Giddy up as we bring you our guide on what to wear to the races

Event dressing made easy
Image courtesy of @karenmillen via Instagram



It’s that time of year again, summer events are fast approaching and when it comes to occasionwear dressing, racing events are undoubtedly the trickiest due (in part) to the strict dress codes. We show you how to simplify race day dressing from what to wear and how to adhere to the dress codes, to where to look for hats and headpieces.


Dress codes and what to wear

Whether you’re heading to Royal Ascot where there is a compulsory dress code for the Royal and Queen Anne enclosure (which is detailed so worth checking). The Epsom Derby where ladies are asked to wear formal wear including a fascinator or hat in the Queen’s Stand Enclosure or Goodwood Festival where anything goes, you want to feel and look your best. “The races are a chance to really dress up and put effort in to your outfit, having said that, it’s still important to be comfortable in what you’re wearing.” Explains Bethany Ferns, Fashion assistant at

Where to begin? With the main component of your outfit. Whether that be a dress, jumpsuit or trouser suit (the latter are now permitted in all Royal Ascot enclosures with the same rules applying as dresses). Consider your style, colours you like and the items you already own that suit you the best, this will help to narrow down your search. Ensure if you are looking for Royal Ascot attire and are attending either the Royal or Queen Anne Enclosure that you aren’t considering strapless, off the shoulder, spaghetti strap or one shouldered options.

For the Royal Enclosure, limit your search to lengths just above the knee as a minimum (as the rules state) and whilst the Queen Anne Enclosure is not specific with length, Ferns suggests “keep to just above the knee or midi and maxi style dresses for whichever race meeting you’re attending as these are both flattering and chic, working nicely with heeled shoes.”


We’ve picked our four favourite dresses to help kick start your search…


For Royal Ascot Queen Anne Enclosure –  Reiss Cheyenne Dress, £195 

In a gorgeous pink shade with wrap around detail on the bodice and a flattering mid length this Reiss dress ticks all the right boxes. The cut out back and bow detail add a stand out addition whilst the contrast pink and cream compliment one another perfectly. Regardless of how the day might go, you’ll be a winner in the style stakes in this dress for sure.



For Royal Ascot Royal Enclosure – Les Reveries Dress, £560 

Adhering to the formal dress code set for the Royal Enclosure doesn’t mean opting for a boring style with this romantic floral print. A maxi length design cut from silk-charmeuse with a gathered bodice and floaty sleeves, this is a chic and elegant dress that when paired with cream block heel sandals will set you apart from the crowd.



For Epsom Derby Day – Whistles Devina Dress, £199 

Whilst this wonderful Whistles dress makes a great race day option, it can also be dressed down with flats for a summer garden party ensuring you get maximum pence per wear. The stunning print, halterneck and soft ruffles that cascade across the dress enable you to look stylish and sophisticated throughout what is a long (but fun) day. Adhering to the fluid ‘formal wear’ dress code, paired with mules, your outfit – sorted.



For Goodwood – Forever New at ASOS Dress, £85 

As there’s no dress code at Goodwood you can opt for whichever dress length you prefer, and if that’s slightly shorter then this is the one for you. With cape sleeves and a tiered skirt this feminine silhouette with its fabulous floral print ensures you look both polished and stylish.




Hats and headpieces


Don’t be daunted by this aspect of the outfit as Ascot boutique owner, Philippa Robinson says: “Hats and headpieces are a fun addition to your outfit and a chance to wear something you wouldn’t normally wear.” If you’re attending the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, hats and headpieces have to have a minimum diameter of 4 inches to ensure entry – and it is worth noting that fascinators are not permitted in this enclosure. If you’re going to the Epsom Derby or Royal Ascot Queen Anne enclosure, hats, fascinators or headpieces are compulsory but do not need to be a minimum size.

How to choose the right one? Robinson suggests: “If your outfit is printed or has a few colours running through it I suggest picking out one of these and colour matching to your headwear. If your outfit is a minimalist shade a pop of colour will look stunning or, if your outfit is bright and needs to be the main focus, stick to a neutral shade.”

Ultimately, it’s trial and error, once you’ve got your dress ensure you take it to a hat shop and have fun trying on the array of styles and colours available. If you don’t want to spend out on something you’re likely to only wear a handful of times, renting a hat is a great option – Get Ahead Hats and Ilda Di Vico Couture Millinery are great sites to check out for this. Or, if you’re looking to buy – department stores such as John Lewis and Fenwick have an extensive range of colours and styles.


Shoes and bags


Much like other summer events there is inevitably always grass areas at race meetings so consider this when making your shoe choice – block heels are best, if just to avoid the dreaded sinking in. But for those of us who prefer a more delicate shoe, strappy stilettos and court shoes do add an element of chic to any outfit, just try to stick to the hard standing areas!

Bag wise, a clutch style in a colour that compliments your shoes, hat, or both looks effortless tucked under your arm. If you prefer to place a bag over your shoulder, a delicate chain ensures that it doesn’t detract from the rest of your outfit.