What to wear to Cheltenham Races
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What to wear to Cheltenham Races

Having been born and bred in Cheltenham, I know a thing or two about heading to Cheltenham Races. Here’s my comprehensive guide on what to wear to Cheltenham Races.

Attending Cheltenham Races is such a fun experience, filled with excitement, style, and tradition. The iconic jump race meet has such a vibrant atmosphere with several Grade I races and plenty of Irish in town for the celebrations. Even if you’re not savvy on horses and gambling, there’s so much to see and do, you’ll have a brilliant day anyway. You’ll want to look your best for the races – dressing accordingly means not only will you look your best, but you’ll fit in with the event’s traditions. In this guide, I share what to wear to Cheltenham Races so you can achieve the Cheltenham ‘country look’.

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What is the Cheltenham Festival?

Cheltenham Festival is one of the most famous events in the National Hunt jump racing calendar and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. It’s a chance for horse trainers and jockeys alike to vie for the second largest prize money in UK jump racing, just after the Grand National. Cheltenham Racecourse first become famous for the Cheltenham Festival back in 1911, and it has been associated with the world’s top race horses ever since. The festival has a such a fun and vibrant atmosphere, thanks in part to the huge Irish presence each year. As the Festival often falls around St. Patrick’s Day each year, there is a real party atmosphere.

When is Cheltenham Festival?

The four-day Cheltenham Festival is held each March at Cheltenham Racecourse in Gloucestershire. In 2024, it will take place from Tuesday the 12th March to Friday the 15th of March.

What to take to Cheltenham Festival

Heading to Cheltenham Races calls for a mix of practical and stylish items to ensure you’re prepared for a day of fun and elegance. Here’s a list of things to consider taking with you:

  • Tickets and ID – make sure you have your tickets and any relevant ID to ensure entry into Cheltenham Races.
  • Cash and cards – while Cheltenham Racecourse itself is cashless, betting stands on the course will accept cash. It’s a good idea to take a range of denominations with you.
  • Sun protection – it can get sunny at Cheltenham Races, so it’s really important to ensure you have a good SPF whenever the sun’s shining. I swear by this Cetaphil Daily Defence, and wear it every single day without fail to protect my skin from ageing.
  • A small bag or clutch – it’s essential for carrying any bits and pieces you’ll need throughout the day, including cash, your phone, and lipstick. I love this affordable clutch bag – it’s super on brand for Cheltenham and comes in a bunch of different colours to match your outfit.
  • A pair of binoculars – these are an absolute must for Cheltenham, offering a better view of the races which is much needed when you need to see how your horse is positioned on the course.
  • A race card – you can either buy one at the racecourse, or bring your own.
  • A hip flask – don’t fancy paying nearly £10 for a pint? Me neither! There are security searches at the gate, but I’ve never had a problem sneaking in a hip flask of gin or vodka.
  • An umbrella – this is another essential for Cheltenham Races. The weather can be unpredictable in Cheltenham in March, so make sure you pack one of these into your bag.

What to wear to Cheltenham Races: Ladies

While Cheltenham Festival doesn’t have a strict dress code, ladies usually wear smart country winter outfits that are fit for the temperamental weather. Dress with practicality and warmth in mind. Here are some of my tips for the ladies on what to wear to Cheltenham Races:

  • Dresses or skirts – I’d recommend picking a chic day dress, or a knee-length skirt with a shirt.
  • Jackets, dress coats, or blazers – tweed jackets and tailored coats and blazers form part of the ‘Cheltenham look’, and can dress up an outfit while offering warmth from the March weather.
  • Shoes – knee high boots and closed-toe heels are perfect for the event. I’d avoid anything that has a stiletto heel as you will likely need to walk on grassy terrain at some point. Dress stylishly but don’t forget comfort.
  • Handbags – choose a small to medium-sized bag for carrying your essentials, without being too bulky or burdensome.
  • Hats or fascinators – hats are such a key part of the Cheltenham dress code, and make any racing outfit look a little fancier. These are customary and add flair to the attire. Choose headpieces that match your outfit and follow the guidelines set by the event. Fedoras and Trilby hats are popular.
  • Accessories – fur stoles, feathers, stylish scarfs, and pearls are often seen at Cheltenham Races, and add a little country glamour to the festival.

