Jockey Club writes ‘outdated’ dress code for racegoers

Three women in hats on Cheltenham Ladies Day, one reading a racebook, wearing her hat - 'Outdated' dress code broken for racegoers - The Telegraph/Eddie Mulholland

Three women in hats on Cheltenham Ladies Day, one reading a racebook, wearing her hat – ‘Outdated’ dress code broken for racegoers – The Telegraph/Eddie Mulholland

For over two centuries, horse racing events have been great opportunities for spectators to show off their best and fanciest outfits.

Now, however, elaborate fanciers, top hats and three-piece suits may disappear from Britain’s racecourses after the Jockey Club announced it was scrapping the formal dress code at all its venues.

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

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

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 want to the events – including trainers, jogging bottoms and ripped jeans – as long as it’s not “offensive fancy dress”, or football kit.

“We are all unique, and none more so in our sense of style and comfort. For some people, wearing a nice jumper, a pair of jeans and clean trainers is what makes them feel confident and at ease”, read a statement on the website.

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

A spokesman for Ascot said that “dressing up for the events was an integral part of the much-respected attendance”.

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

‘Misunderstanding’ regarding dress codes

The rule change follows an incident at Sandown racecourse last year which caused uproar when two “well-dressed” women were told they could not enter the Premier’s enclosure because they were wearing white trainers.

Nick Boyd, former director of Lingfield Park Racecourse and would-be race regular, said the decision was a “relentless drive towards moderation” and sent the message that a day at the races did not matter.

“I don’t care if he’s mad,” he said. “It’s mind-numbingly stupid. This isn’t a matter of people saying you need to wear a breeches here and pinstripes there, it’s about racing as an occasion – a proper day out. It is what we have done to say. ‘You don’t have to try’. Running should be treated as a special occasion.”

Racegoers pictured ahead of Cheltenham Festival - 'outdated' dress code broken for racegoers - Getty Images/Warren Little

Racegoers pictured ahead of Cheltenham Festival – ‘outdated’ dress code broken for racegoers – Getty Images/Warren Little

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

He said the organization would show “how inclusive and diverse” horse racing has become by removing the need to “dress up a certain way”.

He added: “While the Jockey Club has a rich heritage and history it is also a forward-thinking organization that places 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 was clear to us that many of our competitors seemed to be out of date with enforcing a 21st Century dress code.”

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

Although some of the previous Jockey Club courses did not have a strict formal dress code, spectators were encouraged 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 “remove any ambiguity or uncertainty” about the rules.

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

Last year is expected to be the first time since 1995 that the total number of racecourses has fallen below five million since the Racecourse Association began publishing figures in 1995.

Mr Truesdale admitted that the economic climate had affected some race entrants and stressed the need to provide “value for money and a great experience”.

One area ‘reserved for morning dress’

The only notable exception to the 2023 policy is the Queen Elizabeth II Stand at Epsom Downs Racecourse, where racegoers will be required to wear morning dress or formal day wear on Derby Day.

The late Queen only lost the Derby three times in her reign and it was understood to be one of her favorite times 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 will be the only enclosure and fixture where a dress code will apply.

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

“We believe it is in keeping with the event to reserve a place for those who wish to wear morning dress on Derby Day, in the same way that there are places around the racecourse and on The Hill in the middle of the race where people are. They have been encouraged to wear whatever they feel comfortable in, however informal, since the race was first held in 1780.”

The venues affected 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 it, the Jockey Club is doing exactly the right thing’

By Lisa Armstrong, head of fashion

It is perfectly sensible to adjust dress codes from time to time. They are there to oil the wheels of social mobility, after all and nothing makes them irrelevant faster than a dinosaur dress code.

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

By 2017, with London’s ultra-expensive restaurants, including London’s Sushi Samba allowing their position to soften, glasnost on trainers was in full swing. When the future king’s wife wears trainers in public often, as the then Duchess of Cornwall did in 2021, (she loves Sole Bliss designs), you know the trainer has crossed all the rubrics age, class and station.

As for ties – is there anything more naff than an establishment that still insists men wear them? – and lends them a slightly worse specimen to wear in case other patrons have a heart attack when they see a man without one? When a man in a nice shirt and suit is turned away because he hasn’t got the required tie, he’s so boneheaded that a chic woman isn’t allowed in because her dress is half an inch shorter than the rules say.

On the face of it, the Jockey Club is doing the right thing by scrapping formal dress codes at all 15 of its courses to make horse racing more “accessible and inclusive”. More than anything else, no one wants to splurge on the kind of footwear or clothing they will only wear once. It is much better to invest in some stylish trainers or boots that you will wear again and again than a cheap pair of “smart” high heels.

However, the Jockey Club must remember that dressing up is an important part of making these occasions feel more special for many racegoers, regardless of class or income, (and generating vital business for independent British millwrights and designers). Also, people love a few helpful hints. Cheltenham racecourse, home to one of the jewels in the Jockey Club calendar, has inspired guests to blend style with practicality in recent years – a long time to come. By all means end the dinosaur dress code, but don’t throw out all the guidelines.

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