Racing 101: How To Dress For A Day At The Races

A day at the races is unlike any other social event and with it, comes a dress code like no other.

If you have never been to the races before, or are unsure as to what the expectation of dressing for a day trackside is, these tips should help.

Dressing for the races is meant to be fun; however there are certainly ‘rules’ that racegoers should follow when it comes to outfit choice and, depending on the race day or area on course, there are sometimes specific dress codes for those too.

SHOW PONY Racewear Guide 1.png

Any of these styles from popular online fashion retailer ASOS would be perfect on race day.


Rule #1: Race wear is day wear and most definitely NOT ball, evening or nightclub wear. Save the ball gown, little black dress or crop top for your next big night out and get excited about all the fun & gorgeous ‘day-wear-appropriate’ options that are out there.

When it comes to make-up, less is more on race day.  You’re not going to be in a darkened bar where your features won’t stand out, so there’s no need to contour & bronze it up to within an inch of your life.  Leave the smouldering eyes for later and instead focus on a brighter, daytime look.  Jennifer Hawkins does a gorgeous, simple race day look that is easy to replicate.

Hint: Long-wear make-up is great as it helps maintain that fresh-faced look throughout the race day BUT, if you don’t have any and are out of primer or a make-up setting mist, a quick burst of hair spray over the face will work as a substitute.

Avoid dressing down on the major race days. Leave the denim, jandals and shorts for the beach or a low-key summer racing event which is targeted at holidaymakers such as the Interislander Summer Festival.  A day at the races is an occasion to dress up, so make the most of the opportunity!

Length & shape of outfit is important. The races are supposed to be a higher-end act, yet all too often you’ll see girls on course wearing outfits that are too short, too tight or too revealing.

Anything above the knee is considered as not being race day appropriate. Equally, maxi dresses & strapless styles aren’t generally considered as par for the course.

You might (or might not!) look good in such outfits, they might be brand new and you’re dying to wear them, you might think they are your only chance of catching the eye of the guy you’re after, but you’re breaking the unwritten race day dress code and trust us when we say that it’s not for the right reasons.


None of these styles would be considered as being appropriate race wear.

There are plenty of other social events to show off what your muma gave you and while we’re not prudes, we would strongly suggest you don’t bring your minis, bandage dresses, resort-wear, acres of legs and bursting cleavage trackside.

Instead, think of a day at the races as an opportunity to try something different in the fashion stakes, as opposed to wearing the same style you’d rock at any other occasion.

Hem lengths that sit just on or below the knee and outfits that leave more to the imagination are what you need to look for when seeking an outfit for the races. 

(This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or look good – read our guide on how to bring SS16/17 fashion trends racing to find out more).

Give your ‘look’ some space.  If you’ve got a loud or busy aspect to your outfit, such as a brightly-printed dress or large headpiece, consider toning down other elements including your make-up and hair.  This will help your ‘feature’ item stand out and prevent any fines from the Fashion Police.

Don’t forget the footwear!  It can be a long day at the races and removing your shoes whilst trackside is a huge ‘no no’ – make sure you select a pair that you can last in all day and won’t have you sinking into the grass.  You’ll also never regret popping some rubber or gel ‘party feet’ and a few Bandaids into your clutch or bag.

Always dress for the weather and season.  If you’re just going racing socially, that might mean something as simple as remembering to pop in a warm jacket or some sunscreen.

Heading to the races in the colder months?  There’s nothing ‘hot’ about a summer’s outfit worn to a winter’s race day, so do make sure to bear the season in mind when getting dressed.


Lace, sheer, frilled, structured, floral… there are so many ways in which you can play with different cuts, fabrics & styles for race day, despite what may seem liked rigid race wear rules for the uninitiated. All of these styles are available from ASOS for a reasonable price.

If you’re planning on entering a Fashions on the Field competition, there are some further unwritten rules as to what you should also consider.  Generally speaking, your outfit must be appropriate to the season (and often the weather on the day), original yet stylish, and ideally, it would reflect current seasonal trends but with a race wear ‘filter’ over it.  A headpiece is a must and finishing touches such as gloves and stockings are often a good idea.  Each individual competition may have further guidelines as to what the judges are looking for.

Consider the materials of your outfit and ensure they too are appropriate for the season.  For example with regards to headwear, sinamay is great for spring or summer race days, whereas felt & leather work well for autumn or winter racing events.

Check to see if the race day or area you are attending on course has a specific dress code.  If you are attending a Derby Day, you might like to consider wearing black and white to the event. This isn’t such a big thing yet at New Zealand’s Derby Day in March, but it is across the ditch in Australia where raceday fashionistas wouldn’t be caught dead breaking this time-honoured tradition. This type of prestigious event also calls for more of a classic dress style.

Oaks Day has the tradition of being ‘Ladies’ Day’ and subsequently has a feminine dress code (think florals & lace) and the Royal Enclosure at Ascot has clear expectations of dress, such as that headpieces must have a diameter in excess of 10cm (otherwise they are ‘fascinators’ which are prohibited from that area on course).  The list goes on!

If in doubt, call the event organisers and ask.

SHOW PONY Not Racewear.png

These are all cute little outfits but they’re best worn outside of the racecourse. Any guesses why???

Don’t try to be above everyone else and break race wear traditions for the sake of it.  In doing so, you’ll just end up insulting the people that work hard to bring you the events or those for whom the occasion holds a special place in their heart.

Racing is an international sport with traditions attached and this is what makes race days such fun events to attend.  There are plenty of options out on the racks that will both show off your sense of style and demonstrate that you have captured the art of how to dress for the races. This, in turn, is an admirable display of respect for what is a time-honoured sport and dress code.

Of course, bending the race wear rules is another story entirely and many of the top race day fashionistas will always push the boundaries to develop their winning edge, but our advice is if you’re not an expert in the field (and by that we mean someone who regularly attends race days and / or likely performs well in Fashions on the Field competitions), play it safe and stick to the dress code and general race wear guidelines – don’t just listen to the shops or fashion ‘influencers’ that are trying to jump on the race wear bandwagon and will tell you anything to make a sale or garner a following.

Lastly, enjoy yourself!  Like we said at the beginning, dressing for the races is meant to be a positive experience that you can look forward to in the lead-up to race day.

Don’t stress too much about what you’re wearing and instead, just make sure that whatever you’re rocking brings out the unicorn within.

Love the SHOW PONY Millinery unicorns

PS Keep checking back here as we’ll return with some further visual examples of what does (and does not) constitute race wear.


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