Dresses for Cheltenham Races

A silhouette skimming dress or a skirt is a great outfit for the races, especially when paired with country style boots. Knee length tweed skirts are very on brand for Cheltenham, and knitted dresses are chic yet practical. Don’t feel like you have to wear a dress – the Cheltenham Festival dress code means you can wear a smart pair of trousers or jeans, teamed with a classy coat and boots.

Dresses to wear to Cheltenham Races

Jackets for Cheltenham Races

Elegant coats and jackets are a staple of Cheltenham fashion, keeping you looking chic and warm. Dress coats are perfect teamed with knee high boots and can flatter your figure, and tweed jackets are a popular choice at Cheltenham Festival. Choose a coat or jacket that is feminine and flattering, as well as warm.

What to wear to Cheltenham Races: jackets

Knitwear for Cheltenham Races

It can get pretty chilly at Cheltenham Races, so I’d recommend dressing appropriately for the weather. Luxurious, soft knitwear is ideal and can look elegant while offering warmth in layers. Lambswool or cashmere jumpers and cardigans are ideal, and ponchos are very on brand for Cheltenham. Roll necks are also great for preventing the chilly wind reaching your neck.

What to wear to Cheltenham Races: knitwear

Boots for Cheltenham Races

You really can’t go wrong with a stylish pair of boots at Cheltenham. In March, you definitely don’t want to be spending all day on your feet in heels, plus there are some grassy areas. Good quality heeled boots will keep your feet warm and comfortable, and look good paired with a dress or skirt. I recommend picking boots with a good tread so you don’t slip if it’s rainy. Knee-high, soft suede boots are very much the look and are classy and chic. Of course, Dubarry boots are another classic choice.

Boots to wear to Cheltenham Races

Hats for Cheltenham Races

An elegant hat really adds an extra layer of chic to your outfit for the races. Choose anything from a fedora or trilby to a structured beret or faux fur hat. Fedoras with feather detailing are particularly popular, and they work great with other outfit details including tweed and wool. I recommend choosing a water-resistant hat for protection should the weather change.

What to wear to Cheltenham Races - hats

Accessories for Cheltenham Races

Knowing how to accessorise your outfit is just as important as what you decide to wear for the races. Choose a luxurious scarf to finish your outfit and keep your warm, or alternatively a wrap or stole. While keeping it simple is usually the best principle, finishing touches like a suede or leather clutch bag or tote are a good choice and offer the practicality of carrying your essentials. You might want to add a little extra luxury with a brooch, boot tassels, or a belt.

Best accessories

What to wear for Ladies’ Day at Cheltenham Races

Ladies’ Day takes place on Day 2 of the Festival. While you might be wondering what to wear to Cheltenham Races, Ladies’ Day actually has a different theme each year to help inform your outfit. Every year, there’s a style competition with a chance to win prizes. Some racegoers choose to go all out, and dress in a single colour from head to foot. While Ladies’ Day encourages you to make extra effort with your outfit, you’ll still want to keep practicality in mind. Stilettos might look glamorous, but they could prove uncomfortable and cold.

What to wear to Cheltenham Races: Gentlemen

Although there isn’t an official dress code at Cheltenham Races for men, the country style is adopted by most. Traditional cloth, Barbour jackets, and tweed are the go-to dress code of many, and will help to keep you warm in the chilly March weather. Here are some of my tips for the gents on what to wear to Cheltenham Races:

  • Suits – a well-fitted suit is traditional for Cheltenham, especially with a tailored overcoat. Choose classic colours like navy, grey, or tweed tones.
  • Shirts – a crisp, collared shirt needs to complement your suit. You might choose a tie, although they’re not customary.
  • Trousers – tailored trousers that coordinate with a smart suit jacket can finish your look. Moleskin trousers are a popular look.
  • Shoes – opt for good quality leather shoes that will keep your feet warm in the spring chill. Oxfords or brogues are popular choices at Cheltenham Races.
  • Ties and pocket squares – considering polishing off your look with a tie and coordinating pocket square.
  • Overcoat – a tailored overcoat or smart jacket can help you to stay warm and stylish.
  • Hat – you might wish to wear a hat to look the part. Trilby hats are a good option.

