide/preakness-chic
Belmont Park (Belmont Stakes, three weeks after Preakness States usually in June), Elmont, New York: www.nyra.com/belmont/information/
Great Meadow (Virginia Gold Cup in May, International Gold Cup in October), The Plains, Virginia: www.vagoldcup.com/va/faqs
Further race day fashion advice — the rule of 25%
Your ensemble should be broken down into four sections: Dress, shoes/purse, hat, other accessories (usually jewelry). Choose one section of your outfit that will be your “centerpiece”, you know, that one piece that people will compliment you on, that will stand out. This is your 25%. Then make all other sections (the other 75%) conservative. Why? Well, if everything in your ensemble is a centerpiece then you really have no stand out piece. Make sense? For example, if you have a very bright and sparkly fire engine red flowered dress that is your 25%, your other pieces should be more subdued (perhaps in black or white solid colored shoes and purse with a simple strand of pearls). Or maybe you have a huge blue feathered and jeweled floppy hat as your 25%, then you should pair it with a simple black or blue dress with minimum jewelry.