My Race Days
The Fashion Stakes: a notepad for the Summer Racegoing Lady
With Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, the York Ebor and whole hosts of prizes for the best dressed lady racegoer through the Flat season at most racecourses, I am getting asked repeatedly to do a blog with some of my fashion tips after winning the Fashion Award at Cheltenham in March.
Giving tips on Fashion is as difficult and utlimately as idiosyncratic as giving tips on the horses. Having said that my facebook followers seem delighted with my 'Tips and Tunes' tips over the last two weeks; and my tipping idea doesn't get any more idiosyncratic! I have tipped a 9/1 a 12/1 a 10/1 a 7/4 a 5/4 and the 4/1 winner of the Derby; plus numerous placed horses at 20/1 and 14/1 etc over the last couple of weeks from just about 16 selections. And great music too! Join me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/eliza.voiceoftheraces
Well the same applies to fashion. It's about personal taste; and all I can do is give you my selections!! We do have some great style icons at the moment though and here is Kate Middleton at Epsom:
The Queen looked fabulous too - shame her horses didn't win but it was a gallant third! She doesn't look happy though!!
Hopefully we shall have a good summer and it’s time to put the tweeds in the wardrobe until autumn.
But just as tweeds, leather boots, fur, and felt hats and trilbies are the mainstay of winter race fashion; the Summer Season also has its dress codes. Of course codes can be broken if one knows how to do it with a little style but it is nice to observe them at the important meetings. After all dressing up for the races is ultimately about respect for the occasion and the participants whose efforts we are appreciating. In fact, one can often make an edgy statement by adhering strictly to dress codes these days!! In the fashion stakes the Couture houses lead but few of us can afford couture. Yes you will see outfits at Royal Ascot that have come straight from the catwalk and if you can afford it that is great. These Couture houses keep some of the finest craftsmen and women in work in Paris and if one has the budget it is a duty to buy beautiful creations! However, where does that leave the majority of us who cannot. Well we have the High St. Generally at best what we see here is poor copy of seasonal catwalk trends; and at worst the materials often used one wouldn’t put in the dog basket. There are a few notable exceptions; but normally either way the items will date quickly and as a student I cannot afford to spend a couple of hundred pounds on an outfit that is ill fitting, of poor quality and that is unlikely to see the season out before it looks dated. What I am looking for to compete with the society fashionistas as the races is a little vintage edge. I am not going to tell you trends and colours and cuts to mimic from this years collections. If you can afford the couture stuff you won’t need that and if you can’t then far better to develop your own style; adding pieces to your wardrobe that never date. If one does this by sampling the looks from the past that inspire the runway looks, we can gain that edge. And as Chanel said, fashion is transitory but style is timeless.
It wasn’t always the way that the High St gave us poor fare. If we go back to the 30s 40s 50s and then again the 80s the emphasis was on tailoring and a glamorous and sometimes powerful look for women. The lines changed; particularly with Dior’s ‘new look’, but essentially it was all about feminine fit, hourglass figures and classic tailoring. The High st copied then true; but they did so with good quality fabrics and workmanship. People even made their own from patterns in the fashion magazines. If I wear something like a short shapeless revealing polyester rag on me I look awful and feel awful. I always want something that gives me structure and enhances my figure. And by raiding the wardrobes of the past, or using designers one doesn’t find in the High st. you can do it.
The same is true of the other big fashion question: the hat. Hats are important attire at the Races for Gentlemen and Ladies. While gentlemen’s hats are mainly about practicality, and style differences are apparent in subtle hat tilt and style, and while there is a world of difference (and cost!) to those with an eye between a beautiful vintage black silk top hat and a modern grey one essentially they appear to be of the same basic style. Similarly with an Ecuadorian Panama or a high st copy. Ladies on the other hand - we have a real opportunity to express our individuality as well as sense of style through our head wear. So what I will be looking for again is not a designer whose hats are beautiful but well out of my price range; or a High St hat, but something different; something made by small but talented designers producing hats with a bit of the kind of style one would have found in the periods I like; or something truly individual. I haven’t even made up my mind yet what to go for Ascot; so explore with me some options and perhaps even if too late for Ascot this may help for events later in the season.
What I do have is an outfit I have invested in, perhaps for Ascot. It’s a Christian Dior beautifully tailored white and navy blue suit. It didn’t cost thousands; or even hundreds as it would appear from the cut and style. It was £100 from an ebay shop specialising in vintage couture. And the reason it was so inexpensive was that thankfully many people aren’t aware that 1980s power dressing is set to make a comeback. But the secret is to look for quality designers on ebay and in vintage shops. Look for Dior; look for Thierry Mugler (amazing tailoring; his creations sculpt the female form); and also designers like Herrerra and another of my favourites Lily Rubin. Not all 80s fashion was cool!! It’s about structure; so make sure that the measurements correspond with yours too!!