Suits for Cheltenham Races

Tweed suits are essentially the uniform of Cheltenham Races, and bring a feel of classic country to race day. I recommend opting for muted brown and green, and you can choose between a fitted two-piece or three-piece for a dapper look. If you don’t fancy wearing a matching suit, you might choose a tweed sports jacket and smart trousers. Your trousers should be well-fitted and smart – moleskins, cords, or tailored chinos can all do the job.

Knitwear for Cheltenham Races

Adding a layer of fine knitwear underneath your tweed can add warmth without the bulk. There are a few options that look good – a single ply cashmere for a soft and luxurious layer, or a wool jumper for great insulation. Classic V-neck sweater or crew necks can also look smart underneath jackets, although I recommend picking a plan colour to give you versatility with your tweed.

Footwear for Cheltenham Races

Footwear is super important when it comes to what to wear to Cheltenham Races. You’re likely to be stood outside in the cold weather and potentially on your feet for a long time. A smart shoe or boot with a strong grip is a good bet. Brogues, chukka style boots, or Chelsea boots are all good options. I always recommend buying from a good quality brand so that they will last you for years to come. Make sure you wear any new shoes you buy before the races so that you know they’re comfortable to wear all day.

Overcoats for Cheltenham Races

Tailored and traditional overcoats set the tone for the rest of your Cheltenham Races outfit, and look super stylish. Classic tailoring is key for Cheltenham, especially timeless wool overcoats. They’re a good opportunity to look smart while adding an extra layer of warmth. Wear a tailored overcoat with a wool or cashmere scarf to keep warm.

Hats for Cheltenham Races

When it comes to what to wear to Cheltenham Races, a hat can really finish off your look. Perfect for both practicality and style, a good hat will keep the rain at bay so you don’t have to carry an umbrella around with you. A tweed bakey boy hat, flat cap, or fedora hat are classic Cheltenham Races style.

Accessories for Cheltenham Races

Cheltenham Races is the ultimate racing occasion, and you won’t want to look underdressed among your friends. Accessories are a great way to finish off your look. Try a wool or knitted silk country tie to personalise your look. If you’re wearing tweed, go for a subtle colour that complements the muted tones of the tweed. Avoid tie-bars as they can make your outfit look too office like.

Heading to Cheltenham Races is an experience of both sophistication and tradition. Whether it’s the vibrant colours, stylish hats, or classic suits, dressing appropriately adds to the overall experience of the event. Embrace the occasion with your unique style while honouring the dress codes and traditions set by this esteemed racing event when considering what to wear to Cheltenham Races.

What to wear to Cheltenham Races: FAQs

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about what to wear to Cheltenham Races:

Do you have to dress up for Cheltenham races?

Traditionally, Cheltenham Races has a smart dress code, especially in certain areas of the racecourse. The level of formality generally depends on the enclosure you choose to attend. For example:

  • Club Enclosure – this is the most formal area, and there is a dress code in place. Gentlemen often wear suits, and ladies typically opt for smart dresses and hats.
  • Tattersalls Enclosure – while still formal, the dress code is slightly more relaxed than the Club Enclosure. Smart attire is encouraged, and although a suit or similar is often worn, there may be more flexibility in terms of dress.
  • Best Mate Enclosure – this area generally has a more relaxed dress code, allowing for smart-casual attire.

What to wear to Cheltenham in the winter?

