Dubai World Cup: How to dress up for the races

A tradition that started at the Epsom Derby in Surrey, England, in 1780 has become a de rigueur to show up in your finest outfit

By Jacquie Doyle

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Evelyn McDermott, an international award-winning milliner
Evelyn McDermott, an international award-winning milliner

Published: Thu 17 Mar 2022, 3:27 PM

Since Diomed won the very first running of the Epsom Derby in Surrey, England, in 1780, a day at the races has traditionally remained an occasion to dress up and don your finest.

Naturally, some countries have greater propensity for style than others. The French have always been effortless when it comes to fashion — their classic way of remaining stylish and ramping it up a gear on special occasions certainly ups the style stakes.

Australians have become incredibly chic on race days with both ladies and gentlemen paying serious attention to detail with beautifully crafted ensembles that would challenge even the highest echelons of France to a fashion duel.

Dubai is, of course, a style hub of the 21st century, with every couture designer the world over enjoying the privilege of seeing their creations appear at major events all year round. Interestingly, many sporting occasions are opportunities to showcase style and glamour, with Meydan racetrack hosting Dubai World Cup (March 26) along with an International Racing Carnival through January and February being just a part of the emirate’s social scene duly complemented by major motor racing, golf, tennis, boxing and rugby events.

In England, we have a divide between the elegant and the ridiculous with those under 35 insisting that less is more. Hence the backless, front-less and shoulder-less numbers, that in a sadly bygone era would have been forbidden at Royal Ascot, now abound in every corner, including the once-revered Royal Enclosure.

What inspires a choice of outfit? A colour or a pattern, maybe a style, but often we see a hat that “I just must have” and work around it.

Occasionally, a remarkable pair of shoes set the bar. About shoes, think about where you will be on the race day — will there be a lot of walking on grass or a firmer surface? Spiked heels on grass necessitates walking on the balls of one’s feet with the weight off the heels, easy for a few minutes but quite a strain for many hours.

Tarmac or hard surfaces call for a well-padded shoe to prevent ending your glorious day out with bruised-feeling tootsies. What will the weather be up to?

Wet grass is bad news for suede or delicate materials and hot sunshine plays havoc if you are shod too tight.

My solution to this is to wear shoes half a size too big, I promise you they will be perfect by the second race. Try to avoid the need to remove them altogether, barefoot with one’s shoes dangling from fingers is a look best for the beach.

The post-Covid-19-enforced lockdown fashion trend is a tutti frutti of vivid bright shades of colour; think zingy lime greens, juicy oranges, tangy lemons and powerful pinks. We are leaning towards tailored suits with miniskirts and flat shoes or trousers. If you do not want to opt for mini skirt, go for midi-length pleated skirt to hit the mark. That seventies’ treasure — platform shoes — are also back.

Big hats are out for now with closer crown-fitting headpieces in vogue. They give the appearance of a hat but allow for a full and flowing hairstyle or an intricate up-do, which will still be visible from behind and look exquisite teamed with a bit of veiling over the face to add that touch of glamour. We continue to love the widened headband embellished with flowers, feathers, jewels, or sequins, but please, never ever refer to anything on one’s head as a ‘fascinator’, a dreadful and meaningless word to use for a head piece.

Where to shop can be a daunting task but need not be as we have an abundance of choice depending on the budget. The most obvious are the high-end boutiques, great places to study current fashion trends, but the savvy shopper can take that knowledge to an outlet or preloved store or even proceed down the rental route. My friend Evelyn McDermott aka @eve_mac The Hat Lady of Dubai always sought my friends and I out with wonderful, innovative and stunning headpieces, occasionally put together at midnight over a glass of bubbles and laughter while she cut and stitched!

We must not overlook the gentlemen here, for it is their time to shine. Never, since the top hat and tails have our men had it so good. Suits have come to life this century with no holds barred on colour or design. Cropped or cigarette pants are de rigueur along with jazzy shoes and no socks. Waistcoats really step up the look. Go for extravagant materials and designs and blend the jacket lining to complement your waistcoat. Bow ties and pocket squares give that extra bit of edge and a hat will add the finishing touch, now all you need is an equally beautiful lady or man, and you are set to dazzle.

While I agree that it can seem acceptable to see a little girl dressed as a mini-me of mum, I, personally, believe that children should dress as they normally would. There will be ample time for grown-up dressing when they attain that status. Little boys always look adorable in bow ties and waistcoats; no mini-mes of dad, please.

Enjoy the preparation as much as the event itself, make wonderful memories with your families, friends and loved ones, and don’t forget to enter the Best Dressed competition. Always fabulous prizes for these events, though I understand they are not for everyone, but I do envy those who win.

Good luck and happy racing.

The dos and don’ts

For the uninitiated, choosing what to wear to the races can sometimes be a nightmare. Ladies will want to look their elegant best and aspire to impress onlookers, even if they are not competing in the Style Stakes.

But take into consideration that it’s going to be a long day, extending up to six hours. So, when choosing an outfit, keep this in mind.

Jackets can be taken off as the day progresses, but that’s all.

Barefoot beauties are known to leave the race course at the end of the event, partly because their heels are killing them. So that’s something to consider as well when choosing your footwear.

Although there are no such rules or a dress code you need to choose carefully, according to the ticket you have purchased or been gifted by a kind friend.

VIP enclosures are where you will mingle a lot with friends, old and new, and might even bump into a celebrity if you’re lucky. Everyone wants to be at the Dubai World Cup, even busy celebrities, socialites, chief executive officers (CEOs) which makes the choice of an outfit for this exclusive enclosure even more difficult.

For both men and women, headgear is an important accessory and can provide that dash of class.

Women who go racing are known to wear a hat or headband to complete their look. Nothing is outdated or over-the-top, headgear is headgear and everlasting.

Gentlemen hoping to impress not just the ladies but those watching at the venue or on TV around the world, usually, wear shirts with a collar. A tie is optional as is a full suit or a smart blazer.

Summer is closing in, so it would be best to avoid cardigans, pullovers and jerseys.

While track shoes are considered fashionable, especially the all-white variety, they don’t fit at a race course, although some overzealous trendsetters, including a certain Justin Timberlake, have a weakness for pairing them with a formal suit.

So, in short, dress codes are best followed if you will be in a hospitality marquee or a corporate suite.

Otherwise, should you be happy to watch the action from the general enclosure, which can be fun as well, you don’t have to worry about what you wear.

Though you like them, they are a no-no for an event like the Dubai World Cup…

• No joggers, sports shoes, track shoes, runners, or slippers

• Jeans and tracksuits are best avoided

• No shorts

• No ripped jeans, even if they are by a famous designer

• Dress fashionably and bold if you wish but be respectful of the norms in the UAE

• No denim, no matter how trendy or comfortable they are

Words by: By Leslie Wilson Jr

The author is a former Derby-winning trainer and the mother of world-renowned jockeys James and Sophie Doyle

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