When choosing vintage clothes it’s also important to make sure you don’t become a slave to the look. You aren’t going to a vintage re enactment but rather just raiding the past as inspiration to develop your own personal style. Mix and match different elements; but co ordinate them well and stick to the basic dress codes and you won’t go far wrong.
So the first rule is skirt length. Nobody is stopping you wearing a short dress or skirt and we will see many during the season. You won’t get into the Royal Enclosure wearing one though; and with them being a common sight it usually doesn’t make a statement it just looks like you think a racecourse is a night club! Sometimes with a little subtlety and the good grace of the wind it’s possible to make more of a ‘femme fatale’ statement with a much longer skirt or dress!
The second rule I am frequently asked about is bare shoulders. Yes it is possible to wear a skimpy strappy dress or one without straps at all to the races but again it won’t get you in to the Royal Enclosure. Of course at other race meetings through the season it is acceptable but think about the whole outfit. Let me take these two gorgeous examples for a moment.
These are two stunning summer dresses from Wheels and Dollbaby; a design house based in Sydney Australia who specialise in vintage 40s and 50s inspired dresses and separates. They also do some to die for black dresses but it’s probably better for high summer to go for something with a little pattern or colour.
Heh heh. Clothes to snare a Millionaire ladies!!! Not that I am interested in the size of a man’s wallet (maybe the size of other aspects!) ; but I know some are!!
Ah now you say ‘what about the bare shoulders’? True – BUT the dress is only part of your outfit. Such dresses are cut for bolero jackets. Again it’s hard to get a nice bolero jacket in the high st but in vintage stores and ebay they are readily available. Imagine those dresses with a high cut black velvet bolero with shoulder pads; and a stunning hat say a disc hat in black and white; or maybe a veiled hat. Fashion influences from 40s 50s and 80s and the present but it works because the idea of those decades was femininity, a fitted look and power. Those Wheels and Dollbaby dresses are certainly on my shopping list! So – go for a killer dress by all means and show your shoulders when the time is right – but invest in a nice tailored jacket or bolero to cover up to make an entrance or when its simply just cool – which let’s face it in the UK is most of the summer!. Again imagine this 50s inspired ballet skirt from Wheels and Dollbaby with co-ordinating waspie top and bolero; or tailored jacket; and seam stockings and heels.
And perhaps have a look at these jackets too from Wheels and Dollbaby:
Another store whose designs I like are Coast. They also have some very classic cut forties and fifties inspired designs; very Audrey Hepburn. I particularly like some of these gorgeous satin gowns:
This Irah shift dress has lovely detail too:
and I love this colour and style:
They also have some super maxi dresses too which I think can make a nice statement on a windy day!
I may be doing a Fashion shoot with Coast wardrobe at Newbury on thursday so will let you know how that goes in my next blog!! Newbury are going to have a Butler service at some of their upcoming meetings and its partly to publicise that so that will be interesting too!!
Oh. And the next ‘rule’. Gloves. One simply is not dressed without them. It was one rule that the Queen of Elegance Antonie Dariaux would not compromise on and I do not blame her. The amount of times I see an outfit at the races and think ‘ if only she had worn a pair of gloves that would be stunning’.
Here is what she had to say about wearing gloves; and it’s a good guide now:
- With short sleeves or no sleeves at all: very long or very short gloves
- With three-quarter length sleeves: gloves long enough to meet the sleeve
- With long sleeves: short gloves meeting the sleeve, or medium-length gloves meeting the sleeve
- Gloves are an essential complement to any ensemble, and an unsuitable length is still better than no gloves at all
Quote: ‘Elegance’ by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux 1964
It doesn’t matter HOW hot it gets. Gloves are always going to make your ‘nice’ outfit chic, elegant, finished.
That brings us to heels. Yes in the long hard winter at jumps meetings perhaps heels are not ideal. I wear them sometimes; but usually slightly lower heeled boots are a better option; even willies at point to points!! But the summer heels are a must. I have worn 7 inch heels to Ascot and yes after a long day on ones feet they hurt. So I take a pair of ballet pumps for the walk to the train and ride home; and then don them again for the restaurant. And I would rather go naked than go without good hosiery. The one thing about the forties was that when they died their legs with gravy browning before pencilling a seam at least they had the good sense not to dye them a patchy bright orange; and it was only because stockings were not available. I sometimes wear tights but usually its stockings; and usually Agent Provocateur; they are by far the best quality. And just in case you do have a ladder; make sure you are toting a spare pair or two in your co-ordinating bag! If you cannot walk in heels practice; or wear slightly lower heels. Peep toes are the classic way to let your feet enjoy summer; sandals are for hippies, orange legged wags or Ancient Greeks!
