If you’re heading to a racecourse, there is a good chance that you’ll feel as though you need to don your suit and get smartly dressed in order to fit in with the crowd. Whilst this is true for the likes of Royal Ascot, depending on where your tickets are, it isn’t true for the Cheltenham Festival any more.
It was decided ahead of the meeting in 2023 that the dress code would be relaxed, with the hope being that this would make going to the races appealing to more people. Though football tops and political slogans are still banned, it is otherwise far more relaxed than it used to be.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t get dressed up if you want to, of course. In fact, there has been no official dress code at Prestbury Park for years, but that hasn’t stopped people from getting dolled up to the nines in order to attend. As a result, how dressed up or dressed down you go is entirely your own choice, within the remit of not being offensive in what you wear.
When it comes down to it, you might want to go wearing jeans and a t-shirt, but you’ll need to be sure that you won’t feel uncomfortable if everyone else at the racecourse is wearing suits and dresses for the day’s racing.
How Things Used To Be
In order to understand how the dress code at Cheltenham Racecourse has changed, we first need to know how things used to be when it came to what you had to wear at the races. The reality is that racing used to be something of an exclusive outing. Not only were ticket prices prohibitive for most people, but the sort of thing that you’d have to wear when out and about at the course meant that certain parts of society of felt as though they weren’t welcome. For women, it used to be that they would have to wear a dress or a smart pantsuit if they wanted to feel part of the crowd.
For men, meanwhile, the dress code was that they would need to wear a suit with a collared shirt. At some point, that was relaxed to say that they could wear polo tops and jumpers over them, but the smart trousers were still a necessity. It was about ‘looking the part’, which meant being smartly dressed for the racecourse in order to help separate racing from the likes of football, rugby and tennis. It also meant that many people didn’t feel comfortable heading to the races, given that they would have to wear outfits that they wouldn’t wear in their everyday life.
What The Dress Code Is Now
In 2023, the Jockey Club confirmed that it would be abandoning the strict dress code at all of its courses around the United Kingdom. Given that the organisation owns 14 racecourses, it was a change that had a huge impact on the experience of those that were used to going to meetings up and down the country.
Here are the courses affected by the decision to abandon the dress code requirements at Jockey Club properties:
- Epsom Downs
- Haydock Park
- Kempton Park
- Market Rasen
- Sandown Park
The course that is most notable for its absence from the list is Ascot Racecourse, which will not be affected by the rule change. Similarly, anyone with tickets to the Queen Elizabeth II Stand at Epsom Downs will still need to wear morning dress or formal daywear when it hosts the Epsom Derby.
Indeed, it is best double-checking the dress code in place for the stand or location that you’ve bought your tickets for at any of the Jockey Club’s racecourses.
‘Dress To Feel Your Best’
The Jockey Club’s new dress code is based around the idea that you should ‘dress to feel your best’. The feeling is that everyone and anyone should be allowed to enjoy racing, with the sense being that ‘the more relaxed and comfortable we feel, the more likely we are to have a good time’.
For most people, the hope is that they will feel ‘comfortable and confident’ in what they choose to wear rather than what they’re forced to wear in order to meet some random standard. That might mean that they wear a nice dress and sharp suit, but it might also be that they go much more informal in their outfit choice.
The Jockey Club said, “For some, wearing a nice sweatshirt, pair of jeans and clean trainers is what makes them feel confident and at-ease.” In other words, you might not feel at your best wearing a suit so why should you have to?
You can even wear fancy dress if you wish to, noting stag and hen dos are quite common at Cheltenham, though you need to ensure that you don’t wear anything that could be seen as ‘inappropriate or offensive’, whilst avoiding those things that might be ‘vulgar or derogatory’. By the same token, wearing a sports top risks being ‘antagonistic’ and is therefore also on the banned list.
How The Change Went Down
With 2023 being the first year that the new dress code was in place at Cheltenham, it is perhaps unsurprising that the response was split at the time. Given the fact that racegoers could wear ripped jeans or jogging bottoms if they wished to, whilst others at Prestbury Park turned up wearing three-piece suits, it isn’t shocking that there was a divide in opinion.
An Irish racegoer named Dawn Leadon-Bolger declared, “We need to keep the dress code to a certain standard.” A milliner called Jonny Beardsall was largely in agreement, calling the relaxation of the rules ‘a dreadful idea’.
Beardall went on, “It encourages mediocrity. You shouldn’t have your shirt hanging out if you’re over 35. It just looks as if you’ve forgotten to tuck yourself in. And old men in skinny jeans with their arse hanging out the back is a very bad look.”
For others, the relaxation of the rules did exactly what it was intended to and made them feel more comfortable. Paul Green said, “I’ve worn chinos for the last 10 years or so. But I feel more comfortable in jeans and heard they were taking a more relaxed view so thought I’d give it a go.”
Perhaps the best point was made by Ali Caulfield, who said that if they really wanted to be more inclusive then reducing ticket prices would be the better way to go.