If you’re planning on attending Cheltenham Races in the winter, it’s important to dress appropriately for the potentially cold and variable weather conditions. Here are some suggestions for what to wear:

  • Warm layers: given the colder temperatures during the winter months, layering is key. Start with a thermal or moisture-wicking base layer to keep you warm and dry.
  • Stylish coat: choose a stylish and warm coat to protect yourself from the cold. A long coat or a tailored jacket can add a touch of elegance to your outfit.
  • Hat and gloves: since the winter weather in Cheltenham can be chilly, consider wearing a hat and gloves. A stylish hat is also a fashionable accessory for the races.
  • Footwear: wear comfortable and weather-appropriate footwear. Given the possibility of rain or mud, consider waterproof boots or shoes that can handle various conditions.
  • Accessories: scarves and wraps not only provide additional warmth but can also complement your outfit. Choose accessories that match your overall look and add a touch of sophistication.
  • Smart casual attire: depending on the enclosure you’ll be in, opt for smart casual attire that is both stylish and practical. This could include tailored trousers, a blouse or button-down shirt, and smart shoes.
  • Umbrella: given the unpredictable nature of winter weather, it’s a good idea to bring a compact and sturdy umbrella to shield yourself from rain or snow.

What not to wear at Cheltenham races?

While dress codes vary slightly depending on the specific enclosure you’re in at Cheltenham Races, there are some general guidelines on what not to wear to maintain a respectful and appropriate appearance. Here are some common considerations:

  • Casual sportswear: avoid wearing overly casual sportswear such as tracksuits, athletic shorts, and trainers (sneakers), especially in areas with a formal dress code.
  • Ripped or torn clothing: choose clothing that is in good condition. Avoid wearing ripped or torn items, as they may be considered inappropriate for a more formal setting.
  • Fancy dress: while themed events at Cheltenham Races may occasionally allow for fancy dress, it’s essential to check the event’s guidelines. In general, traditional race meetings may frown upon elaborate costumes or outfits that could be deemed inappropriate.
  • Inappropriate footwear: avoid wearing flip-flops, beach sandals, or overly casual footwear. Many enclosures require smart and formal shoes, and it’s best to adhere to the specific guidelines.
  • Revealing attire: Cheltenham Races generally has a smart and elegant atmosphere. Avoid excessively revealing clothing, as it may not align with the event’s dress code.
  • Large brimmed hats or fascinators: while hats are a popular and stylish accessory at Cheltenham, extremely large brimmed hats or fascinators that obstruct the view of others might be discouraged in certain areas.
  • Loud or offensive clothing: avoid clothing with offensive slogans or graphics. It’s important to maintain a level of decorum and respect for the event and other attendees.

Can you wear trainers at Cheltenham?

Whether or not you can wear trainers at Cheltenham Races kind of depends on the enclosure you’re attending. In general, I’d say no – play it safe and wear smarter shoes. Cheltenham Races especially has a more formal dress code that requires smart, formal footwear.

Tips for visiting Cheltenham Festival

While Cheltenham is more relaxed than Ascot, there are some good etiquette tips you should bear in mind for your visit to the races:

  • Plan your transport to Cheltenham Races well in advance. Traffic and parking can get chaotic during Race Week, so I highly recommend getting it sorted once you have your racing tickets.
  • Familiarise yourself with racing lingo. You might want to ask other racegoers what ‘the going is’, referring to the state of the ground that can affect how horses run.
  • Adhere to the ‘Cheltenham look’. While Cheltenham Festival is more relaxed than other racing events, you should try to adopt the country style dress code. Do note that fancy dress is not permitted in Club Enclosure during Cheltenham Festival.
  • Have a flutter. You could win big so why not take some spare cash and wish for a bit of Irish luck on the horses. Just make sure you exercise caution and don’t get carried away.
  • Don’t bring a big bag. You’ll have your bags checked on entry in line with the security policy, so it’s a good idea not to bring a large handbag or backpack in case you’re turned away.
  • Comfort: Prioritize comfort while maintaining elegance. Races often involve a lot of walking and standing.
  • Weather Consideration: Layering is key, especially during the colder months. Be prepared for changing weather conditions.

That’s my guide on what to wear to Cheltenham Races! I hope you found it helpful. As a frequent race goer, let me know if you have any questions in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer.

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