In my experience, gentlemen find this a lot more becoming and its essential wardrobe to me:
As for shoes, love them as I may I can't afford Laboutins and Blahniks. I again use ebay to pick up second hand ones from such designers; but the compeition is often stiff. I recommend if you see a smaller designer shoe label you like but can't afford to seach ebay for them. The less well known but no less beautiful shoe designers are often not sunuject to such fierce bidding.
Another place that is great for shoes - and its in the High St - is Debenhams. They have a huge varierty of well known elegant designers and shoe stores in house; and also have got some top designers doing ranges. Jasper Conran's range currently has a coral peach or black patent stitched edge medium high heel which is very nice; but favourite for me are these gorgeous electric blue or pink peep toe heels by Julien Macdonald
And the best thing? Amazing value at £28 and not too high for a day on your feet at the races!!
Julien Macdonald is one of my favourite designers and its amazing to think you can get one of the boy from Merthyr's dresses too at such a low price from Debenhams if you are on a tight budget. How about this fab bod con drape neck dress for £65
Well now that brings us to the hat. It is always difficult to know if you are on a tight budget whether to start with the hat or select one to go with it. If the latter, then it is reassuring to know that a number of milliners specialise at a reasonable cost in making you a hat to order.
PIPPA EASTMAN MILLINERY
I spoke to a milliner based on the Mumbles near where I live. Pippa Eastman who has been busy this year creating individual pieces for Royal Ascot; and I got to model some of those wonderful pieces:
Pippa’s clients come from far afield knowing that she will create something really special for them to go with their outfit. The lady who commissioned the green hat came from Worcestershire and will be wearing it to Ascot; and it is certainly going to be one of the pieces I am looking forward most to seeing.
Here is where you can contact Pippa if you want a hat to go with your outfit. Pippa shares a workshop/gallery with local artists Anne Blades and it’s well worth a visit! http://www.anneblades.co.uk/sub-categories.asp?Category_ID=6
A designer I am really excited about is Edel Ramberg who is based in Ireland and does some amazingly edgy pieces. Hats inspired by barbed wire and feathered eye pieces are really revolutionary but no less chic and certainly High Fashion. Edel is exhibiting at Harvey Nicholls over the next couple of weeks in Dublin and I feel it won’t be long before we see her pieces in Vogue shoots. Again she is not expensive for such statement pieces. In fact this is Art as much as fashion and I certainly hope to invest in one at some point.
People often ask me if fascinators are acceptable at the races. Yes of course they are but there are fascinators...and then...there are fascinators. There should be some effort to cover the head and a great example of what makes a beautiful fascinator is provided by Rebecca Bray whose ‘Beetlebum by Design’ brand perhaps has some of the essence of the mad hatter legacy! In the old days lead was used by milliners and some of their outlandish designs were from exposure to lead!! Well Rebecca’s label may have an element of this; but her elegant creations are stunning!!
Helena Talbot is another hat designer whose work can be done bespoke and does some lovely pieces.
She recently sponsored the best dressed lady award at Huntingdon and the winner is to receive a bespoke piece; so Helena is a big supporter of racing too.
Helena T Headwear was established after Helena, due to be married, couldn’t find the perfect headpiece for her and her bridesmaids to wear that was affordable and didn’t compromise on style. From the finest silk to the softest velvet, HT sources all fabrics and vintage trims personally from British suppliers. Hunting up and down the UK for vintage brooches, feathers, diamantes, pearls, and crystals, every piece is truly unique whether HT has hand dyed feathers to match fabric swatches, or added bespoke finishing touches to signature handmade silk flowers.
GRAHAM McCARTNEY Millinery
Last but not least many regular racegoers will be familiar with Graham Mccartney who exhibits his work at Newmarket, Cheltenham, Sandown and many other courses. Graham has also exhibited his hats extensively at race meetings in France – particularly at Deauville, Chantilly and Longchamps. At first there was a little resistance from the French to the idea of a British Milliner – after all France is the bastion of Haute Couture so they weren’t too sure about an Englishman making high fashion hats! So Graham came up with the idea of a label with a pseudonym – he called himself Etienne Malenfant (Bad Child) and the hats took off there too!! Eventually of course the French media took an interest and of course he was English; but he had taken to bleaching his hair blonde and my partner David cut it a la Jean Paul Gaultier so he was accepted as the eccentric British hat couturier and has sold hats to European royalty, the Chilean ambassador’s family and the wives of top jockeys and trainers such as Cash Asmussen, Olivier Peslier and the ultimate first lady of French Racing style Madame Doumen!! Eminent Emirates ladies and gents are also among Graham’s clients.
