Jockey Club scrap ‘outdated’ dress code for racegoers

Three ladies in hats on Cheltenham Ladies' day, one reading a race program, holding onto her hat - ‘Outdated’ dress code scrapped for racegoers - The Telegraph/Eddie Mulholland
Three ladies in hats on Cheltenham Ladies' day, one reading a race program, holding onto her hat - ‘Outdated’ dress code scrapped for racegoers - The Telegraph/Eddie Mulholland

For more than two hundred years horseracing events have been the perfect opportunity for spectators to show off their finest, most spectacular attire.

Now however, elaborate fascinators, top hats and three-piece suits, could largely disappear from view at British racecourses after the Jockey Club announced it was scrapping formal dress code at all its venues.

The organisation, which runs 15 racecourses including Cheltenham and Aintree, said it had made the decision as part of an effort to make racing “more accessible and inclusive”.

In the past, racing’s rules have required men to wear suit jackets in certain enclosures, even during heatwaves, with jeans and shorts often frowned upon.

But now, the Jockey Club has said, they want people to wear whatever makes them feel “comfortable and confident”.

Racegoers will be allowed to wear whatever they like at the events – including trainers, jogging bottoms and ripped jeans – as long as it is not “offensive fancy dress”, or football kits.

“We’re all unique, and no more so than in our sense of style and comfort. For some, wearing a nice sweatshirt, pair of jeans and clean trainers is what makes them feel confident and at-ease”, a statement on its website read.

One of the calendar’s most famous events, Royal Ascot, will not be dropping its formal dress code because the Berkshire racecourse is not among those run by the Jockey Club.

A spokesperson for Ascot said dressing up for the events was a “fundamental and much-loved part of attending for many”.

They added: “We review our dress codes regularly, including making changes to reflect fashion developments at Royal Ascot, and will continue to do so.”

‘Misconception’ around dress codes

The rule change is being made after an incident at Sandown racecourse last year caused uproar when two “well dressed” women were told they could not enter the Premier enclosure because they were wearing white trainers.

Nick Boyd, a former director at Lingfield Park Racecourse and a regular racegoer, said that the decision represented a “relentless drive to mediocrity” and sent the message that a day at the races was unimportant.

“I just find it madness,” he said. “It’s mind-numbingly stupid. This isn’t a question of fuddy-duddys saying you have to wear tweed here and pin-stripes there, it’s about making racing an occasion – a proper day out. What we’ve done is say. ‘You don’t need to make an effort’. Going racing should be treated as a special occasion.”

Race fans are pictured ahead of the Cheltenham Festival - ‘Outdated’ dress code scrapped for racegoers - Getty Images/Warren Little
Race fans are pictured ahead of the Cheltenham Festival - ‘Outdated’ dress code scrapped for racegoers - Getty Images/Warren Little

Explaining the decision, Nevin Truesdale, chief executive at the Jockey Club, said that for many people “clothing was the ultimate expression of individuality”.

He said that by removing the need to “dress in a certain way” the organisation would demonstrate “how inclusive and diverse” horse racing had become.

He added: “While the Jockey Club has a rich heritage and history it is also a forward-thinking organisation which places a great emphasis on diversity and inclusion and always seeks to reflect modern trends.

“So, when we reviewed this area of the race day experience, it has been clear to us that enforcing a dress code seems rather outdated in the 21st Century in the eyes of many of our racegoers.”

The new rules, which come into force with immediate effect, will apply to all 15 of the Jockey Club’s racecourses.

While some of the Jockey Club’s courses did not previously have a strict formal dress code, spectators were advised to “dress appropriately”.

Mr Truesdale said it was a “common misconception” that all race courses enforced strict dress codes.

He said the new announcement would “get rid of any ambiguity or uncertainty” over the rules.

Another major concern considered by the Jockey Club is the rising cost of entry, food and beer amid the current cost of living crisis.

The expectation is that last year will have been the first time since 1995 that overall racecourse attendances dropped below five million since the Racecourse Association started publishing figures in 1995.

Mr Truesdale acknowledged that the economic climate was impacting on some racegoers and stressed the need to provide “value for a money and a great experience”

One area ‘reserved for morning dress’

The one notable exception to the 2023 policy will be in the Queen Elizabeth II Stand at Epsom Downs Racecourse where racegoers will be required to wear either morning dress or formal daywear on Derby Day.

The late Queen only missed the Derby three times in her reign and it was understood to have been one of her favourite moments in the racing calendar.

Explaining the decision, a spokesman for the Jockey Club said: “The Queen Elizabeth II Stand on Derby Day at Epsom Downs is the only enclosure and fixture at which a dress code will be in place.

“The Derby is an iconic day in the sporting calendar and has traditionally been an occasion for everyone to enjoy the very best of British racing, regardless of what they want to wear.

“We believe that it is in keeping with the event to reserve an area for those who wish to wear Morning Dress on Derby Day, in the same way there are areas all over the racecourse and on The Hill in the middle of the track where people have been encouraged to wear whatever they feel comfortable in, however informal, since the race was first run in 1780.”

The venues that will be impacted by the new rules are: Aintree, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Exeter, Epsom Downs, Haydock Park, Huntingdon, Kempton Park, Market Rasen, Newmarket, Nottingham, Sandown Park, Warwick, and Wincanton.

‘On the face of things, the Jockey Club is doing exactly the right thing’

By Lisa Armstrong, head of fashion

It’s perfectly sensible to adjust dress codes from time to time. They are there to oil the wheels of social mobility after all and nothing renders an event irrelevant faster than a dinosaur dress code.

History is littered with brands’ clodhopping attempts to get with the programme only to find they have rewritten it in an obsolete language. Remember those hotels and nightclubs in the 2010s that re-enforced their bans on trainers just as trainers were becoming a luxury product and the de facto footwear of choice for everyone under the age of 100?

By 2017, with ultra expensive London restaurants, including London’s Sushi Samba relaxing their stance, glasnost on trainers was well under way. When the wife of the future king wears trainers in public on several occasions, as the then Duchess of Cornwall did in 2021, (she loves Sole Bliss designs), you know the trainer has transcended all rubicons of age, class and station.

As for ties – is there anything more naff than an establishment that still insists on men wearing them? – and helpfully lends them a slightly worse-for-the-wear specimen in case the sight of a male without one will cause other patrons a heart attack? Turning away a man in a beautiful shirt and suit because he has not got the requisite tie is as bone-headed as not letting in a chic woman because her dress is half an inch shorter than the rules dictate .

On the face of things, the Jockey Club is doing exactly the right thing in scrapping formal dress codes at all 15 of its courses to make horseracing more “accessible and inclusive”. Apart from anything else, no one wants to splurge on the kind of footwear or clothing they will only wear once. Far better to invest in some stylish trainers or boots you will wear repeatedly than on a cheap pair of “smart” high heels.

However, the Jockey Club needs to remember that for many racegoers, regardless of class or income, dressing up is an important part of what makes these occasions feel more special (and generate vital business for Britain’s independent milliners and designers). Also, people love a few helpful pointers. Cheltenham racecourse, which hosts one of the jewels in the Jockey Club’s calendar, has encouraged guests to blend style with practicality for years – long may that continue. Abolish the dinosaur dress code by all means, but do not chuck out all the guidelines.

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