Jockey Club scraps ‘outdated’ dress code for racegoers

Three ladies in hats on Cheltenham Ladies' day, one reading race programme, holding her hat - 'Outdated' dress code scrapped for race goers - The Telegraph/Eddie Mulholland

Three ladies in hats on Cheltenham Ladies’ day, one reading race programme, holding her hat – ‘Outdated’ dress code scrapped for race goers – The Telegraph/Eddie Mulholland

For more than two hundred years, horse racing has provided 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 on British 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 had made the decision as part of an effort to make racing “more accessible and inclusive”.

In the past, race rules required men to wear suit jackets in certain areas, even during heat waves, with jeans and shorts often frowned upon.

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

Racegoers are allowed to wear whatever they like during the events – including trainers, sweatpants and ripped jeans – as long as it is not “offensive fancy dress” or football uniforms.

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

One of the calendar’s most famous events, Royal Ascot won’t be dropping its formal dress code because Berkshire racecourse isn’t part of the Jockey Club’s.

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

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

‘Misconception’ about dress codes

The rule change comes after an incident at Sandown Racecourse last year caused a stir when two “well-dressed” women were told they could not enter the Premier fence because they were wearing white trainers.

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

“I just think it’s madness,” he said. “It’s mind-numbingly stupid. This isn’t about fuddy-duddy’s telling you to wear tweeds here and pinstripes there, it’s about making racing an occasion – a real day out. What we have done is say. “You don’t have to make an effort.” Racing should be treated as a special occasion.”

Race fans pictured ahead of Cheltenham Festival - 'Outdated' dress code scrapped for race goers - Getty Images/Warren Little

Race fans pictured ahead of Cheltenham Festival – ‘Outdated’ dress code scrapped for race goers – Getty Images/Warren Little

Nevin Truesdale, CEO of the Jockey Club, explained the decision, saying that for many people “clothing was the ultimate expression of individuality”.

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

He added: “While the Jockey Club has a rich heritage and history, it is also a progressive organization that places great emphasis on diversity and inclusion and always seeks to reflect modern trends.

“So as we examined this part of the race day experience, it became clear to us that enforcing a dress code in the 21st century seems rather outdated in the eyes of many of our race-goers.”

The new rules, effective immediately, will apply to all 15 Jockey Club racecourses.

While some Jockey Club jobs previously had no strict formal dress code, spectators were advised to “dress appropriately”.

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

He said the new announcement would “dispel any ambiguity or uncertainty” about the rules.

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

Last year is expected to be the first time since 1995 that overall racecourse attendance has fallen below five million since the Racecourse Association began publishing figures in 1995.

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

An area ‘reserved for morning clothes’

The only notable exception to the 2023 policy is the Queen Elizabeth II Grandstand at Epsom Downs Racecourse, where race-goers must wear morning dress or formal daywear on Derby Day.

The late Queen missed the Derby just three times during her reign and it was clear it was one of her favorite moments on the racing calendar.

A spokesman for the Jockey Club explained the decision, saying: “The Queen Elizabeth II Stand at Derby Day at Epsom Downs is the only enclosure and fixture where a dress code is in effect.

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

“We believe it is in keeping with the event to reserve an area for those who want to wear morning clothes on Derby Day, just as there are areas all over the racecourse and on The Hill in the middle of the circuit where people are encouraged to wear what they feel comfortable in, however casual, since the race was first held in 1780.

The locations 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.

‘At first glance, the Jockey Club is doing exactly what is right’

By Lisa Armstrong, Head of Fashion

It is very wise to change the dress codes from time to time. After all, they’re there to lubricate the wheels of social mobility and nothing makes an event irrelevant faster than a dinosaur dress code.

History is littered with brands’ clodhopping attempts to interact with the program, only to find out they’ve rewritten it in an outdated language. Remember those hotels and nightclubs in the 2010s that tightened their ban on athletic shoes, just as athletic shoes were becoming a luxury item and the de facto footwear of choice for anyone under the age of 100?

In 2017, with extremely expensive London restaurants including London’s Sushi Samba relaxing their stance, glasnost on trainers was in full swing. If 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 that the trainers have transcended all rubicons of age, class and station .

As for ties, is there anything as boring as an establishment still insisting that men wear them? – and helpfully lends them a slightly worse copy in case the sight of a man without one will give other patrons a heart attack? Turning away a man in a nice shirt and suit because he doesn’t have the required tie is just as stubborn as not letting a smart woman in because her dress is half an inch shorter than the rules dictate.

On the face of it, the Jockey Club is doing exactly the right thing by scrapping the formal dress code on all 15 courses to make horse racing “more accessible and inclusive.” Everything else aside, no one wants to spend on the kind of footwear or clothing they will only wear once. It is much better to invest in a pair of stylish sneakers or boots that you will wear often than in a cheap pair of “smart” high heels.

The Jockey Club must remember, however, that for many racegoers, regardless of class or income, dressing up is an important part of what makes these occasions more special (and generates vital business for Britain’s independent milliners and designers). People also like a few handy tips. Cheltenham Racecourse, home to one of the jewels of the Jockey Club’s calendar, has for years encouraged guests to combine style and functionality – long may it continue to be so. Abolish the dinosaur dress code by all means, but don’t throw all guidelines overboard.

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