Cheltenham Festival is nearly upon us. Originating in 1860, thousands of spectators will flock to watch the best British and Irish horses compete for the four-million-pound prize. But the Cheltenham Festival is as much about sartorial elegance as it is about horse racing. Many view the event as a special occasional that captures the public imagination, using it as an excuse to dust off their best outfits and dress to impress. Each day of the event has its own flavour, with many choosing to dress up glamorously for Ladies Day or wearing green for St Patrick’s Day.
If you’re struggling to pinpoint exactly what to wear for the event, look no further – here is a comprehensive guide to how to dress for the festival.
There is no real dress code for the Cheltenham Festival (although the website does stipulate ‘smart dress preferred’) because the racing season falls within the winter months. March weather isn’t exactly predictable, and it’s advisable that spectators dress with mud and rain in mind. Cheltenham is more casual and unceremonious than say, Royal Ascot with many choosing to wear heavy fabrics and lots of layers to keep out the weather, but this still doesn’t mean that you can’t look smart for the event.
There are a number of different areas of Cheltenham Festival that one can pay for, each coming with their own advised dress code. In the Club Enclosure most will be suited and booted in formal attire, wearing a suit or similarly smart clothing to access the restaurants and hospitality facilities. Fancy dress is allowed at the festival, but those in fancy dress will not be permitted into the Club Enclosure. It’s more casual in the other areas, like the Tattersalls enclosure where spectators are expected to dress smart-casual. There’s also the Best Mate enclosure which is positioned opposite the main Grandstand and not under cover, meaning spectators should be dressing mostly for the weather.
But what if you want to be well-dressed no matter what tickets you hold? Christopher Modoo at The Rake states that ‘a hunting jacket with corduroy or moleskin trousers is the unofficial uniform of Cheltenham.’ If there’s any time to embrace tweed, it’s at the Cheltenham festival. A tweed three-piece suit or a tweed jacket with shirt, tie and trousers can look very smart, paired up with a Barbour wax jacket or a warm woollen overcoat. Cordings has several suits and overcoats for the Cheltenham ticket holder, as well as a pair of silver horse-head cufflinks that would top off any outfit beautifully. If we somehow get gripped by unseasonable spring sunshine, a linen suit and a panama would be a very elegant choice.
For shoes, it’s worth bearing in mind that the majority of car parks at Cheltenham are on grassy areas, so a pair of solid brogues or a pair of sturdy chukka boots will be advisable. Chelsea boots offer a modern twist.
For hats and accessories, Peaky Blinders has revitalised the way we look at flat caps, but a trilby or a racing fedora are other smart choices. Top hats are best reserved for members of the nobility. The blog, Grey Fox suggests that spectators think about wearing a ‘silk paisley tie and pocket square (or a wool knitted tie with suitable scenes of horses, pheasants or foxes) and maybe a cashmere scarf or vintage Tootal neck-warmer to keep out the chill. A pewter hip flask containing a warming tipple is sensible (unless you’re driving)’
It’s also important to bear in mind the colours of the season. People often wear green for St Patrick’s Day, but colours should always remain earthy and muted. Mustards, caramels, earthy greens and navy blues are the colours to keep in mind, with no primary colours and little black.
Cheltenham Festival is an opportunity to show off your style, whether you opt for country attire or go the whole hog and dress to impress. For an event without a dress code, Cheltenham certainly has style expectations. Whatever you choose to wear, this guide should keep you well informed when getting dressed for the event.