If you’ve ever attended any of the bigger horse racing events or viewed some of the televised horse racing tournaments while indulging in some online sports betting, you’ll have seen the lengths people go to dress for the occasion.
Haute couture and horses simply seem to go hand-in-hand. There are various reasons for this, some of which are more practical than you might expect. Dress codes at race tracks have had a number of influences. In some cases, venues may have prescribed a dress code for guests, while in others, it’s more a matter of peer pressure. The prestige of being part of the elite few who occupy the VIP areas has also played a significant role.
Bringing in respectability
In the early days, when most types of horse racing events were in need of an air of respectability, venues would have required spectators to maintain a level of decorum. Bear in mind that gambling has not always been considered a polite way to pass time. Of course, now we have regulations and measures in place to protect bettors, allowing it to be a safe form of entertainment. If you’ve placed NYRA bets on scheduled NYRA racing events you’ll know all about this. However, there was a time when gambling often attracted a shadier element. By imposing dress codes and ethical practices, horse racing was given a status that made it more acceptable to attend horse racing events.
Also, as competition grew tougher, it became more difficult to acquire a good racehorse. This meant that owners would have the financial means to purchase one. Owning a racehorse – especially a winner – brought with it an element of prestige. Modern racing enclosures are occupied by the elite of the industry and spectators at prominent events will pay handsomely to be given access to these areas. Dressing for the occasion is part of the fun.
Attracting the ladies
Later, during decades when racing experienced a decline, emphasizing fashion was a means of encouraging female spectators to attend. The trend caught on, and since the early 1900s, many big race days have become fashion highlights on the social scene as women developed an interest in learning how to bet on horse racing.
A good example of this is the Fashions on the Field award introduced at the Melbourne Cup in Australia in 1962. In the ensuing years, the award has become as eagerly anticipated as the race itself. Countless fashionistas over the decades have flocked to show off their cutting-edge fashion sense.
It’s not surprising, then, that designers might assume that a race day would provide good exposure for their designs. There have been occasions when outfits worn by high-profile personalities have set trends for global fashion movements. For instance, in 1965, when British model Jean Shrimpton wore a minidress to present prizes at Melbourne’s Derby Day, she caused nationwide outrage. She also prompted scores of Australian women to take up their hems as they adopted this previously scandalous London trend.
Unveiling New Looks
In many instances, elite race days are a good opportunity for designers to reveal their new ranges. This is certainly the case for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomph held in Paris each year. Here, racing and fashion vie for honors, with some believing that the occasion is more of a fashion event than a horse racing tournament.
Having said this, many female spectators take their cue from the iconic Coco Chanel, who taught Parisian women that fashion could be comfortable. It is not unusual for race-goers in Paris to dress to suit not only the occasion but also the weather.
Some events, however, are so fashion-centric that guests may forgo comfort in favor of style. US horse racing includes numerous trendsetting events, and many American fixtures are opportunities for fashionistas to strut their stuff. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes of the Triple Crown are hot dates on the fashion scene. In many instances, however, fashion might eclipse common sense as spectators risk life and limb to teeter around the track on towering heels, or exposure to the elements in tiny dresses.
On the other hand, the Royal Ascot, the UK’s main fashion attraction, holds to a strict dress code – hats, frocks, and gloves are invariably the order of the day. This is hardly surprising, since the Queen is in attendance; the dress code at this event is not only about fashion, but also a sign of respect to the attending royals. With this in mind, there are rules governing hemlines and the amount of skin you may expose. No midriffs or thighs may be on display when Her Royal Highness is in the house!
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