What to wear to the races (when it’s not Ascot)

With no strict dress code, it's hard to know what to wear. Here's six rules to live by when you're next off to the races

There’s so much more to racing than just Ascot. Although the highlight of the racing year in dress code terms – which we’ve covered elsewhere – there’s plenty of other meets with which to fill your calendar. And, unlike Ascot, other races like the Grand National, Cheltenham and the Epsom Derby have no strict requirements when it comes to what to wear – which can be both a good and bad thing, in our books. Yes, you don’t have to cram yourself into a top hat and tails at 11am. But, on the other hand, what on earth do you wear? Here’s five rules to learn to ensure you look the part.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana at the Grand National racecourse at Aintree

1. No sports clothes or fancy dress

Although many races don’t have strict dress codes like Ascot, most enforce this rule. Which means as great as Dad trainers and athleisure are for hitting the streets of London, they don’t have a place on a racecourse. Instead, think more traditional, with a suit in an earthy tone, or a sports coat and tailored trousers. This double-breasted jacket from Kingsman can be worn with its matching trousers for a sharp-suited look, or with separates for a more dressed-down approach. Come the warmer months, and you’ll be able to get away with a light-coloured suit in linen or seersucker. 

£995 for the jacket,

2. Be cautious of tweed

It may be traditional, but go too far in a full tweed suit and plus fours, and you run the risk of looking like a runaway extra from an Agatha Christie adaptation. Instead, go for a more low key check, like a Prince of Wales or houndstooth. This wool and silk blend unstructured blazer from Etro, in a subtle grey check, is what you should be aiming for.


Sean Connery in 'Dr No'

3. Wear a hat

You don’t get many opportunities in life to wear a proper hat, so embrace this chance. A racing felt trilby is the timeless choice, as long as you wear it with confidence. The Sandown from Lock & Co, worn by Sean Connery in Dr No (above), is a classic option, while the Stetson Sardis green felt hat with feathers is a jauntier choice. A note to bear in mind: as much as you’d like to pull of a flat cap, very few people can without looking like they’re on their way to a Saturday night with the Young Farmers Club.


4. Neckwear would be nice

Despite there being no official dress code, tradition has it that men wear ties to the races – just look at any old pictures of Prince Philip or Prince Charles in attendance, and you’ll get an idea. This being the countryside, though, opt for something knitted or textured to go with your checked suit or sports jacket, instead of shiny or brightly patterned. If a tie makes you think too much of Monday morning at the office, then opt for a nattily tied neck scarf or cravat instead.

£45, Nick Bronson at

5. Choose your footwear wisely

This isn’t the time or place for shiny brogues or, unfortunately, suede. It being Britain, chances are the ground will be running on the soft side – and you don’t want to ruin your favourite suede loafers in the process. Instead, opt for something sturdier and, preferably, water resistant. Grenson’s Arlo Chelsea boots with commando soles would be ideal for this


Prince Philip at Badminton Horse Trials

6. Finally, don’t try too hard

With racing, as with any old British pursuit, there’s a fine line to tread between getting it right and trying to hard – and outing yourself as a Johnny Raw in the process. So make like Prince Philip (above), ditch the bright colours, the tweed plus fours and the shiny shoes, and keep it simple.