Though some people love the summery casualness of Wimbledon, the decadence of the Royal Ascot and the showiness of the York races, the Cheltenham Festival has some unique fashion heritage of its own that makes it the perfect place to dress up.
Official Dress Code
Unlike some sporting events, Cheltenham Festival embraces the modern world and therefore doesn’t have a specific dress code. Instead, organisers reasonably suggest visitors dress for the weather (being Britain, that means bringing a coat, a hat, a brolly and sunglasses). This puts the festival head and shoulders above others, where the dress code and gender policing might see LGBT people turfed out or singled out for not following the rules.
Taking place in March, this four-day racing festival leaps and bounds through soggy March, bringing some much needed colour and excitement after a long and solemn winter. A good tip is to pack a stylish brolly that will, at a pinch, double as a parasol if we get sunshine.
Subvert Ladies Day Trends
Most famous of all the events at Cheltenham, Ladies Day (14 March) is usually seen as the most glamorous. That doesn’t mean you have to be femme or even a ‘lady’ (as my mother always said, ‘I’m no lady! I’m a woman!’).
You don’t have to stick to rigid gender roles – this as a chance to explore statement outfits, whether that includes a stylish dungaree pant suit or a fascinator and frills.
When it comes to materials, think heavier fabrics such as crepe and tweed, rather than the flimsy chiffon popular at the Royal Ascot. This makes suits and jodhpurs great options as well as thick, crumpled skirts or sweeping dresses. Thicker materials also shield you from the worst of the British weather – hooray!
Layering will bring together your garments and accessories, and can be used to add a touch of subversive flourish (say, a floral hint with that tweed suit, or a hunting jacket and knee-high boots with silk harem pants).
Hats are seen as a staple of Ladies Day – with many extraordinary hats making the headlines. Trilbies, flatcaps and hair buns can add height and shape. Alternatively, you can opt for custom-made wigs, an androgynous bowler hat or even a striking bycocket. The adventurous among us might instead go for a customised mohawk or bouffant (a Quentin Crisp pink with tweed works wonders).
By exploring some of the more colourful hats from throughout history you can pick a unique and retro addition to your outfit. Fascinators are lightweight and easy to make if you want something custom (or cheap). Using flowers, fragrant herbs or rustic sprigs can also add texture, smell and shape.
Coats and suits
Low-key tweed pairs with cashmere for added warmth and some sumptuous textures. But you can probably pick up some synthetic lookalikes from Primark or TK Maxx if you want to watch the bank balance. Pinstripe is always a top choice, though if paired with tweed, you might want more muted colours, such browns, greys, blues and greens.
Tweed can also be swapped for tartan if you’d prefer to celebrate your Scottish roots! Wearing a kilt in March can make anyone look butch, but Westwood tartan trousers are both warm and stylish. A small hint of Burberry might also do the trick in the right setting but it’s never a good idea to go overboard. For something less stiff, colourful ikat, Dutch Wax or batik prints might help you stand out if they suit your style.
Fake animal furs and leather can add some decent protection and can make an iconic look. Consider a Paddock coat – which is a less fitted overcoat essential for winter. You can keep the heat in by also adding a waistcoat, which can be accessorised with a fob watch and funky trousers. Raid the local vintage or charity shops for affordable but authentic staples.
Remember, too, that high heels were originally created for rich and powerful men to show their status – so feel free to stand tall whoever you are, and loom like an aristocrat for the day!
The BIG Four: Champion Day to the Gold Cup
In the rush to dress, don’t forget the sporting events themselves! Champion Day and the Gold Cup are two of the most important events in the sporting calendar – and they don’t even require you to get in a sweat. You can check William Hill’s full Cheltenham Festival 2018 coverage or the BBC website for more information on the sporting side of things.