Above all Graham has an understanding of hat design that enables him to swiftly decorate a hat, and has a unique fitting method in the band. And he is at many race meetings so if you haven’t got a hat look him up when you get there! He doesn’t do Ascot but you can catch him at many race meetings. In fact, Graham made the hat that won me best Dressed Lady at the Cheltenham festival and it was his idea to first use Reeves pheasant feathers; as he has also used on the unique piece he designed at the top of the page. He has a beautiful range of siname hats in summer and rabbit felt and Russian fur ones in winter; and currently also has some lovely 1920s inspired sinamay feathered bands. He also has an extensive collection of gents vintage black silk top hats. If you are lucky enough to have a small head gentlemen you are lucky! They are not so expensive, because years ago people had smaller heads. Large sizes are rare and beautiful stove pipe hats in exceptional condition can fetch thousands. The technology that made the long haired silk and was able to put them on the hat in one piece, is a lost one, and they are sure to be long term investments. See Graham if you would like one; they are so much more beautiful and fine than the modern ones.
Well if I do get to Ascot I will be reporting on some Fashion from there and I also have pencilled in the Ladies Evening at Chester on the 24th of June. I am off to the North Greenland ice sheet then for a month on scientific research but hope to be back for the York Ebor meeting! I will feel like dressing up in some lovely summer outfits after being in the Arctic for all that time!!!
But whatever race meeting you attend remember that Fashion is an important part of Racing and it’s the way those who love it can express their appreciation of the participants; in exactly the same way we dress up for weddings to show respect for the participants. Having travelled the world a little and seen how important beautiful ceremonial dress is to other cultures, and how they enjoy it, I think we sometimes forget that ourselves. Incidentally national dress of those cultures for those who are part of it is as equally acceptable at Royal Ascot as top hat and tails and chic fashions. Stick to a few style tips and dress codes, remember it’s fundamentally about respect not fancy dress, and above all enjoy your day at the races!! I will be on the look out to interview and photograph those who exemplify race day chic I find out and about at the races this summer!!!!
About Eliza Cook
Hi! I'm Eliza. I am a Geographer by profession, and am currently studying for a PhD in Geography at Swansea University. I will be investigating ice core records from Greenland pretty soon. But you don't want to hear about those.
On top of this, during a year out, I fell into working as an in-house model for Agent Provocateur. Strange but true! This experience heightened my appreciation of fashion - especially the eclectic and eccentric fashions of the races.
I've been a racing fan for two years. I love all racing, but a day at the jumps is where I really feel the most excitement. Having grown up in Gloucestershire, with two great racecourses on the doorstep - Cheltenham and Chepstow - it is a wonder that I didn't find racing sooner.
I've been privileged to be a part of some of the 'behind the scenes' elements of racing, from photographing frosty morning breeze-ups to attending the post Cheltenham Festival jockeys' celebration in the Weighing Room!
I am thrilled to be a 'Voice of the Races'. To me, the most striking feature of racing is the accessibility of participants - and the fact that everybody attending has a part to play. A day at the races has it all; wonderful horses, spectacle and fashion, in an adrenaline soaked atmosphere where people from all walks of life come together in mutual appreciation of the sport.
I can't wait to tell you all about my experiences at the races, the people I meet and the adventures I have, as well as the fashions I encounter and the stories I uncover.
I hope you enjoy it!
- 08.11.12 Cheltenham showcase 2012 ; A Fashion shoot, vintage fashion and fond Farewells; Sleek Bodies, Dark Lovers and a bit of Bondage.
- 15.10.12 Dubai International Arabian Raceday Newbury 2012 : the Pure Bred in Legend and Reality and a meeting of cultures
- 26.09.12 Fashion Pad : Racing, Rock n Roll and Retro; Barbours , Belstaffs and Burberrys , Biker Chic and Black Leather; and an addiction to Muck and Speed!
- 29.08.12 Friends at Fontwell Park: Number 6 and a figure of 8; Vintage Fashion & Fab history; Flying leaps, cricket & music...From The Jam and more!
- 29.08.12 After the first race; Fontwell
- 30.07.12 Eliza’s Log: back from a remote Arctic scientific research station; a suitably International blog; and some movies, art, fashion and music
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- Christina McElhinney…
- Craig Ian McAlpine…
- Mitch Heron…
- Paul Wright…
- Atrhur Hendry…
What would you say your favorite thing to do in the entire world would be?