Style Councillor

How to dress for the Boat Race

Our Style Director Gareth Scourfield shows you what to wear for the Boat Race, without looking like you've skipped a day of lectures

Q: I’m going to the Boat Race in April. How do I dress for it without ending up looking like I’ve taken the day off uni to attend – or, worse, like I’m one of the professors keeping an eye on the kids?

Too often the TV cameras pan round to the crowds lining the banks of the Thames at the Boat Race to reveal a group of young lads dressed in bold stripy blazers, novelty waistcoats and garish bow ties that it appears your viewing’s been interrupted by an episode of Brideshead Revisited – or, worse, their dads still trying to dress like they’re on a uni jolly with their mates. Whatever their age or Oxford-Cambridge affiliation, these Pimms quaffing ‘dudes’ with their foppishly dishevelled hair might look like they have come straight from a fresher’s ball – but, by keeping a few style rules in mind, you don’t have to.

While you should adhere to some of the style etiquette associated with this historic University race – wearing a tailored blazer and trousers as opposed to denim jeans and a tracksuit top, for example – you don’t need to reach for your grandad’s double-breasted blazer to pull off a Regatta-appropriate outfit. These are the pieces you should invest in that will keep your look crisp, contemporary and camera-ready…

Oliver Spencer grandad shirt 

While your fellow race-supporters are buttoned up in their traditional striped shirts and club logo ties, you’ll fine this organic cotton grandad shirt a worthy and suitable substitute. While the shirt itself may nod to its formal roots, it’s peppered with more casual styling from the soft one-buttoned cuff to the patch breast pocket. It sits on the right side of smart-casual, and if the sun dares to shows its face, a couple of undone buttons and rolled sleeves will still look ‘dressed’ rather than slovenly. For more inclement weather simply button up and pull over a Breton stripe knit or rugby style top.


Kent & Curwen rugby shirt

The rugby top is somewhat a constant in any Kent & Curwen collection no matter what the season, so this new striped rugby top gives a nod to the sporting occasion, without being too literal. Much like most of the Kent & Curwen range, which draws on a rich and diverse cross section of British sports, this collared rugby top which features the brands emblematic rose, works on its own with the collars popped up or layered over a T-shirt. I’d suggest you wear this over the ticking striped collarless shirt, which can give warmth without bulk and shows off the mix of collar detailing. Wear this top layered with an unstructured blazer over for the full effect. If you’re feeling really motivated, tuck some (not all) of the rugby shirt into your trouser waistband, for that nonchalant ‘just thrown’ together outfit. Otherwise known as the French tuck.


Polo Ralph Lauren blazer

To save your boat(y McBoat) face, a blazer is essential if you want to nail the Thames-side dress etiquette. Rather than follow the foppish crowd of striped club blazers, opt for a softer, more contemporary version. This example from Polo Ralph Lauren will tick that box fittingly. The slim-line cut and unstructured construction makes it smart without the ‘club’ or university formality. The navy colour offers more of timeless look and will fit into your wardrobe long after the last boat has past the winning post.


The Workers Club chinos

The Boat Race is inherently a little fancy – so you’ll want to avoid denim and joggers when considering your boat race outfit (unless of course you are watching from the comfort of your sofa). For those front line spectators, the default trousers of choice are a tailored chinos. While this option is a classic, it’s also not exactly pushing the boat out (sorry about that). I’d recommend you go for a more modern pleat-front chino from London-based brand The Workers Club – aka TWC. On paper, a pleated chino sounds very ‘American tourist’ and not at all flattering, but these have been cut a little fuller around the waist and taper to the ankle with a neat cuff, so no acres of puddling cotton around your feet.


CQP Portico suede sneakers

The easy answer on footwear for attending the boat race would be boat shoes or docksiders. Nothing wrong with those, and they’re certainly a better option than heavy brogues on a potentially sweat-inducingly hot day. However, I think these soft grey suede sneakers, a sort of hybrid between a trainer and a desert boot, work really well with tailored trousers or chinos. The suede upper looks smart while the rubber sole offers practicality. Simple, maybe, but effective. However, make sure you treat these with a protective spray before venturing out onto the muddy banks of the Thames.