Off to the Races

Our Ultimate Style Guide

The arrival of summer brings with it the thundering of hooves and the clattering of heels as a plethora of ‘Ladies’ Days’ are added onto the horse racing calendar.

At Hope & Ivy, while we know there’s no better opportunity to dress up to the nines, the guidance around what is ‘appropriate attire’ can be confusing. Add to that the nuances of navigating differing dress codes for particular enclosures and it’s enough to keep even the most stylish race goer on their toes. But not to worry, we’re here with all the advice you need to ensure your outfit is a winner!

Know Your Enclosure

Whether you’re headed to Epsom Ladies Day, the Ascot Royal Enclosure, the Grand National or Goodwood Festival, you’ll want to dress to impress.

First thing’s first – check what the dress code is for your event day and enclosure. For example, while The Jockey Club, an organisation that owns 15 of Britain's most famous racecourses, simply encourages racegoers to come ‘dressed to feel your best’, Epsom’s Queen Elizabeth II stand specifically requests formal day dresses or suits with a hat or fascinator, so it’s best to double check!

Straps or Sleeves?

As with many formalwear settings, it’s showing off your shoulders that still seems to ruffle feathers in more conservative camps. However, the majority of venues have caught on to contemporary dressing, so slinky straps and showing a little leg are now de rigueur. Even at the more traditional Ascot, some areas tend to be more casual than others, but be warned!

If you are invited to the Royal Enclosure the rules are a lot stricter: halter necks, Bardot necklines, strapless, one-shoulder and off-the-shoulder styles are not permitted within that specific area, and all dress straps must measure one inch or more in width. To stay on the safe side, we say why not cover your shoulders with one of our gorgeous flutter-sleeve styles which, of course, are perfect for having a flutter! Or, if you’re still in doubt, take a light coverup with you – just in case! 

How short is too short?

Newmarket racecourse states that ‘small skirts are deemed unsuitable for racing and are therefore discouraged’. Not that we can imagine we’ll be asked up to take the place of one of the jockeys anytime soon, but we can sort of see the logic… Here at Hope & Ivy, we love flattering midi lengths and floor-sweeping maxi dresses, so there’s plenty to pick from to ensure that your outfit ticks all the dress code boxes. 

Get Ahead with a Hat (or Fascinator)

These days there aren’t many opportunities to don some fancy headwear, so it’s no surprise that so many stylish women jump at the chance to top their race day look with a hat or headpiece.

‘I am often asked whether the hat or the outfit comes first, and 95 per cent of the time it’s the outfit.’ says esteemed milliner Jess Collett – her pieces have been worn by Pippa Middleton, Helena Bonham Carter and Maya Jama.

Once you’ve got your dress sorted, look for something in a complementary colour that suits your face shape – a good rule of thumb is to go no wider than your shoulders and to play with angling your headpiece to find your most flattering look.

Small ‘button’ styles and structural headbands are also increasingly popular, alongside the ever-fashionable fascinator – a style which is unfortunately not permitted in Ascot’s Royal Enclosure where hats with a solid base of 4 inches in diameter are mandatory.

Steer Clear of Stilettos

We love pairing our Hope & Ivy pieces with gorgeous heels but, at the races, comfort is key. ‘We recommend that you leave your stiletto heels at home, as the uneven ground can be tricky to walk on,’ say those in the know at Goodwood Festival, plus spiky styles will sink into the grass.

If you still want to add height with a heel though, all is not lost! A great option is choosing a sturdy block heel that won’t sink into the earth, while a platform sole is also a great option for adding inches while still remaining comfortable underfoot.

Remember you will be on your feet all day, so make sure you wear shoes that you can walk comfortably in… or stash a pair of emergency flats in your bag! There's nothing worse than cutting a day out short due to sore feet! 

Check the Weather

Since this is British Summer Time we’re talking about, there’s always the danger of a surprise shower or unwelcome winds. Make sure you are prepared by checking the outlook before your equestrian event and style your outfit accordingly. After all, it would be a shame to have to cover up a beautiful floral-print dress with an unsightly mac at the last minute! Opt for a coat, cardigan or wrap in a complementary colour and make sure to pack an emergency umbrella – one with a clear canopy will ensure you don’t detract from your look. 

 Whatever race day outfit you choose, make sure you feel like a million dollars in it and enjoy yourself. At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun in your finest! 

Styling for the Races with Tiger Lily Boutique

We caught up with the gorgeous Clare from Tiger Lily Boutique to discuss all things occasionwear for those off to the races this season...

What are your top tips for picking an outfit for the races?

The first thing to do is check the dress code for the event. Some races, like Royal Ascot, have pretty strict guidelines. Also, keep an eye on the weather forecast—go for lighter fabrics if it's warm and layer up if it's cooler. Comfort is key, so make sure your outfit will be comfortable enough for a day of standing, walking, and maybe even a bit of dancing. Hats and fascinators are often a must, so pick one that complements your outfit. Comfortable, stylish shoes are essential—think wedges or block heels. Make sure your outfit and accessories are well-coordinated, and don’t hesitate to add a bit of your personality with unique accessories or a bold print.


How do you like to accessorise your Hope & Ivy dresses for the races?

I always start with a headband or fascinator that complements the dress, either matching the colour or choosing a contrasting hue for a pop of interest. Keep jewellery elegant and understated with delicate necklaces, classic earrings, and a bracelet or watch. Don't forget a cute clutch or a stylish handbag! You'll want something small enough for your essentials but not so big it weighs you down. Aim for a solid colour that complements your dress, especially if it's got florals or patterns. If the weather's playing games, a pashmina can be a lifesaver – and it adds an extra touch of elegance too! Finally, go for a polished look with a hairstyle that suits both the headband or fascinator and the dress. Think sophisticated and ready to turn heads! 


Do different racing days have different style crowds? How does the Perth aesthetic vary from other events on the racing calendar?

At Perth, the racing fashion is more relaxed and less formal compared to events like Royal Ascot. You'll see a mix of smart casual with elegant racewear. At Royal Ascot, the dress code is strict, with formal, classic attire being the norm, including below-the-knee dresses and mandatory hats. We have a little more le-way when it comes to the Scottish Courses.


What were you looking out for when picking your ‘Best Dressed’ at Perth racecourse?

We're all about celebrating those standout styles that turn heads in the most stylish way! It's important to us that everything is well-coordinated, with accessories that complement the main outfit. Elegance is key, so we favour polished, well-put-together looks. Attention to detail matters, so things like matching jewellery, shoes, and a nice hat can make a big difference. And in our celebration of style, we proudly embrace diversity and size inclusivity, welcoming all individuals to showcase their unique flair on the racecourse. Overall, the entire look should be cohesive, from the hairstyle to the handbag, ensuring each attendee feels confident and fabulous in their own skin!